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.