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Papa's Mechanical Fish

3.88  ·  Rating Details  ·  500 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
Clink! Clankety-bang! Thump-whirr! That's the sound of Papa at work. Although he is an inventor, he has never made anything that works perfectly, and that's because he hasn't yet found a truly fantastic idea. But when he takes his family fishing on Lake Michigan, his daughter Virena asks, "Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a fish?"—and Papa is off to his workshop ...more
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published June 4th 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
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Jubilation Lee
So I read Papa’s Mechanical Fish, and I really liked it. The illustrations were funny, the topic was awesome (and partly true!) and steam-powered roller skates? Amazing.

But I also sort of wanted to call Child Protective Services and get the kids rescued.

Because seriously? Papa (loosely based on real-life submarine builder Lodner Phillips) is a crazy genius inventor.

And sometimes it’s okay, because crazy genius inventors, right?

And, bonus, he's also a billionaire!

But you know what I would not do,
Jun 09, 2013 Laura rated it really liked it
Virena's father is a passionate inventor. One day, he decides to take his family fishing and along the way, is struck by the brilliant idea to find out what it's like to be a fish. He builds a rudimentary submarine and, with each failure, improves it based on Virena's thoughtful questions. He finally designs a 'fish' that holds the entire family and they enjoy an afternoon under the water. The book ends with Virena asking her father if he's "ever wondered what it's like to be a bird?"

Virena's father is an inventor, and for some reason, he becomes obsessed with the idea of a vessel that can move underwater just like a fish. After several failed attempts and revised plans, he succeeds, and the whole family gets to enjoy his invention. Not only do I love the idea that the story is based on Lodner Phillips, a real life inventor whose family ventured into Lake Michigan in his invention, but I loved the language used to describe the man at work ["Clink! clankety-bang! Thump-whirrr ...more
Nene Riley
Jul 29, 2015 Nene Riley rated it really liked it
Categories/Genres: Picture Book/Historical Fiction

Estimate of Age Level of Interest: Grades K-3

Estimate of Reading Level: 2.5, Lexile 480

Brief Description:

Papa tries again and again to make a submersible boat. Each time the family goes down with him to the lake to test it, and each time it doesn’t work. The narrator, one of his children, keeps coming up with new ideas to help launch the Whitefish. “Papa, I wonder what it’s like to be a fish?” and “Papa, how do fish move through the water?” and
Amanda Coppedge
What an excellent picture book for older readers. This would be great shared one on one with a child as young as kindergarten, or read to a group of 1st-2nd graders. It would also make an excellent gift for a child with a lot of imagination, a budding inventor, or a child who loved to take apart things to see how they worked. If I read this book as a child it would inspire me to keep a notebook full of invention ideas, creating detailed sketches like the one in this book.
High Plains Library District
May 19, 2014 High Plains Library District rated it really liked it
Shelves: jan, children
I shared this book with a group of 75 1st graders, promoting our STEAM summer reading program, and they loved it! If you get 1st graders to laugh and take part in a nonfiction book about an inventor they never heard of, I'd say you have a winner.

The story is loosely based on the inventor, Lodner Phillips, who became obsessed with building an underwater vehicle. Reading through the book, you'll see pencil drawings of his submarine daydreams. These drawings are great for discussing how new inventi
Fatima Parra
Mar 25, 2016 Fatima Parra rated it it was amazing
This is a great book for children in grades k-5! It is about a father who wants to invent something but every time he tries, it never works. Papa keeps thinking about what to invent when he finally gets an idea when he and his family go fishing. He decides to make a machine that will take him underwater and let him see the fish and almost be a fish. It took him several attempts to finally get it right but with the help of his family he want able to make a working submarine! This book is based on ...more
Fatima Parra
Mar 07, 2016 Fatima Parra rated it it was amazing
This is a great book for children in grades k-5! It is about a father who wants to invent something but every time he tries, it never works. Papa keeps thinking about what to invent when he finally gets an idea when he and his family go fishing. He decides to make a machine that will take him underwater and let him see the fish and almost be a fish. It took him several attempts to finally get it right but with the help of his family he want able to make a working submarine! This book is based on ...more
I'm putting this on my nonfiction shelf because as Candace Fleming writes in her author's note at the end, it's "almost" true. Lodner Phillips really did take his family for a trip underwater in one of his inventions.

