The Magic Fish

The Magic Fish (2020)


Notes on This Title

The first fairy tale in the graphic novel follows a character who switches between a gender ambiguous persona and a feminine princess persona. The third features a f/f romance (untagged in this entry due to its brevity in the graphic novel).

The Magic Fish includes a child being forcibly outed and a brief, non-graphic reference to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. The second fairy tale in the graphic novel contains horror elements, such as on-page violence against talking animals, murder, and cannibalism.


The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 2020 Blue Ribbon Recipient
2021 Harvey Awards Nominee for Book of the Year
2021 Harvey Awards Nominee for Best Children or Young Adult Book


Starred review: “Three parallel stories bind the generations together: mother and son read aloud Alera, a Cinderella-esque story of cross-dressing true love; mother-in-mourning and her elderly aunt recall the fairy godparent-like magic fish; mother-returned and son-in-waiting share a different magic fish, a voiceless mermaid who learns to speak through dance. Such are the stories that will reveal the truth. Even as his panels end, Nguyen’s magic continues—as writer, his spare author’s note is an articulate reclamation, even reinvention, of the immigrant narrative; as artist, his detailed commentary on illustrative genesis—European, colonial, Asian, American Midwest inspirations—provide both historical and personal revelations.” (Source: Booklist)

Starred review: “Nguyen’s artistry radiates elegance on every page. Pastel shades of red, brown, and purple alternate to signify present, past, and imaginative plot segments. While some panels feature characters in pensive curiosity or profound melancholy, others burst with vibrancy, their exquisite portraits spanning an entire page or across multiple panels. Infused with emotional depth and integrity, this coming-of-age story broadens the range of Vietnamese American creative voices in books for young people.” (Source: Horn Book Magazine)

Starred review: “Detailed illustrations rendered in split complementary colors cleverly distinguish each story line. Nguyen’s poignant debut captures the perspectives of, and essence of the bond between, a parent and child, proving that language—and love—can transcend words. Back matter includes author’s notes that delve into personal inspiration, the interplay between immigration stories and fairy tales, and contextualize the illustrations.” (Source: Publishers Weekly)

“Although Tiến is young and this story is primarily aimed at middle-grade readers, the simple fact is that it will appeal to readers of all ages. It also gives young, queer readers one of the single most important messages they can receive from queer elders: There is absolutely nothing wrong with them. Their stories matter. Whatever happens, they are and will always be worthy of love.” (Source: CBR)

“As children we rarely heard loving and thoughtful stories about queerness or coming out. Pretty much every story dripped with trauma and unhappy endings. The Magic Fish offers readers happiness and magic whilst still feeling completely authentic and real. It’s hard to put into words how well Le Nguyen translates their skills as an illustrator to long-form sequential storytelling. To mold the multiple stories—both fantastical and intimately familial—around Tiến’s journey of self-discovery requires a deft hand. It’s a talent Le Nguyen so clearly showcases.” (Source: Nerdist)

“Though there are moments of stress and doubt, everything comes together, all wrapped up in Le Nguyen’s sumptuous illustrations and intricate linework. The couture dresses worn by the characters in the fairy tales contrast with Helen’s job as a seamstress and the patchwork coat she makes for Tien. Questions of happy endings and sacrifice—the bread and butter of fairy tales—are explored deftly. Notes from the author provide details on his own experience as the child of immigrants who spoke a hybrid language at home. He also includes in-depth information on the fashion and art, which will appeal to close readers of comics.” (Source: School Library Journal)


Entertainment Weekly: The Magic Fish author Trung Le Nguyen discusses the heroism of fairy tales: ‘It’s a fantasy of growth’”

Hollywood Reporter: “How a Cartoonist Found Inspiration for ‘The Magic Fish’”

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