A FISHTASTIC! Interview and Giveaway!

There is a new picture book swimming about in the world—

And it’s called Fishtastic!!

The subtitle is, “A Tale of Magic and Friendship” which is extremely apropos. Because, you see, this book is written by my very dear friend, Tess Weaver, and I had the privilege to illustrate it. 

Tess and I both live in Iowa City and have been part of a critique group for close to 20 years. We have swum together through life’s calm and stormy waters and like the characters in Fishtastic, we have formed a magical friendship.

Iowa City is home to Hancher Auditorium, an extraordinary arts venue for our community. When the director approached Tess and me with the vision to create a picture book that would inspire young people to express their creativity and celebrate the magnificent fish sculptures recently installed in Hancher’s Wellspring, it felt like a dream come true.

Tess has written a universally relatable story that appeals to all ages everywhere.

Today, I’ve asked her to tell us a little about writing this whimsical fish story.

Jennifer: Tess, what were some of the challenges you faced in order to write a story within such… um… challenging parameters? And how did you come up with this creative and clever idea?

Thank you for that wonderful introduction, Jennifer. I can’t believe we’ve known each other for nearly twenty years! How is that possible? Creating a book is fun but hard work too. I feel very fortunate to have you as one of my critique partners, and to call you friend.

So back to those parameters—What I remember most about our meeting with Chuck Swanson, the director of Hancher Auditorium, is that he was incredibly effusive about his hope that we could create a picture book that Hancher could use as an outreach tool to encourage literacy and to foster a connection to our community. I had always dreamed that you and I could work together one day, but I never considered fish characters—though I have nothing against fish! I felt excited and challenged and stretched. “Fish coming to Hancher” was a very loose guideline, and somehow confining too. He did say “whimsical,” though. That gave me a boost. 

After our meeting, I read more information about Hancher’s artistic goals. Then I looked up photographs of Colette Hosmer’s other sculptures to get an idea of her work. I have a habit of walking when I’m trying to think of ideas or put phrases together. About two weeks after our meeting with Chuck, I was walking around my neighborhood, and I kept having visions of a trunk bobbing up to the surface of the Iowa river, then being shoved up onto the riverbank but sliding back into the water. That got me thinking: What was in that trunk? Who was shoving it? Why? Asking those questions led me to my main character and to the entire Fishtastic crew.

Jennifer: You have written many amazing books for children and your ability to create endearing characters is truly a gift. Such as my personal favorite, Alma, the singing cat in the award-winning picture book, Opera Cat. What traits did you want to instill in Etta, our little fishy protagonist?

I’m not sure that I decided much about Etta; she seemed to show up pretty fully formed. She was tiny and talented, but she was missing one special ability that the rest of the Fishtastics shared. This didn’t stop her from being kind or resilient. When the Fishstastics went off on their theatrical adventure, I wanted Etta to play a key part. I was hoping that her caring nature would lead to an unexpected outcome, and it did. That was satisfying for me as a writer. 

Jennifer: Your Author’s Note at the back is incredibly profound and moving, whether you are familiar with Hancher and the fish or not. Was it difficult to write and research?

That is very kind of you to say. Actually, it was an honor to write the Author’s Note. My only qualm was doing justice to Colette Hosmer’s vision of her work as symbolizing connection and inclusivity. I interviewed Chuck for some of the technical details. Then, I spoke with Colette a few times. The fish were still being sculpted at that point, so I was writing about the installation based on her description. Colette was very inspiring and answered all of my questions thoughtfully. It took several drafts before I finished the final version of the Author’s Note. Even at the end, I was counting words and deleting sentences. Still, it was a joy to write.

Jennifer: What message(s) would you like readers to takeaway after reading our book?

Everyone will love your gorgeous illustrations, Jennifer! Thank you again for bringing the Fishtastics to life and imbuing their watery world with such a feeling of fun, flowy magic.

I hope readers will enjoy Etta’s adventure, her resilience, and her caring. I see two possible ways a reader can interpret her path to enchantment, but I’ll leave that up to each reader. I will just add that I believe acts of self-forgetfulness or selflessness can lead to surprising rewards.

Jennifer: Is there anything that you wish that I had asked you about?

We didn’t speak about the difficulties or the joys of working in a pandemic, or about how very fast this book was produced. I think we were both shocked when we met Chuck in late December of 2019, and he asked if we could have a finished book by August of 2020! Well, we couldn’t get the book finished that quickly, but we did agree to work on a tight timeline. For me, that meant conceiving of an idea, writing, and editing the manuscript in about three months. You didn’t have much time to work on your illustrations either. Everything we did was very compressed, so that was an additional pressure I had never worked under before. Added to that was the pandemic, which was new and frightening. I think one reason Etta came to me in this caring way is that I was searching for a bit of light as the world felt so threatened. Etta, Bloop, and Marvel are all good-hearted characters. They showed up right when I needed them. 

