Winner of the 2016 Schneider Family Book Award, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt is a book that most educators will appreciate. With a low lexile of 550, short chapters, and more white space, this book is a good fit for students who struggle with reading differences.
First the bad. My only problem with this book is that the author never addressed Ally's impetuousness - why she acted without thinking - because that isn't part of dyslexia.
As a teacher, I understood how Ally kept her inability to read a secret. Because she moved often, no school had her long enough to figure it out. I had a student one year who needed testing. My team knew this two weeks into the school year. We advocated for him all year long - three teachers and a vice principal. He was approved for testing two weeks before the end of the school year. Because he tested well on the year end standardized testing, we were fought by everyone - his test scores mattered more to the system than what he needed. We refused to give up, and he ended up getting tested, and yes, he needed extra help.
I loved how Mr. Daniels responded to Ally and that the author based him on a teacher who helped her in real life learn to enjoy reading.
I loved her relationship with her brother and how the author shows that all people have strengths and weaknesses. I also loved how things ended up for her brother who had the same condition she had.
I loved that Ally didn't hate her bully but felt sorry for her and tried to make peace.
I loved her friendships with Keisha and Albert.
This would be a good book to read in a classroom - especially with students who struggle with reading. I can imagine the discussions on learning differences - on strengths and weaknesses and how hard work needs to be focused in order for it work. The themes and situations of learning differences, friendships, family relationships, deployed parents, bullying, resolving conflict, ways students hide problems from adults, forgiveness, asking for help, would make excellent Socratic Seminar discussions.
My heart went out to Ally when she talked about how the letters and words moved and how she got headaches when she tried to read because my son deals with that from having seizures.
I love stories that show the complexity of humans - how each of us are different, yet we all need acceptance, encouragement, and the ability to be good at something. We are not islands unto ourselves.
Read to a child today even if that child is you.