Teacher's Guide: Fish


When the political situation becomes too grave, a family of foreign aid workers makes a perilous journey to the border of the war-torn nation that they have called home.

Tiger’s parents are aid workers in a foreign country wrecked by war. They decide to leave when the political situation in the country becomes so volatile that they fear for their child’s safety. On the day of the family’s departure, Tiger rescues a fish from muddy waters and insists that they take it along. The fish is secured in a jar strapped to Tiger’s back and becomes a symbol of hope as the family, along with a guide, makes their long trek to the border. Food and water are scarce, and an encounter with “fighting men” threatens the family’s survival. Will the travelers’ faith in their ability to endure get them to the border and to safety?


Fish is L. S. Mathews’s first book for young readers, though she has written poetry and short stories since she was a child. She is a teacher and writer in England, where she lives with her husband, their two children, and her Novia Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever.



Ask students to collect information about current events related to war and pin them to a bulletin board. Engage the class in a discussion about the politics behind war and the affects of war on the people of war-torn nations. Then ask the class to debate ways to deal with political conflicts other than war. Ask students to research aid workers in foreign countries. Then discuss with the students the risks these people face, who helps them when they need it, and how they would feel about doing it.


–Tiger says, “We were a funny family–not like the ones in the books I read, which we’d brought from our own country.” (p. 3) Discuss how Tiger’s family might seem different from those in books that Tiger reads. Describe their relationship with one another. Discuss how Tiger’s family is different because of their work and living conditions. Debate whether the family will change when they return to their own country.

FEAR–Tiger’s family is quite good at dealing with their fears, but they do experience some fearful moments. At what point does Tiger become frightened for the first time? Discuss how the guide helps the family stay in control of their fears. Describe the moment when the guide almost collapses with fear. Why are the men in the mountain frightened when they see the guide?

COURAGE–Discuss Tiger’s greatest lessons in courage. How is the entire family a role model for courage? Discuss why it takes courage for the guide to help the family escape. Engage the class in a debate about whether it takes more courage for the family to leave than to stay.

HOPE–Ask the class to discuss how the fish is a symbol of hope. Engage the class in a discussion about why the parents allow Tiger to take the fish along when they are so limited in what they can carry. Why does the fish seem large at times and small at other times? Why does Tiger need the fish? Discuss why Tiger no longer needs the fish at the end of the journey.

GUILT–Tiger’s father feels guilty about putting his family in such danger. Discuss the guilt he might have felt if they had left the village sooner. Discuss the guilt for leaving and for abandoning the villagers. How does the guide help Tiger’s father deal with his guilt? Tiger’s father refuses to let the donkey carry Tiger until it becomes absolutely necessary. How is this decision related to guilt?

SURVIVAL–Tiger has been considered a “fighter” since birth. How is this quality important to Tiger’s survival as the family makes their journey to the border? How does the family’s work prepare them for survival? Why is the guide so interested in helping Tiger’s family? Discuss why the guide disappears at the end of the novel. Ask the class to distinguish between mental and physical survival. How does the family deal with mental survival?

Connecting to the Curriculum

–The guide makes a distinction between “fighting men” and “soldiers.” Ask the class to discuss the difference. Then have them find an article in a newspaper or magazine that describes the men and women fighting in Iraq. Have students write a short paper that discusses whether the article they read reflects “soldiers” or “fighting men.”

Engage the class in a discussion about why the author doesn’t reveal Tiger’s gender. Write down passages from the novel that make it appear that Tiger is a boy. How does the author hint that Tiger is a girl? Study the hints, and decide Tiger’s gender. Write a one-page persuasive paper that reveals your decision.

–The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. Divide the class into small groups and ask them to read these human rights (www.un.org/Overview/rights.html). Then have each group locate pictures in magazines and newspapers that represents one of the human rights. Make a class mural using collage called “Supporting World Peace and Freedom.”

Many of Tiger’s village friends go to the next country and live in a refugee camp. Ask students to use the Internet to find out the location of large refugee camps in the world. Have them mark these camps on a world map. What are the greatest needs of these camps? What organizations are aiding them? Ask students to find out ways they can help.

–Tiger’s father tries to help the people of the village when they lose their homes because of severe rains and flooding. Ask students to research landslides and other dangerous conditions caused by flooding. Make a visual aid that Tiger’s father may have used with the villagers to help explain what to do to prevent damage to their homes.

–Tiger makes mental plans for a mud boat or raft. Using modeling clay, make a boat that Tiger might make to give to the guide at the end of the journey. What color might Tiger paint the boat? Think of an appropriate name for the boat.

Tiger will have lasting memories of the journey. Select one part of the journey and draw a picture that Tiger might put in a memory book. Share the picture with the class and explain why you chose that particular segment of the journey.

Visit the Peace Corps Web site (www.peacecorps.gov) and find out job opportunities. What are the requirements and qualifications for such jobs? Find out which countries benefit from the work of the Peace Corps. Ask students to play the “Pack Your Bags Game” (www.peacecorps.gov/kids/index.html). Then have them go to the library and conduct further research on the country where they would most like to work.


Ask students to jot down unfamiliar words in the novel and try to define them using clues from the context of the story. Such words may include: trek (p. 14), suffocating (p. 19), vigorously (p. 20), checkpoints (p. 31), chirrup (p. 60), hoisted (p. 63), nosebags (p. 63), carcass (p. 67), maneuver (p. 75), treacle (p. 83), gorge (p. 99), clamoured (p. 109), hostages (p. 128), incredulous (p. 131), and vantage (p. 157)



Visit a Refugee Camp
This site offers a virtual visit to a refugee camp.

Western Sahara Online
The site provides information on the Western Saharan refugee camps.

Peace Corps
This is the official Web site for the Peace Corps.

Cross-Cultural Solutions
This is the official Web site for this not-for-profit international volunteer organization.


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Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville.