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The Pout-Pout Fish

by Deborah Diesen

Summary

The Pout-Pout Fish is a story about happinness and the role of purpose in making a life meaningful.

Mr. Fish lives with a constant pout on his face. He always seems to be sad and frowning. Octopi, clams, and other various sea critters all tell him to smile a little and be happy, but the Pout-Pout fish claims that this is just the way he is. Then, all of a sudden, his frown is turned upside-down after he is kissed by a shimmering silver fish. After he is kissed, the Pout-Pout fish becomes the Kiss-Kiss fish, giving all of his sea friends kisses and making everyone as happy as he is.

Read aloud video by Auntie Lee

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Happiness

This book explores many facets of happiness, such as, what does it mean to be happy? Are we in control of our own happiness? Through these questions, the book allows for discussion about happiness and the role of will and circumstance in shaping this emotion. At the beginning of the book, Mr. Fish is sad and spreads “dreary-wearies all over the place”. Despite these emotions, it remains unclear to the reader why Mr. Fish feels this way, and it appears he is even unsure himself. In response to the octopus, who asks him why he is so sad, Mr. Fish responds that he has no choice because he is a pout-pout fish. That is just the way he is. Is Mr. Fish sad because of his pouting face? Or is there is something else causing him to feel sad? Is Mr. fish truly destined to be sad? Or is it a matter of circumstance? Through these questions, this book creates space to discuss the reasons behind happiness and sadness in order to better understand these complex emotions.

In addition to Mr. Fish’s sadness, the other fish don’t understand his emotions and exclude him because of this. The jellyfish, squid, and octopus all complain that Mr. Fish mopes too much. Is it okay for the sea creatures to expect Mr. Fish to be happy when he is not? Is it okay for Mr. Fish to not feel happy? These types of questions delve further into the role of well-being and happiness in personal relationships. For Mr. Fish, the sea creatures attempt to prevent, correct, or mitigate his sadness and assume it is a generally undesirable trait to be sad. However, this approach isolates Mr. Fish, which presumably furthers his sadness. What would be a better path of action for the sea creatures to take? How can the sea creatures take better care of their friend? These questions can be used to open up a discussion regarding personal relationships hindered by the challenges facing a friend.

Purpose and Meaningfulness

In the second half of the book, Mr. Fish is kissed by the Silver Fish and transforms into a happy, kissing fish with the purpose of making everyone else feel better with one of his joyous kisses. This transformation, as a result of the kiss, seems to make his life much better. One of the thoughts that come to mind when reflecting on this transformation is whether Mr. Fish’s life is better because he is happy or because he now has a purpose in life. This book allows for a facilitated discussion and debate about happiness versus purpose. Is it important for the Pout-Pout fish to be happy, or is it more important that he now has a purpose? And what is the connection between the two? Can someone be happy without a purpose? Or have a purpose, but not be happy?

This book also asks the important question of what role purpose plays in having a meaningful life and whether a purpose needs to be meaningful or not. Some may believe that the Pout-Pout fish’s life seems to go from having no meaning to being meaningful after finding his purpose. Others may disagree and claim that his purpose is meaningless. This debate asks the important question of whether it is up to you or someone else to decide if your purpose is meaningful or worthwhile. Many activities can seem like a waste of time if one focuses on it, but perhaps it is a matter of perspective and how it affects people’s lives differently. For example, a man who spends his life counting all the blades of grass on his lawn may seem like he has a pointless purpose, but it may be completely meaningful to him or maybe even some others who know him to count all the blades of grass on his lawn. Considering this, we can begin to think about what makes a purpose worthwhile and meaningful. Does his purpose even need to have meaning? Hopefully, through this book, we can produce a productive conversation about purpose and meaningfulness.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Happiness

  1. Is the pout-pout fish happy?
  2. Is it bad for the pout-pout fish not to be happy?
  3. Why does the jellyfish wish that the pout-pout fish not greet him with a grimace and a growl?
  4. Why do the other sea creatures want the pout pout fish to be happy? Is it okay for them to want this? How do you think this makes Mr. Fish feel?
  5. Imagine a time when you felt happy. What does this feel like? For what reasons are people happy?
  6. Imagine a time when you felt sad. What does this feel like? For what reasons are people sad?
  7. Is happiness important? Is it the most important thing in life? Or is it something else?

Purpose and Meaningfulness

“‘My friends,” says Mr. Fish, “I should have known it all along. I thought that I was pouty, but it turns out I was wrong. I’m a kiss-kiss fish…”

  1. Why is the Pout-Pout fish sad? What do you think he feels this way all day?
  2. What does the Pout-Pout fish do after the Silver fish kisses him? Why might that make him feel better?
  3. After the Silver fish kisses the Pout-Pout fish, his life seems much better. Do you think it is because he’s feeling happy or because he has a new purpose in making others feel better by kissing them?
  4. Is it more important that he feels better or that he has this new purpose? What is the connection between the two?
  5. After being kissed by the Silver fish, the Pout-Pout fish’s purpose seems to be making other fish feel better. Is this purpose meaningful, or is it pointless?
  6. What/who decides whether a purpose is meaningful or worthwhile?
  7. Does your purpose in life need to actually be meaningful or worthwhile, or does it not matter?
  8. How much does having a meaningful purpose contribute to having a good, happy life? Can someone be happy without a purpose? Or have a purpose, but not be happy?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Tristan Leigh and Sally Donovan. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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Back to All Books Cover image for The Pout-Pout Fish featuring an illustration of a blue and green fish facing the viewer. The fish looks as though it has just plopped on the ground and has its tail flipped up over its head. The fish is pouting. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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