Interview with Elana K. Arnold, author of THE FISH OF SMALL WISHES

In THE FISH OF SMALL WISHES by Elana K. Arnold (Roaring Brook Press, 2024) illustrated by Magdalena Mora, a shy young girl named Kiki gets more than she expected when her new pet fish offers to grant wishes, but there is a catch. The fish can only grant small wishes, and Kiki’s are all too big. But as Kiki finds the courage to help her fish when he grows too big for the bathtub where she keeps him, a bit of magic happens. Featuring lovely, ethereal illustrations, young readers will enjoy this heartwarming book. I am delighted to learn more about THE FISH OF SMALL WISHES, which was inspired by a story from Elana’s family.

Welcome, Elana!

In THE FISH OF SMALL WISHES, shy Kiki saves a giant fish and brings him home. In turn, the fish offers to grant wishes, but Kiki’s wishes (to overcome her shyness and for friendship) are all too big. Her fish friend can only grant small wishes. Why is the idea of “small wishes” important in your story?

This story began when my daughter asked me to tell her a bedtime story. Suddenly I was struck by the image of a golden fish, flopping weakly on a hot asphalt street. The phrase “the fish of small wishes” seemed to appear in the same way—out of nowhere. But everything comes from somewhere, even if we don’t recognize its origins. I guess I’m personally interested in the question of if there’s any such thing as a “small” wish. The things Kiki wants—community, connection, a way to be of service—these are really big things, aren’t they? 

Elana K. Arnold, photo credit: Melissa Hockenberger

When the ever-growing fish becomes too big for Kiki’s bathtub, she is called to action to save her fish friend. She gathers her community, and they build a pond for the fish. In the end, Kiki’s wishes come true when she finds inner strength. What do you hope young readers come away with from this story? 

I hope they’re delighted by the surprise and inevitability of the ending. I was delighted, myself, when I worked it out. It wasn’t easy; this manuscript started off as close to 2,000 words. The process for me was to take many passes through the story, whittling away what wasn’t essential, and then, in the last version of the manuscript before it found a publisher, recognizing that I had to crank up the urgency by making the fish grow. Kiki can’t keep the fish in her bathtub forever. Something must be done, and there’s no one to do it but her. 

What were your thoughts when you first saw the illustrations by Magdalena Mora? 

I was blown away by her dreamy, colorful, beautiful work! As a writer, I always consider it to be a huge gift when an artist agrees to illustrate one of my stories; enlivened and enriched by their artwork, the story becomes a real book—our book. (And, I absolutely love the Fish of Small Wish’s eyebrows). 

Can you share a bit about your family story that inspired THE FISH OF SMALL WISHES? 

When I was young, my grandmother told me about how when she was young, her grandfather brought home a carp… not as a pet, but as an ingredient for a future dish. He plopped it in the bathtub… but when the time came to prepare it, he didn’t have the heart, and returned it to the river. I loved this story; it felt magical to me, and it connected me with an ancestor I’d never meet in person. When my daughter tasked me with an impromptu bedtime story, I fished around in my brain, and this is what I caught. That’s how art works: One part me, one part things outside of me, one part “what if.” The result often feels like magic.

Have you ever had a pet fish? Did it grant wishes?

I have indeed had a pet fish, along with many other pets of many kinds. And my animal companions have granted many wishes—they’ve calmed me, cuddled me, kept me company when I’m lonely, comforted me when I’m full of despair. They’ve been a familiar weight on my lap when I’ve felt restless and undone, they’ve delighted with me in play, they’ve accompanied me on miles and miles of walks. Animals are hugely important in my life and my work.

Thank you, Elana!

Elana K. Arnold is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels (Damsel, What Girls Are Made Of) and children’s books (A Boy Called Bat). She lives in Southern California with her family and a menagerie of pets.

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