Fish Out of Water

  • Review
By – October 27, 2020

Fish Out of Water by Joanne Levy tells the sto­ry of Fishel, a twelve-year-old Jew­ish boy who is prepar­ing for his bar mitz­vah. Fishel needs to plan his mitz­vah project — a com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice activ­i­ty — and decides that he wants to emu­late his grand­moth­er by learn­ing to knit socks for the needy. How­ev­er, his Bub­by refus­es his request to teach him, say­ing, Fishel, knit­ting isn’t for boys.”

But Fishel doesn’t give up on his idea and instead joins the knit­ting club at school. He finds that he’s the only boy in the group and is ostra­cized by his friends for par­tic­i­pat­ing in a girly” activ­i­ty. He’s also pushed by his par­ents to play water polo at the local JCC and instead sneaks into a senior cit­i­zens’ Zum­ba class where he delights in danc­ing with the old­er ladies who befriend him.

Every­where he turns, Fishel encoun­ters push­back for want­i­ng to pur­sue his own inter­ests, but with the help of the Rab­bi, his teacher, and the Zum­ba class mem­bers, Fishel over­comes gen­der stereo­types and is able to embrace his own passions.

Fish Out of Water is a high­ly rec­om­mend­ed sto­ry in hi-lo” read­ing for­mat, promis­ing high-inter­est at a low-read­ing-lev­el. This sto­ry fits the des­ig­na­tion well. Fishel’s sto­ry zips along and the vocab­u­lary and length make it acces­si­ble even for reluc­tant read­ers. Levy has cre­at­ed a sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter in Fishel and read­ers will sup­port him through­out his strug­gle to pur­sue his own inter­ests and rise beyond labeling.

Paula Chaiken has worked in a vari­ety of capac­i­ties in the Jew­ish world — teach­ing in reli­gious school, curat­ing at the Sper­tus Muse­um and fundrais­ing for the Fed­er­a­tion — for more than twen­ty years. She also runs a bou­tique pub­lic rela­tions con­sult­ing firm and enjoys read­ing all sorts of books with her three sons.

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