The best fish books

5 authors have picked their favorite books about fish and why they recommend each book.

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The Rainbow Fish

By Marcus Pfister,

Book cover of The Rainbow Fish

I remember this story from when I was little. I would stroke the shiny scales with my fingers and admire the octopus in his cave. Little me couldn’t believe the fish would give away his scales! Didn’t he want to keep them all? The message about the happiness that comes with generosity was certainly one I needed to hear...repeatedly.


Who am I?

I am writing this list because I am a sea monster. I’m the sort of sea monster who loves merpeople, pirates, sharks, dolphins, octopuses, shipwrecks, and…did I miss anything? Oh yes, piranhas. Some people have pointed out that I look like a regular adult human, but really it’s just a trick of the light. I like to make stories, draw pictures, and build miniature environments for stop motion animated films. My typical day is spent gluing miniature flowers to miniature rocks, or screwing miniature chairs to miniature floors. It’s the sort of job that makes you feel like magic is around every corner. Because it is, probably.


I wrote...

Can I Give You a Squish?

By Emily Neilson,

Book cover of Can I Give You a Squish?

What is my book about?

My book takes place in the warm waters of a kelp forest, where Kai, a little mer-boy, loves to give squishes! But not everyone is a fan of Kai’s spirited embrace, which he discovers soon after squishing a pufferfish, who swells up in fright! Kai feels awful; but with the help of his underwater friends, he figures out another way to show his affection, and then everyone demonstrates their preferred ways of being greeted. Because, as Kai realizes, “Every fish likes their own kind of squish.”

What I see in each of the books on this list is everything I could possibly have hoped to put into mine--magical underwater adventures, wonderful world-building, and best of all: compelling and lovable characters.

Song for the Blue Ocean

By Carl Safina,

Book cover of Song for the Blue Ocean

New York Times bestselling author and ecologist Carl Safina writes about the oceans and their inhabitants with beautiful and elegant prose, and this book is not different. Song for the Blue Ocean takes the readers on a passionate and intimate journey of discovery; Safina is a master in revealing the magnificence and the secrets of the ocean realm using his personal experiences in nature.


Who am I?

I'm a passionate scientist, conservationist, and published author. I'm the President of the nonprofit Ocean Conservation Society and I hold a Ph.D. in Biology and a Post-Doc from UCLA. My research on dolphins off California represents one of the longest studies worldwide. I'm the co-author of Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins and author of Dolphin Confidential: Confessions of a Field Biologist. As a photo-journalist, I've written for many national and international media, including National Geographic; I currently write essays for Medium and other publications. I live in Los Angeles with my husband. When I’m not writing, I can be found with dolphins out on the ocean, traveling, or walking my mutt.


I wrote...

Dolphin Confidential: Confessions of a Field Biologist

By Maddalena Bearzi,

Book cover of Dolphin Confidential: Confessions of a Field Biologist

What is my book about?

“This is a delightful chronicle of a young ocean lover’s journey to turn her passion into a career in science, and that scientist’s coming-of-age as she observes an ocean changing around her and the creatures she has come to love and defend. I found it both relaxing and energizing, all at the same time.” Carl Safina, New York Times bestselling author

The Little Black Fish

By Samad Behrangi,

Book cover of The Little Black Fish

In The Little Black Fish, our hero is the black fish who observes, thinks, and decides to do things his or her way. The picture book was banned in Iran because the author of the book, a beloved school teacher and thinker, spoke up passionately to advocate for children. When I lived in Iran, the country was managed by one person, the king. When one king or one idea rules with absolute power, people have minimal or no say in the way their country and lives are managed. Rulers at the top are happiest when people do not read, think, or protest the ways that their society is run. This gorgeous book encourages thinking, analyzing, speaking up, and action.

(Mina Javaherbin has read Little Black Fish in its original text, Persian. She has informed us of numerous translations of this book in English and numerous languages. This particular translation…


Who am I?

Growing up in Iran, I never thought I would one day become an author in a language other than my mother tongue, and live clear across the world from my birthplace. An eclectic assortment of literature, representing core human themes of thinking, love, laughter, and science are subjects that help me bond with my fellow humans. Books have constantly reassured me of our similarities and encouraged me to make connections. The magical threads of our shared humanity are tools which help us thrive in our global village. They remind us we are more similar to one another than we may think.


