Big Bear and Little Fish: An Interview with Author Sandra Nickel

Big Bear and Little Fish is a sweet story of unexpected friendship between Bear (who is very big!) and Fish (who is very little!), told in accessible prose that’s just right for beginning readers.

Today on the Lerner blog, author Sandra Nickel joins us to discuss influential books, the emotive illustrations, and who she relates to the most: Bear or Fish! Read on to find the official book trailer, a free discussion guide, and more.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Big Bear and Little Fish?

I hope they realize that we can be friends with people who are different from us—or at least, who we think are different from us. Like many children who find themselves face-to-face with a brand new person, Bear doesn’t quite know what to do when she wins Fish at a carnival. She worries and acts awkwardly. But with the help of Fish, Bear learns she has qualities other than being big. She learns to understand Fish’s thoughts and feelings. She even learns that although she and Fish are different, they are also the same. Which is a beautiful thing indeed.

Why is Big Bear and Little Fish a good choice to read now?

Because of the pandemic, many young children didn’t have the opportunity to attend in-person preschool or primary school classes, or even to have playdates as they normally would have. They didn’t get the usual opportunities to practice making friends. Big Bear and Little Fish lets children look into a world where someone else hasn’t had a lot of friend-making opportunities. It lets them see that even though we may worry about making friends, even if we act awkwardly, there is still a way to find common ground. There is still a way to find friendship.

Big Bear and Little Fish reminds me of the Frog and Toad books. Have any of your readers mentioned that?

Yes—and with good reason. At the time I wrote Big Bear and Little Fish, I was doing a postgrad semester. I had always admired the way Arnold Lobel created stories that were brimming with humor and heart and friendship—and a little bit of philosophy. I wondered how he did it. So, during the last month of my postgrad, I read each of his stories, paying attention to how he crafted his characters. I even ordered Frog and Toad plush toys and set them on the back of my sofa. By the time I finished reading, I was in a bit of a time crunch and worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish my required stories for the program. I shouldn’t have worried. As soon as I opened my laptop, Bear and Fish appeared. Just like that, there they were, a big bear and a little fish. I fell in love immediately, and the rest is history—or should I say, the rest is story, the story of Big Bear and Little Fish.

What do you like best about Il Sung Na’s illustrations?

There are so many things! Il Sung’s use of color is magnificent. His landscapes are works of art in their own right. But, my very, very favorite thing about Il Sung’s illustrations is the way he captures Bear. She is so earnest and worried and confused—and then, in the end, delighted! Il Sung expresses her emotions perfectly. Oh! And he is also a master of fish body language. Next time you open the book, pay special attention to Fish. Your smile will get bigger and bigger with each turn of the page.

Who do you relate to the most, Bear or Fish?

I’m a bit of a worrier. I try so hard to get things right, but so often don’t. I’m definitely a lot like Bear. I knew that from the start. So, you can imagine my delight when I discovered that Il Sung also relates to Bear. His jacket flap bio says he “used to be like a big bear who didn’t see the big picture, but he’s slowly finding ways to discover the bigger world around him and he’s eager to learn more.” I feel the same. Do you want to know something else Il Sung and I have in common? I grew up in Kansas and he lives in Kansas now. So, you see, we are different, and yet the same.

Praise for Big Bear and Little Fish

“The expressive, stylized art makes excellent use of color, and, like the well-worded narrative, it contrasts the small but confident fish with the large yet tentative bear . . . Fun for reading aloud.”— Booklist

“A delightful tale of unexpected friendship.”—Kirkus Reviews

Free Educator Resources

Big Bear and Little Fish is the perfect title to incorporate SEL themes, particularly self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship skills into the classroom. Download this free Teaching Guide to find activities, discussion questions, and more!

Author Introduction

Share this video with young readers to watch Sandra Nickel introduce Big Bear and Little Fish!

Connect with the Author

Sandra Nickel is an award-winning author of picture books. She holds and MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has presented workshops on writing for children throughout Europe and the United States. She is based in Switzerland.

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