Thursday 3 June 2021

Coco, the Fish with Hands

Coco, the Fish with Hands by Aleesah Darlison, illustrated by Mel Matthews (Puffin Books) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN 978176089926

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is the first story in the multi-book Endangered Animal Tales series, which highlights some of Australia’s cutest and most vulnerable wildlife. At first glance, the title sounds silly, but who was to know that Australia actually has a spotted Handfish swimming in its waters, (exclusively) in the Derwent River estuary near Hobart, Tasmania?

The fish, which don’t grow any larger than 12 cm long, have a unique pattern of spots that help them hide against the riverbed. They are critically endangered, with fewer than 3,000 fish living in the wild. The ‘hands’ of the spotted handfish are actually overgrown fins which they use to walk as the fish lives in silt and sand on the estuary floor.

Darlison’s book is presented with both fiction (about a spotted handfish, Coco) and facts on each double page. Coco is in search of a mate and then somewhere to lay her eggs. (Handfish only lay eggs from September to October). She needs to avoid predators such as an anglerfish, a Northern Pacific seastar, and a crab. Finally, she finds a male who, spying her, performs an elegant mating dance. When Coco lays her eggs (80 to 250 each year), the white dots sprout and grow. Both parents protect their eggs until they hatch (six millimetres long, they are called fry). Then they are off on their own.

The illustrations show the handfish and other sea creatures in large cartoon-style against a mostly green river background. Coco’s story is told in a different font to that of the facts.

The Australian author, Aleesah Darlison, has written other picture books in the Endangered Animal Tales series, including Little Meerkat, Warambi, and The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine. Her books alert young readers (and older) about the dangers that wild creatures face in nature.

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