Fish in a Tree
Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Penguin, 2015 267 pgs.
Ally's sixth grade year is already a disaster. Her kind teacher is about to go out on maternity leave. Ally, a perpetual class misfit who has changed schools multiple times because of a military father, accidentally gives her teacher a sympathy card instead of a good wishes card, all because she can't read what the card says. Ally finds herself in trouble again and struggles with the ridicule dished out by her classmates and getting through the school day. Her new teacher. Mr. Daniels, is different. Her takes the time to get to know each student and recognizes almost instantly that Ally has trouble reading, even though she has many coping mechanisms to hide this. Mr. Daniels finally uncovers that Ally has dyslexia and works after school with her to teach her new strategies for reading. Meanwhile, Ally reaches out to a new student named Keisha and the girls befriend fellow outcast, Albert, forming a circle of friendship. Through having an understanding teacher, finally learning how to read, and making friends for the first time, Ally slowly starts to develop confidence. A constant target for the classroom bully, Ally learns to stand up to her tormentor and stops giving her power. As the year progresses Ally and her friends find their places in both the classroom and the world and learn to embrace and appreciate who they are. As a student with dyslexia we see that although Ally is smart, she learns differently. By book's end Ally is a different person, confident and kind, and well on her way to becoming a student.
Hunt (One for the Murphys) again explores the struggle of a young person overcoming adversity, this t;me a learning disability. Fans of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Counting by Sevens are the natural audience for this book. Hunt invites us into the mind of Ally. Through her eyes we see how frustrating every school day is for her. She has a loving and supportive family, but her beloved grandfather recently died and her military father is currently deployed, leaving her lonely. Ally continues to be misunderstood, yet puts one foot in front of the other and it is impossible not to root for her. I saw the learning disability before Ally or any adults in her life saw it. It was such a relief when Mr. Daniels comes on the scene, diagnoses dyslexia, and finally does something about it. We see Ally begin to blossom and grow in confidence. This would be a great classroom read aloud. Learning differences, bullying, deployed family members, poverty, and low self-esteem are all issues delved into within this book. Mr. Daniels is such an awesome teacher that he serves as a wonderful role model, making this a must-read for educators. The principal, who formally only punished Ally, apologizes at the end of the book, admitting that she should have recognized her disability, showing that administrators sometimes make mistakes and its appropriate to admit them and to always treat students with respect. Ally's friends Albert and Keisha are also fully developed characters who are interesting people, yet also struggle with issues of their own, showing kids that they are not the only one's with problems, we all have them. Both boys and girls will enjoy this book and identify with it. Fish in a Tree will be a natural fit in a school setting and is an enjoyable read for recreational use, making this book a recommended reading for all.