Every time one of his "mechanical fish" sinks, Papa responds, "It almost worked." I love that failure doesn't make him give up. I love that the daughter (the narrator of the story) is the out-loud wonderer who inspires some of Papa's revisions. I love that the baby chimes in as wel
I enjoyed this book. In general, I liked the art, especially the schematics of the the different iterations of the submarine that Papa builds, but I think that the characters' and fish's large, round eyes are kind of creepy. I like that the book has a positive message for kids about how great ideas for inventions come along, but they require persistence and hard work to make a reality. Kids will enjoy the onomatopoeia and repetition of the story, as well as the silliness of the book. It's an add ...more
Terri Van Loon
Jun 07, 2014 Terri Van Loon rated it really liked it
Shelves: ed-689, non-fiction
This non-fiction text tells the story about the invention of one of the first submarine's. The story is told from the perspective of a young girl whose father is working on this invention. The girl tells about how her father has failed in his attempts to create a "mechanical fish" over and over, but each time he fails he comes up with a way to improve his invention. Eventually, his persistence and innovation pays off. I think this would be an excellent text to teach students about engineering de ...more
Edward Sullivan
Jul 04, 2013 Edward Sullivan rated it really liked it
Shelves: picture-books
Kulikov's illustrations are a great complement to this fanciful story about eccentric inventor Lodner Phillips.
Gabrielle Blockton
Jun 13, 2015 Gabrielle Blockton rated it really liked it
Date: April 29th, 2015

Author/Illustrator: Candace Fleming/Boris Kulikov

Title: Papa’s Mechanical Fish

Plot: A father is determined to both create and perfect an underwater vessel. Even after many failed attempts, the father still is determined to prove to his family that he can build something amazing!

Setting: Family Home; The Lake

Characters: Papa; Young girl; Young girl’s family

Point-Of-View: First-Person

Theme: Determination; New Ideas; Creativity

Style: Children’s Picture Book; Narrative

Feb 08, 2013 Anners rated it really liked it
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be remembered for something you invented? Candace Fleming's most recent book is a fictional account based on true events of eccentric inventor Lodner Phillips' life as told from the perspective of his daughter, Virena. She witnesses her father first theorizing, then tinkering, and eventually finalizing various projects after being inspired by the way fish navigate in their natural environment. Fleming explores the concept of perspective as it relat ...more
Bambini Travel
Mar 14, 2016 Bambini Travel rated it really liked it
This story is loosely based on the true inventions of Lodner Phillips who invented one of the first submarines and tested it in Lake Michigan with his family. The story of Papa's Mechanical Fish is full of tinkering, problem solving, and perseverance in the best kind of way. The imaginative world of this creative man is brilliantly captured in the playful and fantastical illustrations by Boris Kulikov. A wonderful book for the child who loves to invent and tinker.
Jul 29, 2014 mg rated it it was amazing
Fabulous pictures, coupled with a great story. The text is fun in its perspective (the inventor's daughter) as well as its patterned dialogue and onomatopoeia. The illustrations by Boris Kulikov have many fun details for little ones to spot read after read...

Nice mini-bio of Lodner Phillips at the end that explains his obsession with building a submarine (though he was not the first to do so) and how he took his family inside one in Lake Michigan.
Emily Metroka
Mar 03, 2014 Emily Metroka rated it really liked it
I liked that this book included a bit of a formulaic repetition aspect to it. Machine doesn't work, try again, machine doesn't work, try again. This book is definitely best suited to elementary age children. Hopefully the talk about the scientific elements in the submarine (plunger, air compression, etc.) will encourage readers to ask questions and look into more about this invention! This book would go perfectly with a program on inventions or STEM.
Apr 05, 2016 Madelaine rated it it was amazing
My children and I remember checking this book out at the library before but this story truly was even more magical the second time around. Papa never gave up as he just knew that he would have the right creation one day. A great story on sharing with our children how we should not give up, give in and continue to work at and chase our dreams no matter what they may be.
Sep 14, 2014 Tina rated it it was ok
Reading Level: Primary
Genre: Picture Book, Historic Fiction
Review: This story describes Lodner Phillips, an inventor whose claim to fame is his prototype for a submarine. I thought the artwork was unique, but the storyline seemed to jerk around a bit. It almost seemed like the target audience wasn't consistent. The many voices may make read-aloud confusing.
Katie Logonauts
This fictionalized tale is based on the true story of inventor Lodner Phillips and his efforts to create a functional submarine in the 1850s. It is quite a whimsical take on the story but interesting at least from the perspective of getting kids to think about the barriers to invention and creation and how to overcome them when faced with difficulties.
Dec 14, 2013 Diane rated it really liked it
What does it take to be an inventor? Ask a lot of questions. Be observant to the world around you. Learn from your mistakes. Be persistent. All ideas that are central to this book.

