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Starfish by Lisa Fipps

By Lisa Fipps

Starfish by Lisa Fipps is a book I wish someone had handed me as a child. When my pre-ordered copy finally arrived, my almost nine year old daughter, Wren, got to the book before I even had a chance. At first, I wasn’t sure if the book would be appropriate, but I let her dive in as I listened to the audio version on my ride to and from work. I quickly realized that this book was not only appropriate, but one that would make an amazing middle grade read aloud.

In this story, Ellie is a twelve year old girl who takes the readers  through all of the challenges of living in a world where her weight is the one thing she can’t escape. Most people call Ellie, Splash, after an incident at her pool party when she turned five. Despite all of the bullying Ellie endures, she is not ashamed of her weight. She just wants to be accepted for who she is. 

I was drawn to the cast of supporting characters that Lisa Fipps develops throughout the story. The antagonists range from strangers in public places, peers, and even Ellie’s own family members. As Wren and I read the story, I tried to engage her in thinking about the secondary characters, thinking about all of the different roles that they played in Ellie’s life. We were both equally aghast by the way Ellie was treated and even more horrified after reading that the events of the book were all based on things that really happened to the author. Reading this book together also led to our own discussions about the kind of people Wren and I hope to be and what we would do during various situations that Ellie found herself in over the course of the book.

A page from Wren’s reading notebook where we originally were keeping track of characters. She then decided to sort them based on the role that they played in the story.
Another notebook page with some character and theme work.

When Wren and I finished Starfish, I was so grateful that books like this exist. It opened the door for some really powerful conversations about identity, body image, bullying, and friendship. I believe that Ellie’s story will stick with us and be a reference point for situations and conversations that will come up as my own daughters’ continue to grow and navigate the world.

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