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Lisa Fipps' STARFISH - Celebrating and Accepting Ourselves

Updated: Jun 10

Photograph of Lisa Fipps' Starfish

Have you read a middle grade novel in verse for the Unabridged Challenge yet? If you haven't (or if you're looking for a brilliant book in general!), pick up Lisa Fipps' Starfish ( | This quick read has a strong impact, and you will not be disappointed.

We meet Ellie, a twelve-year-old girl who loves spending time in the pool and hanging out with friends. But Ellie is also plagued by bullying and judgment because of her body size. From the time she jumped into the pool at her fifth birthday party and was called "Splash," she's been marked by that cruel nickname and has been bullied both at school and at home.

Ellie has trained herself to follow the "fat girl rules" that she has created to try to prevent drawing attention to herself, but these rules (while restrictive and exhausting) do not always prevent commentary and cruelty. At home, Ellie's older siblings and her mother all comment often on Ellie's weight and are sometimes openly cruel. Her father tries to stand up for her, but his attempts do little to stop the onslaught from the rest of the family. At school, a few students make Ellie the focus of their bullying, and despite having friends and a positive outlook, the cruelty really impacts Ellie.

““The fat on my body / never felt as heavy as / your words on my heart.”

I loved so many aspects of this novel in verse, but one of the most powerful components of it is the way that therapy changes Ellie's life. Though she's reluctant at first to participate, we get to go on the therapy journey with Ellie, and we see firsthand how that experience changes her attitude and her life.

I love the modeling in this book about the ways that we can adjust our perspective so that we can treat ourselves with kindness and compassion. That's such an important and powerful message for all of us to remember, but most especially our middle grade kids.

I borrowed this one from the library, so I cannot directly quote from the author's note at the moment, but something Fipps said in it really resonated with me. Ellie goes through some horrible situations in the book, and the audacity of passing strangers (not to mention her peers and family members!) who feel entitled to comment on her weight is appalling.

But Fipps says in the note that to people who read it and think, "no way would someone say that in real life," she based every interaction off of encounters she had in her own life growing up. That really stayed with me. We continue to live in a world where people feel entitled to comment on other people's bodies, including children's bodies, which makes stories like Starfish so important on so many levels.

I'm a starfish, / taking up all the room I want.

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