Written by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Ally is a smart girl, but she has moved around among a lot of different schools. Her inability to read stays hidden behind her many ways of causing classroom distractions. She is tired of being called, “dumb” and “slow”. But reading words on a page makes about as much sense as a fish in a tree.
Her current school, especially the principal, is getting equally tired of her. Ally is sent to the office practically every day. The worst being the day she gave her pregnant teacher a sympathy card during the class baby shower. Ally didn’t intend to be mean, she just didn’t know what the words on the card said. She bought it because of the pretty yellow flowers she thought her teacher would love.
Luckily, the substitute teacher is more attune to Ally’s reading problems. He is gentle and affirming. He highlights Ally’s amazing ability to draw in expressive detail. Eventually she admits how the letters move about the page when she tries to read.
This carefully woven novel is about more than just dyslexia. Ally has a father serving overseas in the military and a hard-working mother struggling to make ends meet. There is also an older brother who cannot read, but is a fantastic mechanic. Before the book’s conclusion Ally recognizes her brother has the same learning problem and gets him help. It is a book full of hope and possibilities.
Lynda Hunt also tackles the ever-present issue of bullying in this book. She approaches it in funny and satisfying ways that relieve the problems rather than escalate them. Ally makes friends slowly with two other students who are also seen as being “different” from the popular crowd. Readers will recognize them as great friends. All the characters are developed thoroughly and become completely recognizable. Adult readers will enjoy recognizing character “types” they have known throughout life.
Chapters are short and contain a lot of dialogue, so this is a fast-moving, entertaining book for fifth grade readers and beyond. It could be used for a book club to open discussion about acceptance of others. Librarians, teachers and counselors can recommend this book to students who may be experiencing dyslexia, a parent in the military or any particular kind of bullying. This text can be used to meet the core curriculum standards in literacy as well as in the social studies content of learning about others with needs as well as how to deal with bullies in the classroom or the school at large.
After reading this book, students may want to look for Lynda’s previous book, One for the Murphys.
- Title: Fish in a Tree
- Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- Publisher: Penguin, 2015
- Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
- Format: Hardcover, 276 pages
- ISBN: 978-0-399-16259-6
- Genre: Fiction
- Grade level: 5 up
- Extras: Letter from the author to the reader that explains how Lynda Mullaly Hunt understands these problems. She had them herself in school and finally realized the actual problem was one of perception. She became able to perceive herself and others in a new light. Her heart felt letter will bring a sigh of relief to young struggling readers.