I wrote...

My Grandma and Me

By Mina Javaherbin, Lindsey Yankey (illustrator),

Book cover of My Grandma and Me

What is my book about?

While Mina is growing up in Iran, the center of her world is her grandmother. Whether visiting friends next door, going to the mosque for midnight prayers during Ramadan, or taking an imaginary trip around the planets, Mina and her grandma are never far apart. At once deeply personal and utterly universal, Mina Javaherbin’s words make up a love letter of the rarest sort: the kind that shares a bit of its warmth with every reader. Soft, colorful, and full of intricate patterns, Lindsey Yankey’s illustrations feel like a personal invitation into the coziest home, and the adoration between Mina and her grandma is evident on every page.

This beautiful ode to family celebrates small moments of love that become lifelong memories.

Swimmy

By Leo Lionni,

Book cover of Swimmy

The classic “David and Goliath” theme of a smaller hero conquering a mighty adversary—but with a fishy twist! A school of small red fish and one black fish, Swimmy, all live together happily until “one bad day” a huge tuna gobbles up all the red fish. Only Swimmy, who is faster than the others, gets away. At first Swimmy is lonely without his friends but then bravely begins exploring the wonders of the sea. When Swimmy finds a new school of red fish, he tries to get them to come out to play. But they are too afraid to go out because a big fish might eat them. Then Swimmy gets an idea. He trains the school of small red fish to swim in formation like one big fish, with him as the eye. 


Who am I?

I love fish—to look at and read about—not to eat! Fish are unlike other pets. You can’t hold them, or pet them, and you certainly can’t “play” with them the way you can other pets. But for some reason, just looking at them makes me laugh. And because fish don’t say much besides “glug” (although some kinds sing and grunt) we need to imagine what they are thinking and feeling which makes for funny and surprising stories. And, yes, I have pet goldfish: an orange one, Norman, and a black fantail named Knot. 


I wrote...

Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

By Kelly Bennett, Noah Z. Jones (illustrator),

Book cover of Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

What is my book about?

Norman the goldfish isn’t what this little boy had in mind. He wanted a different kind of pet — one that could run and catch, or chase string and climb trees, a soft furry pet to sleep on his bed at night. Definitely not Norman. But when he tries to trade Norman for a "good pet," things don’t go as he planned. Could it be that Norman is a better pet than he thought? An unexpected — and positively fishy — tale about finding the good in something you didn’t know you wanted.

Louis the Fish

By Arthur Yorinks, Richard Egielski (illustrator),

Book cover of Louis the Fish

Looking for vegetarian options? This Reading Rainbow selection, published in 1980, is a masterpiece in story and art! Louis, who was born into a family of butchers, hates meat. But he loves watching fish! After his parents die, Louis inherits the butcher business. One night, Louis, who is miserable being a butcher, dreams he is a fish. When he wakes, he discovers he is a fish. A salmon. A very happy salmon who swims gleefully ever after. The story is a springboard for discussions on the importance of being true to yourself.


Who am I?

I love fish—to look at and read about—not to eat! Fish are unlike other pets. You can’t hold them, or pet them, and you certainly can’t “play” with them the way you can other pets. But for some reason, just looking at them makes me laugh. And because fish don’t say much besides “glug” (although some kinds sing and grunt) we need to imagine what they are thinking and feeling which makes for funny and surprising stories. And, yes, I have pet goldfish: an orange one, Norman, and a black fantail named Knot. 


I wrote...

Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

By Kelly Bennett, Noah Z. Jones (illustrator),

Book cover of Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

What is my book about?

Norman the goldfish isn’t what this little boy had in mind. He wanted a different kind of pet — one that could run and catch, or chase string and climb trees, a soft furry pet to sleep on his bed at night. Definitely not Norman. But when he tries to trade Norman for a "good pet," things don’t go as he planned. Could it be that Norman is a better pet than he thought? An unexpected — and positively fishy — tale about finding the good in something you didn’t know you wanted.