Thank you, Tess, for sharing Fishtastic’s creation story with us today. I will always be grateful that we were able to make this very special book together. 

Me too! Thanks, again, Jennifer. This project was heaven-sent.

Want to learn a little more about what this Fishtastic book is about? Watch the book trailer!

For more information about Tess Weaver, visit her website at https://www.tessweaver.com and be sure to follow her on Instagram @TessWeaver!

And, if you would like to win a copy of Fishtastic! Please leave a comment below and we’ll pick a random winner. Check back at my next post to find out if the winner is you!

The granite fish surrounding Hancher Auditorium were the inspiration for the picture book, Fishtastic!

The winner of Be a Tree, written by Maria Gianferrari is Jennifer Dieleman!!! Congratulations, Jennifer— Maria asks that you please email her.

Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Jennifer is the illustrator and author of several acclaimed picture books. Most recently is Always by My Side, 'A Stuffie Story', which she wrote and illustrated. She also is both the author and illustrator of Playing Possum, and Blue Ethel. Jennifer illustrated Gondra’s Treasure, written by Newbery award winner Linda Sue Park. As well as, Sometimes You Fly, by Newbery medalist, Katherine Applegate. She illustrated Yaks Yak, Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park, The Inventor's Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, Rabbi Benjamin's Buttons, by Alice B. McGinty, and The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz.


  1. I am located in Iowa and love to hear about Iowa writers- even better that it appears to be a story set in Iowa too! The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, and I can’t wait to read the story. Would love to hear how you were able to create illustrations on a short timeline. What a beautiful book!

    • Hi Mary, it’s nice to ‘meet’ another Iowan! I’m happy that you like the book we certainly had fun making it! It was very challenging completing the artwork in such a short time. We didn’t work with with a publishing team that required lots of back and forth and waiting for replies, so that helped move things along more quickly. It was one of those serendipitous times when I had a pause between projects and it all just seemed to move along “swimmingly”! Thank you, good luck in the drawing!

    • Hello, Mary,

      Lovely to meet another Iowa writer! Jennifers’s illustrations are so gorgeous. I hope you’ll enjoy the book!

    • Virginia Garcia

      I am excited about this book! The illustrations are whimsical. I love that the book is about friendship and the author and illustrator are close friends!

  2. Oh my goodness. I saw part of an article about Fishtastic in the paper. Your work and art just keeps getting better and better. Thanks for sharing this inspiring post. Is the book out or can we preorder?

    • Hi Dorothia! Sidekick Coffee and Books in Iowa City (319.569.1010) has signed copies available. We would love for people to order through an independent bookseller if possible. It is out in the world and available now. Thank you for your kind words about the artwork!

    • Hi, Dorothia! I remember meeting you at the writer’s retreat in Cedar Rapids two or three years ago. Jennifer’s illustrations are lush and beautiful. I feel so lucky to have worked with her on this book!

  3. Angie Quantrell

    Such lovely, watery illustrations! I love the fish wearing clothes. It puts me in the mind of an old movie we used to watch, one we loved for its playfulness and under the sea adventure with talking, dancing fish. And I can’t remember the name of it. Gah. I will later, I’m sure. Anyway, wonderful! Can’t wait to read Fishtastic! Congrats!

  4. Wow! This book looks fantastically fishtastic! Congrats!

  5. Jennifer and Tess, what a heaven-sent project indeed! I love public art and to have a PB related to it is such a great idea. And you two made a GORGEOUS book!!! Congratulations!!!

    • Thank you so much, Vijaya! It sure was a very special project and collaboration. Good luck in the drawing!

    • Thanks so much for your support and congratulations, Vijaya. This was my first time working on a project that referenced public art. The granite fish are beautiful in person. I hope you can see them one day. In the meantime, Jennifer’s art in this book is an absolute gift. We hope you enjoy our story.

  6. How fun that you got to collaborate on a book, Jennifer! I love the illustrations! Congrats to you & Tess!

  7. Thanks, Maria! It was a very unique and special experience. Thank you!

  8. Danielle Hammelef

    The artwork is so beautiful. This book will be fun to read. I enjoyed the interview and the photo of the granite fish. Congratulations on your book!

  9. So creative! Love it!

  10. Paintings such as these deserve to be in a picture book AND in a museum.

    • Oh my, Joyce, thank you so much! I hope you enjoy the book and thank you for entering the book giveaway!

