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Marcus Pfister Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

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Born 0027;s name, Kathrin; Education: Attended art school in Berne, Switzerland.


Agent—c/o author correspondence, North-South Books, 1123 Broadway, Suite 800, New York, NY 10010.


Freelance writer and illustrator of children's books, 1986—. Has worked at advertising agencies in Berne and Zurich, Switzerland; worked as a graphic designer, and has also done photography, sculpting, and painting.

Honors Awards

Critici in Erba Prize, Bologna Children's Book Fair, and Christopher Award, both 1993, American Booksellers Book of the Year for children's book, 1995, all for The Rainbow Fish; The Rainbow Fish was also an American Bookseller Pick of the List and an International Reading Association/Children's Book Council Children's Choice Book.



The Sleepy Owl, translated by J. J. Curle, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1986.

Where Is My Friend?, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1986.

Sun and Moon, translated by R. Lanning, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1990.

Shaggy, translated by Lenny Hort, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1990.

(Editor) I See the Moon: Good-Night Poems and Lullabies, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1991.

The Christmas Star, translated by J. Alison James, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1993.

Chris & Croc, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Dazzle the Dinosaur, translated by J. Alison James, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Wake up, Santa Claus!, translated by J. Alison James, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1996.

Milo and the Magical Stones, translated by Marianne Martens, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1997.

How Leo Learned to Be King, translated by J. Alison James, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Make a Wish, Honey Bear!, translated by Sibylle Kazeroid, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Marcus Pfister

The Happy Hedgehog, translated by J. Alison James, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Milo and the Mysterious Island, translated by Marianne Martens, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Just the Way You Are, translated by Marianne Martens, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Magic Book, translated by Marianne Martens, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2003.


Penguin Pete, translated by Anthea Bell, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1987.

Penguin Pete's New Friends, translated by Anthea Bell, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Penguin Pete and Pat, translated by Anthea Bell, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1989.

Penguin Pete, Ahoy!, translated by Rosemary Lanning, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1993.

Penguin Pete and Little Tim, translated by Rosemary Lanning, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1994.


Hopper, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1991.

Hopper Hunts for Spring, translated by Rosemary Lanning, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1992.

(With wife, Kathrin Siegenthaler) Hopper's Easter Surprise, translated by Rosemary Lanning, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1993.

Hang on, Hopper!, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1995.

Hopper's Treetop Adventure, translated by Rosemary Lanning, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1997.


The Rainbow Fish, translated by J. Alison James, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1992.

The Rainbow Fish Treasury (contains The Rainbow Fish and Rainbow Fish to the Rescue!), translated by J. Alison James, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Rainbow Fish to the Rescue!, translated by J. Alison James, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Rainbow Fish and the Big Blue Whale, translated by J. Alison James, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Rainbow Fish and the Sea Monster's Cave, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Rainbow Fish 1, 2, 3, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Rainbow Fish A, B, C, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Playtime with Rainbow Fish, Night Sky Books (New York, NY), 2003.

The Rainbow Fish Floor Puzzle Book, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Rainbow Fish Sea of Riddles, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Rainbow Fish Hide-and-Seek, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2003.


Gerda Marie Scheidl, Four Candles for Simon: A Christmas Story, translated by Anthea Bell, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1987.

Kathrin Siegenthaler, Santa Claus and the Woodcutter, translated by Elizabeth Crawford, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Gerda Marie Scheidl, Miriam's Gift: A Christmas Story, translated by Rosemary Lanning, North-South Books (New York, NY), 1989.

The Rainbow Fish has been translated into thirty languages, including German, French, Dutch, Greek, Korean, Thai, Croatian, Khmer, Tagalog and Faroese.


Several spin-off products have been made for The Rainbow Fish and are available from North-South Books, including "The Rainbow Fish Mobile," "The Rainbow Fish Journal," and "The Rainbow Fish Finger Puppet." Other authors have written books with Rainbow Fish as a character. Rainbow Fish video products include Rainbow Fish: Fun and Games, Rainbow Fish: Fintastic Friends, and Rainbow Fish: High Tide Heroes, all by Sony Entertainment.


A Swiss author/illustrator, and editor of picture books and board books for preschoolers and early primary graders, Marcus Pfister is the popular and prolific creator of warm, gentle works that are credited for their sensitive depictions of emotion and for their distinctive, eye-catching illustrations. Pfister's work, written in German and translated into English, features animals and fish with human characteristics who have to work out problems common to younger children. He is best known as the artist behind Rainbow Fish, a sweet-faced fish with beautiful iridescent, holographic scales who has shimmered through dozens of books since making an American debut in 1992. Pfister is also the creator of two other well-received series, "Penguin Pete," about a small Antarctic penguin and his family, and "Hopper," featuring a childlike white hare. In addition, Pfister has written and illustrated a number of books about shared friendships between animals, and two books about a mouse named Milo in which readers can choose a "happy" or a "sad" ending.

