Reviews /

The Girl Who Became a Fish

Authored by Polly Ho-Yen
Illustrated by Sojung Kim-McCarthy
Published by Knights Of Media

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Polly Ho-Yen is one of few authors that I automatically buy without reading reviews for, particularly when she writes for the Year 5-6 age range that I have taught for such a long time. So, I was interested to see how her writing for younger children – and her second title with Knights Of – would come across.

It begins with the most excellent of sentences: The first time Ita became a fish, she was in the middle of trying to get back home. As openers go, it’s a strong one, and, much like Polly’s other work, the story is steeped in normal life but with an unusual twist to it.

In this case, Ita is afraid of swimming – terrified, in fact. And when she takes an unusual route home, she sees a river, which has her wondering: when did I become afraid? Realising there was no real reason, she tentatively dips her hands into the water…and the title of the story perhaps gives away what happens next.

Meanwhile, her home life is not quite what it was. The family have moved house, and her two older brothers seem to have settled in just fine. Dad, however, has not. He is caring for his mother, and is regularly absent, even when he is physically present. Ita feels alone. The family are aware things aren’t quite right with one another, and suggest an outing together – to the river, to swim. Clearly, this will not suit Ita.

The climax of the story is beautiful, written from the point of view of a child who cares deeply about somebody else and what they are going through. It reminded me a little of Peter Carnavas’ The Elephant, which would be for a similar age group, I would think.

Sojung Kim-McCarthy’s drawn illustrations are present on many of the pages: some are full, gorgeous double-spreads, while others sit quietly next to the text or at the end of a chapter. They are subtle but add layers.

My only small gripe would be with what seemed to me an odd use of tense towards the end of the book. As Ita walks by her Grandma’s house, the story is written in the past tense (as it has been all the way through). There are then one or two moments that appear in the present. This happens a couple of times later on too. While it doesn’t affect the story, it did make me reread to check I hadn’t missed something (and maybe I had!).

A lovely little story about hope, determination, and noticing others, that would certainly work as a read-aloud in Year 3, and confident readers at that age could begin to discuss its themes and meanings with guidance too.

Selected for the Empathy Lab 2024 Collection