    • That is so true, Joyce! I was astounded by Jennifer’s artwork the whole way through. What a pleasure it was to open up an attachment from her and see our characters as they progressed through the story. I am so lucky to have worked with Jennifer on this book.

  11. Absolutely gorgeous illustations!

  12. Love it! Thanks for sharing!

  13. What beautiful (fishtastic!) fish! I think my favorite is the lady or fellow with the bright red sides and straw country chapeau!

  14. The trailer is so appealing! Looks like a great book, even for someone who lives in Ohio.

    • So happy you like the trailer, Kathy! I’m originally from Ohio, and the Iowa River looks very much like the rivers I grew up around in my small town. The story itself is meant to be universal with only the setting being quite specific. Enjoy!

  15. Michael Henriksen

    Congratulations on this colorful collaboration! Fun to hear of your real-life friendship behind this story. You can be proud to be o-fish-ally FINished with creating this heartwarming tail!

  16. evie robillard

    So very inspiring! A feast for the eyes, & we cannot wait to read the entire text . . .

  17. Oh, wow. Those puns are FIN-tastic!! Thank you, Michael! It was wonderful to create a book with Jennifer; her art brought my characters to life in such a dramatic and imaginative way. We hope you enjoy the story.

  18. Gorgeous illustrations! I love the pin cushion hat. I look forward to meeting these fish.

  19. I have to know how Etta saves the day! Jennifer, your illustrations are so gorgeous. So many fun details in them!

  20. These illustrations are absolutely gorgeous! I look forward to reading this one.

  21. Rhonda Kay Gatlin

    Hi I am Rhonda Kay Gatlin. Your work is glorious! The colors blend magically and gives a feeling of joy, happiness and love. I believe that the way the story is presented children along with their parents will be delighted to buy your book. I’d love to be in the giveaway. Thank you for sharing.

  22. Susan Lee Roberts

    short deadlines, pandemic, a book request out of the blue–a wonderful achievement! Can’t wait to see it.

  23. Yep, you summed that up nicely, Susan! It was a challenge, but a very rewarding one. Thank you for visiting, commenting, and entering the giveaway!

  24. Thank you for the great post! The backstory is so interesting.

  25. Cynthia Wyszynski

    This book looks lovely. I can’t wait to read it!

  26. What a wonderful story with such beautiful illustrations. I’m so looking forward to reading and sharing Fishtastic!

  27. Amy Chamberlin

    My own children are now adults, but we enjoyed reading together so much when they were children that I can’t help but to continue to seek out great stories coupled with beautiful illustrations. Fishtastic fits all those criteria and I look forward to adding it to my bookshelf!

  28. First of all as a native Iowan transplanted to Minnesota I have to get to Iowa Cit and see those granite fish that inspired you! Second-I’m not an artist but am entranced hearing about illustrating. Your colors are amazing. Thank you for all of this!

    • Hi Mary! The fish really are spectacular and Tess wrote a very poignant and fascinating author’s note in the book about them. I hope you do come back to visit Iowa City and Hancher. And I hope you enjoy the book when you read it. Thank you for your kind words. Good luck in the drawing!

  29. I love all your books Jennifer and look forward to adding this one to my collection for my grandsons to read at “GiGi’s” house!

  30. Patricia Benson

    Another marvelous book from our local writing/arts community. I’m excited to get a copy of the book to add to my collection of “Jennifer” books and help support Hancher! Your fish characters look fantastic.

    • I am so grateful for your continued support, Patti. And I’m sure you will enjoy visiting the amazing stone fish at the Hancher Wellspring! Tess set me up well with her story of magic fish performing in costumes. I hope you enjoy the book and good luck in the giveaway!

  31. Jennifer,

    Our kids really enjoy your books and love to explore the illustrations, always finding new things to look at each time we read the books. We look forward to this new book! Hope you are doing well!


  32. Terrific illustrations that bring me back to Frog and Toad. Love the uses of picture books for my upper grade students in reading and writing.

    • Oh, what a lovely compliment. Frog and Toad are definitely up there with my favorites! And I believe that picture books are a very unique form of art and should be shared with kids of all ages! (as in grown ups, too). Thanks for visiting and entering the drawing!

  33. Meredith Fraser

    What a delightfully enchanting book. The illustrations are perfect . Congratulations!

  34. The art is stunning and it looks like a captivating story. I loved the trailer and can’t wait to experience the magic! Congratulations to you both on a beautiful collaboration.

  35. Congrats, Tess & Jennifer! What a beautiful book (love those costumes!). And what a great story about the unusual way the book came about–and your tight timeline (yikes!). So wonderful that you got to work on it together!

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