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Review of I Used to Be a Fish

sullivan_iusedtobeafishstar2 I Used to Be a Fish
by Tom Sullivan; illus. by the author
Primary    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    48 pp.
10/16    978-0-06-245198-9    $17.99

A simple, cartoonlike fish prompts musings on the history of human evolution. The text fancifully traces a fish in the water who “got tired of swimming” all the way up in its evolution to a human boy who can fly. With a smart sense of humor and a creative sense of wonder, younger readers are introduced to the cool parts of evolution: that “we” were once furry creatures who “liked swinging through trees and eating their fruit”; cave people; and even other animals’ prey. Sullivan uses a Seuss-like style and format, with large-font stanzas centered on pages that face illustrations employing three high-contrasting colors (blue, black, and red) on generous white backgrounds. The spare text is deceptively simple: there’s a lot of science behind statements such as “One day there was a BOOM! / And things got a little crazy.” It all works; although there is artistic license, the science stays on track. To keep fully grounded in fact, don’t skip the all-important appended author’s note, which directly addresses the text’s artistic liberties (“Evolution doesn’t happen because a creature wants it to!”).

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Danielle J. Ford About Danielle J. Ford

Danielle J. Ford is a Horn Book reviewer and an associate professor of Science Education at the University of Delaware.



  1. There are so many interesting new science-themed picture books coming out — like this one — that straddle the line between information and entertainment, fiction and non-fiction. On the one hand I furrowed my brow a bit at some of the motivations that Sullivan ascribed to his main character, and on the other I could completely imagine a child from his target-audience not blinking twice and just wanting to act out each spread as the pages turned. At the end of the day: it is fun to have that sequential evolution cartoon that we have seen in so many variations find a new home in/as a picture book for young children — and to have it be their introduction them to the overall concept of evolution.

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