Hofmeyr, D. (2005). Fish Notes and Star Songs. London: Simon and Schuster.
In South Africa, the daughter of an anthropologist, Fish is imaginative and loves to paint. When she meets three strange children she is led on a magical quest to deal with her past and to help her new potential friends deal with theirs. Characters explore who they are as individuals, develop friendships and encounter some unexpected twists.
With some references to some African history and wildlife, Fish Notes and Star Songs explores themes of loss, empowerment, spirituality and of language and names, their significance and power.
While some people would argue that this story is a fantasy, others will see it as realistic with dimensions of spirituality.
It is worth noting, multiple characters are dealing with overcoming loss and abuse. The characters deal with their pain in multiple ways, one of which is considering the way language is used.
In terms of its themes and even plot, Fish Notes and Star Songs could easily be paired with Printz winner, Kit's Wilderness by David Almond. In literature circles, groups of students could read one or the other and discuss or an entire class could read the books one after another and compare how the books consider time, language, their setting and bullies.
Activities to do with the book:
Explore more about Sara Baartman’s story as research papers or in lecture. A talk could extend out into a general discussion of the treatment of those who are viewed as exotic or the historic exploitation of parts of Africa and other locations.
This book could also lead to some exploration of perspective-taking and a lesson on African wildlife.
For older, young adult students, this book could also be paired with Laurie Halse Anderson’s, Speak because both include issues involving trauma, giving voice to those experiences and natural figures that are featured as metaphors.
“Her delicate skeleton was lifted from the stand on which it had hung for longer than anyone could remember. The leg and arm bones made hollow, musical sounds as they knocked against each other gently. Like bamboo wind chimes in the breeze. For a moment she seemed to be dancing. Her legs moving, her arms lifting and her body swaying to some strange music only she could hear.
She was dancing again after being still for so long. At least, that’s how I imagined it had happened, even though the photograph showed nothing of this” (p. 1).
“In the cave things happened—mysterious, marvellous things—which will disappear from the earth, if no one tells of them. And, once gone, they will be lost for ever.
So I’ve written it all down in a book, from the very beginning. And across the cover I’ve written: Fish Notes” (p. 4).
“I don’t speak not because I can’t speak, but because I don’t want to.
All the words I want to say will not help.
So I don’t say them.
If words can’t help you what’s the use of saying them> I don’t need words any more.
All the words I’ve ever known have flown away. Up, up up into the trees. Like birds. They’ve disappeared into the silent leaves” (p. 49).