Often considered a moralist who creates parables in picture book form, Pfister underscores his works with themes about sharing, trust, cooperation, consideration, courage, and acting responsibly. Written in simple but fluid texts, his stories are generally illustrated with pen drawings and watercolors in pastel colors. A distinctive feature of many of Pfister's books is their foil technique: the artist uses holographic foil stamping to create pictures that have a shimmering, reflective effect when placed in the light. This technique has made Rainbow Fish an enduring icon of modern children's literature and has added visual excitement to other Pfister series as well.

Born in Berne, Switzerland, Pfister was the third of five children. He attended art school in Berne while working at an advertising agency. In 1981 he moved to Zurich to work as a graphic designer at another agency. He has also done photography, sculpting, and painting. Two years after moving to Zurich, he took a leave of absence and traveled around the United States for six months with his wife Kathrin, a teacher, and his three children, Yannik, Miro, and Nina. It was during his family's trip to America that Pfister decided to devote more time to his own artistic pursuits. After returning to Switzerland, he began working part time at the advertising agency while writing and illustrating his first book, The Sleepy Owl.

Published in 1986, The Sleepy Owl is a picture book about Little Owl and her human friend, Tom. The two friends realize that they can't play together because of the difference in their sleeping patterns and agree to somehow keep their friendship fresh anyway. At the end of the story, Tom paints an owl face on his kite to let Little Owl know that he still remembers her. Pfister illustrated The Sleepy Owl with rich, dark-hued water-colors that are textured by sponge applications of color. Susan Scheps predicted in School Library Journal: "The appeal of the illustrations will ensure the popularity of this … pleasant story."

Pfister produced Where Is My Friend?, a board book in which a lonely porcupine searches for a companion, in the same year as The Sleepy Owl. In this book the porcupine encounters a cactus, a brush, a seed, and a pod before finding a real fellow porcupine. Writing in Horn Book, Anita Silvey called Where Is My Friend? "refreshing because it delves into the realm of emotion for the very young." Louise M. Zuckerman in School Library Journal noted that Pfister's porcupine "has a certain amount of appeal and is drawn with some humor."

Pfister published the first volume of his first series, Penguin Pete, in 1987. In this book the smallest penguin in his colony learns to walk, fly, and swim; he also finds a friend who is even smaller than he is. Pfister illustrates Pete's adventures in pictures that combine cartoonlike caricatures of the penguins with soft, muted watercolors. In School Library Journal, Jane Gardner Connor noted that the illustrations "are humorous and appealing." In the second volume of the series, Penguin Pete's New Friends, Pete goes fishing by himself when he is shunned by the other penguins for being too small. After falling asleep on top of a whale, he is whisked away to visit with an Eskimo boy and plays with him as well as some sea lions before returning home. Kathryn Weisman in School Library Journal commented that the "soft, child-like illustrations will appeal to very young listeners as will the simple plot line."

In subsequent volumes of the series, Pete gets married to Pat, a blue-beaked penguin, and has a son Tim; explores an abandoned ship and saves the ship's mouse from drowning; and takes little Tim out for winter fun, only to be separated from him and finally reunited. In her review of the latter book, Penguin Pete and Little Tim, Lauren Peterson predicted in Booklist: "This endearing father-and-son team will warm a child's heart on the coldest winter day." The first two volumes of the series, Penguin Pete and Penguin Pete's New Friends, were published as board books in 1997.

Pfister produced the first volume of his next series, Hopper, in 1991. A quiet picture book with illustrations in large pastel watercolors, the story describes how the title character, a small white hare with blue-tipped ears, is reassured by his mother that spring will come after the long winter. Joan McGrath in School Library Journal noted that Hopper conveys the same sense of security and warmth as "that classic of the nursery by Margaret Wise Brown, The Runaway Bunny." In the next volume in the series, Hopper Hunts for Spring, Hopper bounds away from home to look for spring, which he thinks is another animal. He meets a mole and a bear before coming home to be set straight by his mother. In Horn Book, Carolyn L. Shute concluded: "Soft-edged illustrations with dominant shades of blue and purple aptly suit this charming and childlike end-of-winter story." In Hang on, Hopper!, the bunny gets into trouble when he tries to swim across a stream in order to get home more quickly after visiting a friend. Hopper drifts downstream to a beaver's dam, where he makes friends with the beaver and learns from him that water is dangerous for non-swimmers. Judith Constantinides in School Library Journal stated: "Illustrated in lovely pastel watercolors somewhat in the style of Garth Williams's work, this is a simple story that gently preaches water safety while entertaining readers."

