Panels and Pacing in FISH GIRL

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The moment I finished reading David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli’s Fish Girl, I closed it, stared blankly at a nearby wall, and then flipped through the entire thing four times. It’s incredible that David hasn’t been creating graphic novels his entire career.

In Fish Girl, David and Donna bring readers the story of an isolated mermaid with a curious mind. The nameless mermaid lives in a tank on a boardwalk aquarium, and though she is the main attraction of the area, visitors rarely catch more than a glimpse of her. It’s the mermaid’s job to keep an air of mystery about her existence, and needless to say, it’s a lonely life. So when a young girl named Livia accidentally sees her, the mermaid and Livia embark on a journey of courage and well-deserved fun.

One of David’s strongest skills lies in his visual pacing. David, who has a history of using paneled images in his picture books, unfurls this 192-page story at a very specific pace. The visual movement David creates in each panel carries readers along the story’s natural current, and each one furthers the story. For instance, it’s fascinating to place a spread of the mermaid effortlessly swimming through each panel side-by-side with one where she’s first learning how to stand. The differences between the two spreads are intense and powerful, marking the girl’s visual journey and showcasing David’s keen ability to portray parallel types of movement in very different ways.

And, of course, a lack of paneling on a spread is also significant. The places where a panel takes up the whole page—or even the entire spread—force readers to pause and take in the gravity of the scene portrayed. It’s the opposite of movement, and David proves he’s an expert at that, too. As quickly as he can make images move through his panels, he’s just as adept at freezing moments in time, letting readers process the images before them.

David’s skills transfer beautifully into a graphic novel format, and I look forward to seeing what else he creates for us. His pairing with Donna Jo Napoli was a huge success—especially given the language barriers in the book and Donna’s experience in the field of linguistics—and I hope to see more from the duo.

Fish Girl publishes from Clarion Books TOMORROW, March 7, 2017! Make sure you stop by All the Wonders on publication day to listen to a podcast interview with Donna and David!

About the Author

Mel Schuit

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Mel is a picture book author, illustrator, and enthusiast with an MA in Children’s Literature, an MFA in Writing for Children, and a BA in Studio Art. She is currently querying her first picture book about Penelope, a pineapple who is trying to find a creative solution to a very spiky problem. Visit her at and follow her on twitter and Instagram @spiky_Penelope

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