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A Story Of Two Fish by Dr Seuss

Gustav The Goldfish; written & illustrated by Theodor Seuss Giesel, Redbook Magazine; June 1950. A Fish Out Of Water, written by Helen Palmer, illustrated by P.D. Eastman; Beginner Books, 1961. As a child, I loved the story A Fish Out Of Water. It was, and remains, one of my favorite Beginner Books.

Written by Helen Palmer, the wife of Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, A Fish Out Of Water has a ‘preposterous-ness’ one associates with a Dr. Seuss story. Then it’s not surprising to discover the story is virtually identical to Seuss’s Gustav The Goldfish, which was published a decade earlier in the June 1950 Redbook Magazine!

One Story, Two Fish

The story lines are identical. Both books start with a boy buying a fish, with the seller providing a curious warning not to over feed the fish.


“When you feed a fish,
never feed him a lot.
So much and no more!
Never more than a spot,
or something may happen.
You never know what.”


“Just feed him a spot. If you feed him a lot
Then something might happen! It’s hard to say what.”

Gus had to have food. Not a spot. But a lot!
No matter what happened. I didn’t care what.
So, finally, one day, poor old Gus looked so thin,
I took the whole box and I dumped in all in!”

In A Fish Out Of Water, the boy also dumped the entire box of fish food into the tank.


“Then something DID happen.
My little Otto began to grow.
I saw him grow.
I saw him grow and grow.
Soon he was too big
for his little fish bowl.”

In Gustav:

But the second I did it, I saw I’d done wrong,
That fish food, I guess, must be terribly strong.
The second Gus ate it, he grew twice as long!
He grew twice as thick, and he grew twice as wide!
Too big for his fishbowl!! His tail was outside!

Next, in both stories, Gus and Otto were put into a larger container, a flower bowl, and proceeded to out grow the bowl.

Next, in both stories, Gus and Otto were brought into the kitchen and moved from pot to pot to bigger pot.

Next, in both stories. Gus and Otto were taken upstairs to the bathtub.

Next, In both stories, the tub overflows, as Gus and Otto continue to grow, and the fish ends up in the flooded cellar of the house.

Next, at last, we have some divergence. In A Fish Out Of Water, the boy calls a policeman, then firemen to help move Otto out of the cellar and into a community swimming pool.

Next, in both stories, the boy telephones the seller of the fish, and asks for his assistance.

From Fish/Water:

“So you fed him too much!
I knew you would.
I always say ‘don’t’
but you boys always do.

From Gustav:

“I knew,” sighed the man, “this would happen one day!”
And he hung up the phone and he came right away

Next, in both stories, the original seller of the fish arrives, fiddles with some items, then goes underwater for some amount of time.

Then up jumped Mr. Carp.
In his hand was a little fish bowl.
In the bowl was my Otto!
Mr. Carp had made him little again.

And he took it down cellar and worked under water
On Gustav for more than an hour and a quarter!
What he did, I don’t know. But he must have been wise
‘Cause he shrank Gustav back to his regular size!

Gustav The Goldfish is a Dr. Seuss story, with his familiar rollicking cadence, anapestic tetrameter, a signature of his poems. In the introduction to Gustav, Seuss writes

“This is the tale of a goldfish that grew,
Presented to you with a technique that’s new.
To get best results, just read it aloud,
To your youngsters and friends and the rest of the crowd.”

And now, after fifty-seven years, Gustav The Goldfish, written and illustrated Dr. Seuss, has surfaced anew.

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