Perhaps Pfister's best-known book, The Rainbow Fish, was first published in English in 1992. An oversize picture book illustrated in fluid watercolors and shimmering holographs, the story revolves around a beautiful but conceited fish that possesses sparkling blue, green, purple, and silver shimmering scales. When Rainbow Fish refuses to share his scales with the plainer fish in his school, they ostracize him. Rainbow Fish becomes lonely and asks a wise octopus for advice. She tells him that when he gives away his scales, he will discover true happiness. Rainbow Fish does as the octopus suggests and is then accepted by the other fish. He learns that the more he gives away, the happier he feels. At the end of the story, each fish in the school sports one of Rainbow Fish's glittering scales. Writing in School Library Journal, Ellen Fader said, "This is certainly a story written to convey a message, but … what three-year-old doesn't need reinforcement about sharing?"

In her Magpies review of The Rainbow Fish, Anne Freier noted that young readers received the book "with wide-eyed wonder, and parents and teachers welcomed this parable-like tale which reinforced the value of sharing and seeing past possessions in the search for true happiness. It was a storyteller's dream." Although not widely reviewed on its first publication, The Rainbow Fish drew fans largely by word of mouth. It became an international bestseller and has since become one of the best-selling picture books of all time, with a variety of spin-off products from games and videos to puppets, postcards, mobiles, and many more books. Such is the popularity of Rainbow Fish that Pfister is still writing new titles himself, and other authors are also writing books about the character.

In Rainbow Fish to the Rescue!, Rainbow Fish and his friends are playing "flash tag" when a little tiger fish

The popular, glittering picture book by Pfister purports the true meaning of beauty when gorgeous Rainbow Fish loses all his friends by his vanity and self-interest and wins them back when he demonstrates generosity. (From The Rainbow Fish, written and illustrated by Pfister.)

wants to join in. The other fish ignore the tiger fish because he is not equipped with a shiny scale in order to play the game. Rainbow Fish disagrees with their decision but is afraid that he will lose his friends if he speaks up. When a shark appears and puts the tiger fish in danger, it is Rainbow Fish—remembering what it feels like to be an outsider—who organizes the rescue. He has the other fish swim straight for the shark to confuse it, and then he leads the tiger fish to safety. The next time that the fish play the game, it is modified so that the tiger fish can join in. Carolyn Phelan in Booklist felt that parents and teachers would find Rainbow Fish to the Rescue! "a good vehicle for discussing courage in the face of peer pressure."

A gentle whale loves to watch Rainbow Fish and his friends in Rainbow Fish and the Big Blue Whale. But when the whale gets too close, the smaller fish assume that he is going to eat them. The hurt and angry whale pretends to do just that. It is up to Rainbow Fish to restore peace. He makes the fish apologize to the whale, and then they all become friends. A Kirkus Reviews critic commented: "Some children will never get enough of Rainbow Fish, who has now been promoted to ambassador of peace of the pelagic domain."

Pfister has used his holographic illustrations technique in several other works. Among these is Dazzle the Dinosaur, a picture book that was first published in 1994. In this work, a young dinosaur with a set of glittering spines on his back sets off with his friend Maia to find the vicious Dragonosaurus, who has taken away their ancestral site, a lush valley. After Dazzle and Maia scare away the Dragonosaurus by using Dazzle's spines, they take their families and friends to the peaceful valley. In her Booklist review of the work, Lauren Peterson declared: "The plot is fast paced and imaginative, and the shimmering artwork is integral to the goingson, not merely decorative."

Other Pfister works include Make a Wish, Honey Bear!, The Happy Hedgehog, and Just the Way You Are. Each of these titles uses humanlike animals to make points about values and ideals. In Make a Wish, Honey Bear!, Honey Bear's family members are overly eager to help the little bear come up with a birthday wish—most of the wishes suggested to Honey Bear are self-serving, and in the end he wisely decides just to wish for more happy birthdays. The Happy Hedgehog is happy because he enjoys life's simple pleasures. Prodded by his grandfather to be more ambitious, the hedgehog visits with other animals who are certainly busier, but also certainly not as happy. In School Library Journal Holly Belli cited The Happy Hedgehog as a book about "the value of dreamers in society." Just the Way You Are celebrates diversity as a group of animals, planning a party together, long for each other's attributes until they realize that they each have unique qualities of their own. Martha Link in School Library Journal called the book "a gentle, predictable tale" of special value to teachers "looking for titles on self-esteem and self-acceptance."

