Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fish Head

Fish Head
written by Jean Fritz
illustrated by Marc Simont
Out of print, but available here

Meet Fish Head, also known as Long-Tailed Liver Loving Thief, also known as Public Nuisance and Dirty Wharf Cat.

And yes, that is a nasty, stringy fish head hanging from his mouth.  Hence, the moniker.  Poor ol' alley cat.  With nowhere to lay his head, no one to scratch his back, or feed him kibble, Fish Head lives by his wits, which often leads to thievery and ratting.  But he doesn't know he's poor.  He's a proud cat.
He does just what he likes to do,
just when he likes to,
and just how he likes to do it.
He is that kind of cat.
My poor girl, cat lover and bundle of raw emotions, had a hard time with the beginning of this book.  Most of her favorite cat stories feature well fed house kitties.  Or cats of a fantastic sort, who act and think as people, sporting red scarves and dancing Irish jigs.  Even The Outside Cat seems a bit clean, sanitized even.  But not Fish Head.  The desperate sort of scrapping life of an alley cat is the fare in this salty tale by Jean Fritz, an author most well known for her biographies of early American historical figures.

As the story goes,
One drizzly Saturday night Fish Head was doing what he liked most of all to do.  He was chasing a rat.  A fat grandfather rat who knew the waterfront as well as Fish Head did.

In the back alleys they started.  They raced through the shadows, flung themselves around corners, and skidded through doorways.  Up fire escapes and over roof tops.  Tail streaming and ears flattened, Fish Head was only two tail lengths behind when they reached the Waterfront Market.

The chase takes them into the Waterfront Market with it's shelves of molasses and treacle, where Fish Head finds Grandfather Rat resting atop a barrel.

But rest long, Rat does not.  With Fish Head close at his heals, Rat skitters down, races across shelves and over bins, with Fish Head in hot pursuit.  What a mess they make of the market!  And in the end, Grandfather Rat makes his getaway, slipping away into the salty night.

And Fish Head finds himself

on a boat.
He was still there when the funny chug-chugging started but he was too tired to notice.
Slap, slap, slap.
Putt-putt-putt.  The boat was moving!
Thus begins Fish Head's life at sea.  After a rollicking, ankle-swiping cat fight, Fish Head is accepted on board by the likes of Carrots and Kegs, two sailors on the vessel.  And once Fish Head gets his sea legs, he becomes as comfy at sea as a peg-leg pirate, spending his days catching flying fish and lolling on deck in the sun. 

Ah, the life!  But after a while, Fish Head grows restless, homesick for the waterfront on Clambake Island.  After watching the crew go ashore on island after island, Fish Head begins to wonder if he'll ever again chase rats through the wharf.

Until one day, there in the distance . . . an island. 

Clambake Island.


But after his maiden sea voyage, how will Fish Head cope with life as a once again homeless landlubber?


  1. I've never heard of this one! Wow! You find some great titles! I've always found Fritz's historical titles dense, but this one looks like fun!

  2. I'm blessed to live minutes from a thrift store and a used bookstore.

  3. Oh, my Gosh! I have been looking for this book for over 20 years! Thanks!

  4. I read this book to my children and am now reading it to my grandchildren. We all love Fish Head the cat!