Catching a Story Fish

Catching a StoryfishCatching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this (note: as comprised of poetry, it needs to be read in text, not audio) was a small journey for me. Not really knowing what I was getting into I began unsure and with some criticism. The power of the verse didn’t stand up to poetry anthologies or masterpieces of lyric prose that I’ve read before. It didn’t compare to Shel Silverstein or, a little closer to its audience, “Please Bury Me in the Library,” either. But after a few pages one realizes that this book is story, and though the every-page-titled format might be reminiscent of those other genres, the real work to be appraised is the book as a whole. And in this scope my experience of the book was a definite success.

The book follows a child of perhaps 10 years of age. We see “Keet Keet” moved away from her Alabama home in an experience that is first confusing, then disorienting, then distressing. People make fun of her southern accent here and cause her to self-consiously stop her characteristic gabbing and story-telling. Harrington explores a variety of poetic forms as she expresses Keet’s experiences, including a glossary of poetic forms in the back of the book. While doing so she maintains the vocabulary-level of the youth that are the target audience of this book. The overall effect was a pleasant one: the pages turn like a good story, and the shift in modality causes the reader to experience the story in personal and thoughtful ways. The two moving dynamics of the book are Keet’s relationship with her grandfather, whose presence is the original singular benefit of her move to this new place, and her budding friendship with Allie-gator, another new-to-the-school child who has prevously learned to be self-conscious for her own reasons. Harrington develops both of these relationships with care and emotion, telling how story-stifled Keet recaptures what her grandfather calls “Storyfish,” and how (not coincidentally) this occurs in tandem with the development of friendship and courage and concern in her life.

While I won’t exalt Harrington as a poet, she definitely earns the right to be considered a great story teller for this. The use of poetry was refreshing and, most effectively, a powerful way of telling the story and reflecting the inner life and perception of Keet (and occasionally those around her). I look forward to discussing this book with my daughter, although I’ll have to wait until she is 8 or 10 years old and can recognize the nuance of the book. Also worth mentioning is the way this book gives language itself – poetry, storytelling, and even just words – full attention. This is a message I will happily share. Had Harrington demonstrated more sophistication of poetry and wording, I’m afraid she would have lost the approachability of the book for young readers. In other words, the book was instructive for its poetry and really amazing for its poetically-powered storytelling.

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