A fictional account of inventor Lodner Phillips, the man who designed The Whitefish, a submarine. After his first attempt, which "almost worked", more questions are asked and more ideas abound. He then creates the second attempt, which also "almost worked." The process continues until he has a successful submarine. And
Jul 16, 2015 Calye rated it it was amazing
Awesome on all levels. Beautiful illustrations with a fun story. What we liked about reading it aloud was each family member comments in turn and in similar ways each time and so you can point to each one or count or whatever fun thing you and your kid(s) like to do. Enjoyable tale and it included Lake Michigan: bonus points for that!
Emily Batdorf
Aug 21, 2013 Emily Batdorf rated it it was amazing
This was a cute story. It apparently has "almost true" origins regarding the Victorian inventor, Lodner Phillips, and his submarines. There is much repetition and the pacing is fast, so one would have to read it to a young audience and pause frequently to admire the illustrations. These were very clever as they mixed richly-colored scenes from the story with the various black-and-white sketches of submarine models. These sketches were, of course, very detailed and mechanical, so distinctly Victo ...more
Sep 25, 2014 Courtney rated it it was ok
Shelves: edrd-314
I thought the book was fine and fun to read, but my only hesitation would be what kids might get from it. I'm worried that kids might take away "bigger is better" or "invention/industrializing things makes them better then a natural design" , kind of like a "Lorax" movie meaning.
This is a really enjoyable book with fantastic illustrations. A father, who has failed at many of his other smaller inventions, decides to build a submarine to take his family under the lake.
At the end is a write-up explaining the origins of the story based on the true story of an 1851 inventor named Lodner Phillips who actually took his family in a submarine he built in Lake Michigan. According to the author's research nobody knows what happened to the submarine after it was on display for man
In the summer of 1851, with encouragement and ideas provided by his family, an inventor builds a working submarine and takes his family for a ride. Includes notes about Lodner Phillips, the real inventor on whom the story is based.
May 27, 2015 Barbara rated it really liked it
A really fun story about invention that I believe would work really well as a read aloud. It's funny but also informative. I think the kids will really get into the story and love the progression that Papa's invention takes on.
This is a lively fictional story based on the real inventor, Lodner Phillips. Papa loves to invent things, but he hasn't invented anything that works perfectly. However, one day, he takes his family fishing, and he gets an idea! He starts to design a mechanical fish, and he calls it the Whitefish. But it doesn't work. It sinks. He tries several more times, but all his designs fail UNTIL the Whitefish IV! I love the ending. I also love Mama, who lovingly supports her husband's trials and errors. ...more
Ms Threlkeld
Mar 10, 2015 Ms Threlkeld rated it liked it
Shelves: picture-books
A great story for talking to kids about having a growth-mindset. The illustrations are interesting and match the text well. Could also be used to talk about problem solving and for making predictions.
Diane Kress Hower
Apr 23, 2014 Diane Kress Hower rated it really liked it
A fun fictional story based on the life of Lodner Phillips. Fleming's voice rings through bringing life to Papa and his passion to invent! This is a must for teachers and librarians, and parents!
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I have always been a storyteller. Even before I could write my name, I could tell a good tale. And I told them all the time. As a preschooler, I told my neighbors all about my three-legged cat named Spot. In kindergarten, I told my classmates about the ghost that lived in my attic. And in first grade I told my teacher, Miss Harbart, all about my family's trip to Paris, France.

I told such a good st
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