Told through real-life journals, collages, lists, and drawings, this coming-of-age story illustrates the transformation of an 18-year-old girl from a small-town teenager into an independent city-dwelling college student. Written in an autobiographical style with beautiful artwork, Little Fish shows the challenges of being a young person facing the world on her own for the very first time and the unease—as well as excitement—that comes along with that challenge.
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I’ve always written about my life as it’s happening. I never think “this will be a book one day,” rather, I just share it in small chunks in whatever way seems fun or fitting. Sometimes that means writing on a blog. For a long time it meant writing in my Livejournal. Most often now it means writing a bunch of short comics and putting them out in a zine. A zine is a self-made “magazine” of sorts, and often they’re small, autobiographical, and just meant to share stories without the need for a publisher or editor giving you their approval. They’re a fun, hands on way to share things that you create, and the end result is a little photocopied booklet filled with whatever you want. I wrote a lot of what you find in Little Fish in my zine that I put out throughout college.
My zine was called List, and I put out 15 different issues. I didn’t think about it as “writing the story of my freshman year,” rather, I thought of it as “writing about what I’m thinking and feeling right now to try to sort through all of it and use it as a way to try to relate to other people.” Over time, I had collected all sorts of stories, thoughts and feelings – years worth! Zest Books had the idea to compile a story just about my freshman year in college, because it’s such a formative and challenging time for a lot of young people. So after they had seen my zine, they asked me to pick out things I had written during that year, or about that year, and try to piece together a story from that stuff. From there, I added in new comics to try to fill out the story a little more. In a way, it’s a collage of things I had already made, and things I had made just for the book.
I’m really interested in telling personal, true stories as a way to connect with other people – whether it’s a way for people to think “wow, I went through that exact same thing and had those same feelings” or a way for them to contrast it to their own experiences that were totally different from mine. It’s a really great way to learn about yourself and others. It gives me a lot of perspective when I read true stories about other people, and I like to be able to participate in that.
2. Little Fish is your story of your journey from high school through your first year of college. It’s “back to school season” now – can you share a memorable “back to school” memory or experience with us?
The first one that popped into my head was a “back to school” situation that happened when I was going into the 4th grade. We arrived on the first day of class and after we settled in and found our desks, put away our things, and met our teacher, she began the first activity. Our teacher had prepared handouts for each person in the class based on their gender. The boys had an outline of a boy head (a profile view of a person with short hair), and the girls had an outline of a girl head (a profile view of a person with a bob-style haircut and bangs). We would each draw inside the outline to make a self-portrait that we would hang up in the classroom. The teacher had already gone through and written our names on each piece of paper based on our gender. As she took roll, she would call out each of our names, and hand us the piece of paper with the boy or girl outline. Everything was going great until she got to my name. She called my name, acknowledged me, and then looked down at the paper she was holding, uncomfortably. She mumbled something about how they had me listed as a boy on the official school roster and she hadn’t made any extra handouts. She had a boy outline for me. It was only 4th grade, and being mistaken for a boy in 4th grade is mortifying – not to mention the fact that I was already terribly shy and hated having attention called to me. The whole class laughed and I sank into my chair, turning bright red. She quickly recovered and modified the outline with a sharpie marker so that it would have long flowing hair, and moved on. But clearly this has stuck with me to this day! Somehow, the school district listed me as a boy until the 6th grade, even though surely my teachers every year prior to that had marked down that I was, in fact, a girl. I guess they just made assumptions based on my name. There are all sorts of bigger reasons not to do gendered activities for young people – let this story be yet another reason why you shouldn’t.
3. Please let us know about any book/s you are looking forward to reading in the coming months.
I just came home from a big comic book festival called the Small Press Expo, and I bought a big stack of books there – so most of the books I’m excited about right now are graphic novels. I’m really excited to read The Property by Rutu Modan, American Elf Vol. 4 by James Kochalka, March by Rep. John Lewis (drawn by Nate Powell) and Alone Forever by Liz Prince (which comes out in February).
The book is brilliant! I find it interesting. The illustrations, lists and collages gave the book some depth in Ramsey’s Little Fish experience. The book is filled with vibrant drawings. And all the visual aspect of the book is fun to look through.
As I read Ramsey’s journal about dating and her own ‘reality’ moment— it transported me back to my college days. I fully remember my first day of school; it was awkward, hectic and confusing. I don’t know what to do. And I know no one from my class. I was also conscious of my actions and physical aspect. I wanted to go back in High School –and never grow up. I also felt the pressure of finding true friends. In college, it is important to have a set of good friends to rely on. And learn to think ahead. Good decisions are important, it determines your future.
It is heartwarming to able to see/look at someone’s own experience almost similar to mine. I wish that this book is present during my “a little fish in a big pond” moment.
What made this book shine is how Ramsey shared her experience through drawings. I find it cute and attractive. I have a 12 year old brother who read the book and even tried to copy the illustrations.
Overall, Little Fish is a fun read. It’s simple, interesting and imaginative. I recommend this book to 13 years old and above. It is also a great book to share/gift to teens that are experiencing “first year college mayhem."
I give this, 4 Whales in a pond.