What a Fish Knows

By Jonathan Balcombe,

Book cover of What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins

I was raised to think fish do not feel pain. When I hooked my first fish, a rock bass, as a young boy, I was initially proud of my catch. But when I went to carve the fish and felt the eyes looking up at me, I experienced very different feelings: guilt and regret. It turns out that, so many years later, scientists are telling us that fish do feel pain, that they are highly intelligent in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. Hopefully, this book will open eyes and hearts and convince people that seafood is not just unsustainable but cruel.


Who am I?

Travels to the Arctic and Antarctic and time spent alongside researching counting Magellanic penguins in Argentina have inspired not only The Tourist Trail but a life spent advocating for animals. The oceans may appear vast and impenetrable but they are fragile, and we need to act now to protect the many species who call these waters home. The books here not only expose the crisis we face but highlight those people and organizations who have dedicated their lives to protecting our planet and its many residents. It’s not too late to make a difference and I hope these books inspire you to lend your voice and energy to the fight.


I wrote...

The Tourist Trail

By John Yunker,

Book cover of The Tourist Trail

What is my book about?

The Tourist Trail is an environmental thriller about endangered species in the world's most remote waters and the people who put their lives on the line to protect them. Against the backdrop of the Southern Ocean, the novel weaves together the stories of Angela, a penguin researcher based in southern Argentina, Robert, an FBI agent in pursuit of an anti-whaling activist known as Aeneas; and Ethan Downes, a computer tech whose love for a passionate animal rights activist draws him into a dangerous mission among the icebergs of Antarctica.

The Rise of Fishes

By John A. Long,

Book cover of The Rise of Fishes: 500 Million Years of Evolution

From the time the first primitive vertebrates arose in the Cambrian to the appearance of early amphibians around the late Devonian, fishes were by far the dominant life form on the planet. Follow the journey in the highly readable, generously illustrated Rise of Fishes. This fascinating immersion into the diversification of early fishes was written by esteemed Australian paleontologist John Long. Long is also the author of The Dawn of the Deed: The Prehistoric Origins of Sex, and Swimming in Stone: The Amazing Gogo Fossils of the Kimberley, both of which could also go on your list.


Who am I?

When I was young, I worked on fishing boats in Alaska and developed an affection for weird sea creatures. All manner of unusual marine life would come up on the line, like wild-looking sea stars, pointy-nosed skates, and alien-looking ratfish. Later, I graduated from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks with a degree in Communications. One of my early jobs was with the Washington Department of Wildlife public information department, writing about fish, as well as other wildlife-related topics. When I moved to Bozeman, Montana, I had the opportunity to create content for a museum exhibit on early life forms. That hooked me on all things paleo. It is a joy to write about and share the things I love—like oddball creatures from deep time.


I wrote...

Resurrecting the Shark: A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil

By Susan Ewing,

Book cover of Resurrecting the Shark: A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil

What is my book about?

In 1993, Alaskan artist and paleo-fish freak Ray Troll stumbled upon the weirdest fossil he had ever seen: a platter-sized spiral of tightly wound shark teeth. This chance encounter in the basement of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County sparked Troll's obsession with Helicoprion, a mysterious monster shark from deep time. In 2010, tattooed amateur strongman and returning Iraq War veteran Jesse Pruitt was also severely smitten by a Helicoprionfossil in a museum basement in Idaho. These two bizarre-shark disciples found each other, and an unconventional band of collaborators grew serendipitously around them, determined to solve the puzzle of the tooth whorl once and for all.

In this groundbreaking book, Susan Ewing reveals these revolutionary insights into what Helicoprion looked like and how the tooth whorl functioned, pushing this dazzling and awe-inspiring beast into the spotlight of modern science.

Made by Maxine

By Ruth Spiro, Holly Hatam (illustrator),

Book cover of Made by Maxine

Written by Ruth Spiro and illustrated by Holly Hatam, this book celebrates the Maker spirit through the story of Maxine, who is determined to help her goldfish march in the pet parade. With fun illustrations, readers will enjoy seeing Maxine’s imaginative inventions as she tries, struggles, and overcomes obstacles to solve the problem.

Who am I?

