“Because I was a fat kid, I was bullied – at school, at home and elsewhere,” she told KidsPost from her home in Kokomo, Indiana.
Laughs at its weight
So, as an adult, Fipps decided to write such a story.
Maybe you too have been bullied about your weight or a part of your body. Maybe you can understand Ellie’s pain and her desire to be accepted for who she is.
Ellie’s mother harasses her and puts her on a diet. The school kids taunt her and suck her stomach when she walks by. Ellie faces off trying to keep herself small and silent. She tries not to take up too much space or to draw attention to herself.
Ellie finds peace and a sense of security in one place: her family’s pool. She likes to spread her legs and arms, like a starfish, and take up space.
With the help of her supportive father, Ellie discovers another safe place: the office of doctor Wood, a therapist.
As she talks with Wood, Ellie begins to learn how to defend herself. She pushes away her mother and the other executioners.
Fipps called his own therapy “essential” to his current sense of self-worth. If you don’t get the help you need, she says, it can affect the way you deal with life – for the rest of your life.
Sometimes young people resist seeing a therapist because they are not sure what is going on or if they want to share their deepest feelings. In his novel, Fipps shows that trust is often built over time. And as Ellie demonstrates, it’s the young client who decides what to talk about.
Poetry’s “ emotional punch ”
Fipps has been writing poetry since he was a child. She loves the “emotional punch” that a poem can contain. “Starfish” started out as character poems, which she thought would eventually turn into prose.
Then she read a novel in verse by Sonya Sones. That’s when Fipps realized, “Hey, I can write my story in poems too – and get to the heart of the story, the character’s feelings faster.”
“Starfish” is Fipps’ first novel, and she is in the process of writing several more. She’s also been thrilled, at virtual book events, to see how young readers connect with Ellie.
“They want to know what else could happen, if there will be a sequel or a prequel,” she said. “And they have a lot of questions about Ellie’s pug, Gigi.”
April is National Poetry Month, and Fipps happily shared the advice for young poets that she is striving to follow on her own. “Start by playing with words,” she says. “They are like clay. With your imagination, you can shape them into [the form] you want.”
Through written words, you could explore your own feelings – joy, fear, shame, love – as Fipps does with Ellie. You could even create your own personal story through poems.
What: Lisa Fipps talks “Starfish” with author Ann Braden.
Hosted by: Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas.
When: May 6 at 8 p.m. EST.