Two of Pfister's most highly regarded works are Milo and the Magical Stones, an interactive picture book published in tall format in 1997, and its sequel, Milo and the Mysterious Island. In Milo and the Magical Stones, Milo, a hardworking mouse, lives on an idyllic island. Forced into a cave by the cold of winter, he finds a glowing stone that turns out to be a chunk of gold. When the other mice see Milo's gold—which Pfister represents with reflective gold paper—they want the stones as well. At a pivotal point, the pages split into two horizontal sections that offer young readers the opportunity to choose a "happy" or a "sad" ending. The happy ending finds Milo and the other mice heeding the advice of Balthazar, a wise elder, who says that if you take something from the island you should give something in return. The mice then carve stones that add fortification and beauty to the island to show their gratitude. In the alternative ending, the mice are consumed with greed. They squabble, taking so much from the island that they cause it to collapse. A Publishers Weekly reviewer liked the way Pfister's watercolors provide "an effective counterpoint to the bright gold of the shiny stones." The critic added: "Pfister fans will definitely want to add this one to their collection."

A similar plot unfolds in Milo and the Mysterious Island. This time Milo leads a voyage of discovery to a new island, inhabited by strange, striped mice. Once again the reader can choose between endings—in one, the island mice and the visitors cooperate and share their treasures, learning about each other and enjoying their time together. In the other, distrust and greed cause misunderstanding and hard feelings. In her School Library Journal review, Carolyn Jenks felt that the "well-written" story would spark "discussion about … encountering people who are different."

Pfister begins each of his books by stretching water-color paper over a wooden board in order to keep the paper from warping when he wets it. He then copies his rough sketches on the paper in pencil. In order to create his backgrounds and blended contours, Pfister uses wet paint on wet paper to get a soft effect; for sharper details, he paints the final picture layer by layer on dry paper. When the illustration is finished, he cuts the paper from the wooden board. He creates his signature holographic foil stamping by taping a piece of transparent film over the picture and then indicating where the foil stamping should go. The foil stamping is applied after the pages are printed. In a publicity release for his American publishers, North-South Books, Pfister commented, "For me, there is one major criterion in determining the value of a book: if it brings adults and children together and makes them interact intensely, then it has achieved its purpose. A good book acts as a bridge between a child and an adult, sparking lots of questions, and expanding the imagination of the child."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Children's Literature Review, Volume 42, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.


Booklist, December 15, 1994, p. 760; February 1, 1995, p. 1011; September 15, 1995, p. 176; April 1, 1997, p. 1338; October 1, 1997, p. 338; September 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Rainbow Fish and the Big Blue Whale, p. 239; November 1, 1999, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Make a Wish, Honey Bear!, p. 540.

Canadian Children's Literature, number 44, 1986, p. 97.

Horn Book, September-October, 1986, pp. 583-584.

Horn Book Guide, January-June, 1992, p. 243; July-December, 1994, p. 50.

Junior Bookshelf, December, 1993, p. 228.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1997; July 15, 1997; July 1, 1998.

Magpies, November, 1995, p. 12.

Observer, April 9, 1995, p. 19.

Publishers Weekly, June 2, 1997, p. 71; March 16, 1998, review of How Leo Learned to Be King, p. 63; February 14, 2000, review of The Happy Hedgehog, p. 197.

School Library Journal, October, 1986, p. 156; February, 1987, p. 73; March, 1988, p. 174; August, 1988, p. 84; September, 1991, p. 239; November, 1992, pp. 75-76; October, 1993, p. 47; June, 1995, p. 94; July, 2000, Holly Belli, review of The Happy Hedgehog, p. 85; March, 2001, Carolyn Jenks, review of Milo and the Mysterious Island, p. 218; September, 2002, Martha Link, review of Just the Way You Are, p. 204.


Publicity release, North-South Books, 1999.*

Patricia Curtis Pfitsch (1948-) Biography - Awards, Honors, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Writings, Work in Progress [next]

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about 1 year ago

“The Rainbow Fish” by Marcus Pfister is a really terrible book to read to children. I do not believe in censorship; however, as a Library Media Specialist who deals with hundreds of children every day, I do believe in being selective when dealing with school children and creating positive experiences for them. “The Rainbow Fish” is extremely offensive and teaches children to bully other children who have more than they do or have something they want. It teaches intolerance for people who are different and encourages students to gang up against other students. It teaches them to get mad at other children when they won’t give them what they want and to ostracize children who are beautiful and have pretty things. I know the author is trying to teach sharing; however, sharing is an act of generosity and kindness of spirit not an act of fear and desperation. I realize millions of people love this pretty little book and he has made millions of dollars off of this publication. So he should give away all his millions of dollars like the Rainbow Fish did and keep one.