I love encouraging kids to explore engineering, design, and technology! I am a former Google product designer for kids and families. I started writing to address a growing need for coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. Stories are a wonderful way to demonstrate concepts and to invite kids to approach STEM with creativity and imagination. I picked a range of books for this post, from non-fiction to fantastic, because different kids will respond to different kinds of stories. Through these books, I hope that kids will find inspiration and tools for creative problem-solving, for STEM and beyond.


I wrote...

Invent-a-Pet

By Vicky Fang,

Book cover of Invent-a-Pet

What is my book about?

Katie is an ordinary girl who longs for an extraordinary pet--something more spectacular than a simple goldfish. Then one day Katie comes home to find a gift from her mother: a mysterious machine designed to help her create that one-of-a-kind creature. Each time she feeds different items into the machine, out comes a marvelously colorful new animal--like a purple monkey, rainbow-spotted horse, and green bunny! But none of them is just right. Through trial and error, Katie figures out the formula for her absolutely perfect SURPRISE pet.

Memoirs of a Goldfish

By Devin Scillian, Tim Bowers (illustrator),

Book cover of Memoirs of a Goldfish

Ever wonder what your goldfish is thinking as it’s swimming around inside its fishbowl? Written in a diary format, this goldfish’s account of life in his fishbowl—blissful aloneness—until much to his distress the fishbowl begins to fill, first with a fish nicknamed “Mr. Bubbles” because that’s all it does, then plants, a snail, a crab and more and more. Which all seems too crowded, too slimy, too much until, fishbowl cleaning day. Isolated and alone again, the goldfish realized how much he misses his new friends.


Who am I?

I love fish—to look at and read about—not to eat! Fish are unlike other pets. You can’t hold them, or pet them, and you certainly can’t “play” with them the way you can other pets. But for some reason, just looking at them makes me laugh. And because fish don’t say much besides “glug” (although some kinds sing and grunt) we need to imagine what they are thinking and feeling which makes for funny and surprising stories. And, yes, I have pet goldfish: an orange one, Norman, and a black fantail named Knot. 


I wrote...

Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

By Kelly Bennett, Noah Z. Jones (illustrator),

Book cover of Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

What is my book about?

Norman the goldfish isn’t what this little boy had in mind. He wanted a different kind of pet — one that could run and catch, or chase string and climb trees, a soft furry pet to sleep on his bed at night. Definitely not Norman. But when he tries to trade Norman for a "good pet," things don’t go as he planned. Could it be that Norman is a better pet than he thought? An unexpected — and positively fishy — tale about finding the good in something you didn’t know you wanted.

The Pout-Pout Fish

By Deborah Diesen, Dan Hanna (illustrator),

Book cover of The Pout-Pout Fish

Pout-Pout fish is a grumpy looking, grumpy acting fish who “spreads the dreary-wearies all over the place” and everyone he encounters tries to talk him out of being grumpy. Simple as that, but not! The Pout-Pout Fish books, every one of them, combines three elements that make a fabulous read-aloud: fun/interesting to look at; fun and easy to read; fun satisfying ending. Diesen’s Pout-Pout bouncy rhyming rhythm will jolly the grumpy out of everyone—whether fish or human. Yes, the refrain will get stuck in your heads—in a good way!


Who am I?

I love fish—to look at and read about—not to eat! Fish are unlike other pets. You can’t hold them, or pet them, and you certainly can’t “play” with them the way you can other pets. But for some reason, just looking at them makes me laugh. And because fish don’t say much besides “glug” (although some kinds sing and grunt) we need to imagine what they are thinking and feeling which makes for funny and surprising stories. And, yes, I have pet goldfish: an orange one, Norman, and a black fantail named Knot. 


I wrote...

Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

By Kelly Bennett, Noah Z. Jones (illustrator),

Book cover of Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

What is my book about?

Norman the goldfish isn’t what this little boy had in mind. He wanted a different kind of pet — one that could run and catch, or chase string and climb trees, a soft furry pet to sleep on his bed at night. Definitely not Norman. But when he tries to trade Norman for a "good pet," things don’t go as he planned. Could it be that Norman is a better pet than he thought? An unexpected — and positively fishy — tale about finding the good in something you didn’t know you wanted.

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