Voice, and Poor Doreen

One of my favorite books of 2014 is Poor Doreen – A Fishy Tale, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by *Alexandra Boiger. Want a book with a superlative VOICE? This is it.


When reading this story for the first time, I smiled all the way through. But then I heard it read aloud at a writing retreat. Holy Mother of Picture Books. When every one of nine grown women is tipping off her chair and laughing so hard she’s pulling out tissues to mop her tears, you know you’ve got something special.

Here’s the synopsis from the title page: “A fish named Doreen gets into all sorts of trouble on the way to see her cousin.”


An understatement, that. Doreen, with her red headscarf and umbrella, is a happy-go-lucky ding-a-ling, clueless and irrepressible no matter what dire circumstances befall her. And they do. When she chomps a fishing lure she has mistaken for a tasty dragonfly, for instance, and is reeled through the water at a breakneck pace, is she distressed? Nope.

“Whee!” cheers Doreen. “What a REMARKABLE swimmer I am! I’ll be with my cousin in no time”!


So Doreen’s voice is appealing by itself, and the cheery artwork captures her cock-eyed optimism and pumps up the humor beautifully. But then, THEN, toss in a droll narrator who can’t resist adding her own play by play. When Doreen is reeled close to the fisherman, he yanks her up into the air. She yippees again and exclaims, “I’m going on an outing!”

On the facing page, the narrator interjects:

“Oh dear, Doreen. No.
“You’re not.”

These reality checks appear throughout the story, serving as constant counterpoints to Doreen’s naiveté. And they’re way funny.

Reading books like Poor Doreen reminds me what a powerful storytelling tool voice can be – and motivates me to tinker with my own stories until their voices are one-of-a-kind distinctive.

Off to work on that….

Jill Esbaum

* Illustrator Alexandra Boiger graciously shared her artwork for this post. Read more about her at www.alexandraboiger.com

Read more about Doreen and her creator, Sally Lloyd-Jones, on Sally’s website:  http://www.sallylloyd-jones.com 

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum has been picture book crazy since her 3 kids were little, and especially so after her first was published in 2004 (Stink Soup). Recent titles: Stinkbird Has a Superpower, Jack Knight's Brave Flight, Where'd My Jo Go?, Frog Boots, How to Grow a Dinosaur, Frankenbunny, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!, and more. Coming in 2024: Parrotfish Has a Superpower (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection) and Bird Girl: Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature with the World (another JLG Gold Standard Selection). She's also the author of many nonfiction books for young readers, as well as an early graphic reader series, Thunder & Cluck. Learn more at http://jillesbaum.com.


  1. Can’t wait to read this one, Jill. Just reserved it at the library!

  2. Sounds like a GEM – and amazing mentor text. Off to the library website to reserve!! Thanks, Jill!

  3. Joanne,
    I recently subscribed to this blog. I’m so glad I did. What a terrific resource. This book sounds great. I’m making a list of books to check out, thanks to this group.

  4. Voice is everything, and this one’s got it!

  5. This sounds terrific. Can’t wait to get a look at it!

  6. That’s for sure, Mirka! Makes me want to do better. 🙂

    Let me know what you think, Kevan. It’s a blast.

  7. Us, too! 🙂

  8. Love this book! But I’ll be reading it again with a new ear!
    Glad I saw Tammi Kippes Sauer’s post on FB for this blog!

  9. We hope you’ll come back again and again, Kim. 🙂

  10. I’ve always enjoyed stories where the MC misunderstands the situation. This sounds like such a fun read-aloud. I will have to check it out. Thanks for spotlighting it.

  11. I think kids love feeling like they’re in on the joke, too! Welcome, Vijaya. And thanks, theartofpuro.

  12. I read this book a couple of weeks ago and it cracked me up, too. So funny! The voice is amazing and unique.

  13. Penny – I know, right? One of a kind, that’s for sure!

  14. Sounds like fun! I hadn’t heard of this book, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. ~ Amy

  15. You’re very welcome, Amy. ☺️

  16. Just read a couple of entries here – great stuff! I’ll be back, and thanks.

  17. Thanks, Jan!

  18. Poor Doreen is my new favorite picture book for so many reasons. I love Doreen’s, as so aptly put it, cockeyed optimism expressed in her own voice contrasted with the narrator’s succinct realism. The book is also replete with unique, brilliant similes. Best part: it’s almost impossible for me to read Poor Doreen aloud because I start laughing out loud. Pure PB genius.

  19. Exactly, Charlotte! And she also works a few letters of the alphabet in there. Amazing, really.

  20. Thank you, Jill, I just love this book on so many levels and for so many reasons!

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