Seahorses Are Sold Out – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Yes, I usually love books in translation because they take risks that those published in the U.S. often don’t. Case in point is this book from 2021 that you may have missed.

Here we have a frazzled, overworked father who’s pulling his hair out, while his child just wants to go to the lake, as promised. Yes, sometimes parents make promises they can’t keep. Right?

Text ©Katja Gehrmann Illus. ©Constance Spengler

Dad is in the midst of an urgent project. He’s unshaven, soldering gun in hand, with mysterious diagrams scattered on the floor and on his computer screen. Someone wrote a review on Amazon and speculated that he was an electrical engineer, LOL. Yes, while I was in engineering school, I did find many electrical engineers to be a bit heady and distracted.

Dad says that if he can “work in peace, it will be a lot quicker.”

Text ©Katja Gehrmann Illus. ©Constance Spengler

And so the negotiation begins, with the father asking the child about other playing options, and the child explaining why they won’t work. So when the big question hits, the one you know has been quashed in previous Q+A sessions, “Can I have a pet?” Dad says “…would you play with it very quietly and not bother me until I finish my work?”

Oh, parents, haven’t we all been there? Desperate times call for desperate negotiations. Especially during the pandemic. Luckily for us, we don’t live in picture books, where the consequences of these kinds of interactions grow to absurd proportions….although, I do recall my son blowing something up in the garage and then yelling “I’m okay!” while I was working, LOL.

The last line on this page brings me to my international picture book worshipping knees:

Dad gives me his wallet and tells me to watch out for traffic.

Oh. My. Word. We would never get away with that at a U.S. publishing house…although, I’m sure someone may find an example or two to prove me wrong. But kids will LOVE this! Such autonomy! Such a terrific example of a well-meaning child outwitting an adult in a way that doesn’t feel mean. Parents are supposed to be watchful and all-knowing, yes? So when the tables are turned, it’s delightful.

Kids will eagerly put themselves in the place of the main character when they head to a nearby pet store. They will experience a frisson of excitement when this child takes self-entertainment into their own hands. The child first purchases a mouse…that gets lost, so they go back the next day to buy a puppy, because they know puppies are good at sniffing out lost things.

At one point, the mouse is eating what look to be purple fruit loops in a cereal bowl at the breakfast table while the oblivious (and sweetly understanding father) talks to the child about a puddle he found next to the toilet, thinking that the child made it. When the child says, “It can happen when you’re little,” (because in the child’s head puppies are little, right?) dad sighs and says “It’s not that bad.” Then leaves the table to head back to work.

Oh. My. Word. But I’ve already said that.

This cumulative, dare I say, tail, and its ever-growing menagerie and their shenanigans is a hoot.

I also love how dad takes his child’s creative use of time (and money) in stride at the very end. Clearly a loving father who was just a bit stressed out and is now blissed out with his child (and the menagerie) at the lake once the stress of work is over. No distractions.

The tongue-in-cheek illustrations add another fabulous layer of humor to the mix. Great book!

Oh, and if you’d like to read an interesting, albeit lengthy, discussion of humor in picture books, I recommend this blog post by Ed Asher Briant.


Pair this book with Duckworth, the Difficult Child by Michael Sussman, illus. by Julía Sardà. How are the two books similar? How are they different, especially the endings?

Make your own origami menagerie: puppy, parrot, penguin, mouse, seal, and elephant

Go through the book and examine how the illustrations add humor to the author’s words. Can you find examples of funny things that aren’t mentioned at all in the text of the story? What makes those examples funny? Can you find any examples of how what you see in the illustration is the opposite of what’s being said? Why might that be funny?

Title: Seahorses Are Sold Out

Author: Katja Gehrmann

Illustrator: Constanze Spengler

Translator: Shelley Tanaka

Publisher: Gecko Press, 2021

Ages: K-3rd or anyone who loves absurd picture books

Themes: dealing with an absent (but present) parent, making your own fun, absurd humor

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

8 thoughts on “Seahorses Are Sold Out – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    Great, you shared another translated book! Laughed when you mentioned the father handing the child his wallet and reminds her to watch crossing the street. That would have been more common when we were children — we had more independence. US publishers would omit that statement! But, it’s fun!

    I reviewed My New Granny by Elisabeth Steinkellner in 2012. It was a story about dementia. And the European illustrations were quite unique, showing pictures of granny dressing that made me giggle. Again, US publishers would not have okayed some of the pictures. I love them for their authenticity!

  2. authorlaurablog says:

    Some of the restrictions I’ve heard recently about what children are NOT allowed to do on their own in a US published picture book are ridiculous! There was a Facebook discussion about not using scissors or cooking. How does the MC have agency if they can’t do anything?
    This book looks fabulous! Thanks, Jilanne.

      • authorlaurablog says:

        I find the restrictions to be CYA based.
        When I helped out park district choose playground equipment for a park that hadn’t been updated for forever, we picked things that were safe for children 2-8 years old like flat wood (not rounded logs) on the bridge so little feet could be safe and bars far enough apart that heads wouldn’t get stuck, bucket swings …
        After I moved from the house across from the park, another group of parents complained that they had to watch their children and couldn’t sit on the benches so they “childproofed” by adding more bars to the bridge and a few other things. 🤦‍♀️ I’m only going to say I think we need to let them try things and be successful instead of keeping them in bubble wrap.

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