Catching a Story Fish by Janice N. Harrington

“He [the storyteller] tells us that if we know someone’s story / then we know who they are” (Harrington, 2006, p. 152).

Janice N. Harrington‘s Catching a Story Fish (2016, Wordsong) is a wonderful middle grades book-in-verse.

Katharan (“Keet”) is known as a talker. Even her grandpa, with whom she goes fishing, admits that she has the capability of talking his ears off.  But when her family moves from Alabama to Illinois, Keet struggles to fit in. Kids at school laugh at the way she speaks, and she does not feel like sharing her stories with anyone. She does make one friend and she always has her annoying little brother. And now that she’s moved to Illinois, she gets to learn more about fishing from her grandpa. Even after her grandpa becomes sick, Keet is able to rely on his fishing lessons – great lessons for life, really – and find her voice as a storyteller and writer.

I LOVE the connections Harringon makes between fishing and finding one’s voice. Those of us who are writers know that words do not always coming rushing out. We also know that sometimes we do better writing our ideas down than speaking our ideas, which is difficult in this world where people seem too quick to speak!

Harrington shares a good message for writers and storytellers: It is okay to be patient and reserved.  There will be a time when we feel comfortable sharing our ideas and talents. Some chapters reminded me of Freedman’s recent children’s book Shy in the way that Harrington builds Keet’s confidence slowly, just as Freedman does with Shy. Both authors make it obvious that their main characters would have missed out on important events (e.g. Keet’s story contest or Shy’s encounter with Florence) had they not gained the courage to reveal their true selves.

Catching a Story Fish is so much less about “catching” something outside ourselves but rather about revealing what is within us. Powerful!

The Poetry Glossary that defines all of the poem types Harrington uses included at the end of the book is a helpful resource for kids who want to try their hand at modeling some of their own poems on the ones that appear in Catching a Story Fish. There are some rather traditional types, such as a concrete poem and a haiku, but also lesser known poetic types, such as a contrapuntal poem and a pantoum.  I am not be a fan of assigning students to write a poetry book using all of the forms Harrington does or memorize the poem types for an assessment. I am, however, a fan of having students use the glossary as a guide for their poetry endeavors.

I also appreciate the relationship between Keet and her grandfather that is shared in the book. Keet has a good relationship with her parents, and she adores her little brother, although she thinks he’s quite nosy. She even forms a great friendship with Allie-gator, a girl at her new school. But Keet’s relationship with her grandfather is the most developed one in the book.

My one critique of the book is its pace. Whereas I like the book’s realistic message about the time it takes to feel comfortable in a new school and to share one’s voice, I did not move through the book as quickly as I thought I might. I wanted the book to progress a bit more quickly.

Book Pairings

If you are looking for other books that feature female writers, I recommend Brown Girl Dreaming and Margarita Engle‘s The Wild Book. If you are looking for another book about a female girl who deals with being displaced from her home, pair Catching a Story Fish with Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again. 

Let me know what you think of Catching a Story Fish in the comment below, and if you like what you see here, please share this review with your friends and/or colleagues.

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