Help Students Find a Poetic Voice with CATCHING A STORYFISH

BookendsCindy: Moving to a new place and changing schools present challenges for many children, so books that chronicle the experience are always welcome, especially when they are as good as Catching a Storyfish (2016), told in verse, by Janice N. Harrington.

Keet moves from Alabama to Illinois (as the author did as a child) and, like all children in this situation, must make new friends. Keet is a chatterbox, normally, nicknamed Keet-Keet Parakeet for her prolific storytelling. At her new school, however, her southern accent gets her a new nickname, ‘Bama Mouth, because she “talks funny.” The saving grace for Keet is that she lives with Grandpa, her fishing and storytelling buddy. When she complains about school and the taunting, he advises:

catching-a-storyfish-by-janice-n-harrington“You can’t let the mosquitoes bother you, Fish Bait,
not if you want to catch a fish.”

“Grandpa, stop talking about fishing.
I’m talking about school.”

“Well, fish swim in schools. Don’t they?”

After Grandpa has a stroke, he and Keet struggle to find their voices, and their relationship becomes even more important. Keet’s mother tells her how important she is to Grandpa:

“He told me once
that his heart was an old tackle box
and that you were the best thing in it.”

janice-n-harrington-1962-school-photo

A young Janice Harrington. Photo courtesy of the author’s website.

By the novel’s end, Keet finds both her voice and a friend. Young readers can find their own voices by trying to mimic any of the number of different poetry styles on display. Harrington’s website contains teaching ideas for this book, as well as some for her other titles.

My first librarian job was at a suburban Chicago public library in the mid-80s, where I met Janice during her own librarian days. It’s been great to see her storytelling and poetry talents in her delightful children’s books.

Lynn: Middle-grade readers are often fascinated by poetry and eager to try creating their own. Harrington has included a wonderful glossary of poetry that explains its various forms and directs readers to the poems in the book that use them. This sweet book would be a real delight to use in the classroom as a read-aloud and writing prompt. Whether they have moved or not, Harrington’s lively poetry gives kids a terrific opportunity to walk in another child’s shoes. A perfect pairing would be the 2012 Newbery Honor book, Inside Out & Back Again (2011) by Thanhhà Lai.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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