Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

fish in a tree

4 out of 5 trees.

This is a surprisingly mature and poignant look at living with an undiagnosed learning disability for upper elementary students and lower junior high. Ally is a budding artists who cannot read. She has managed to go undetected for years through a combination of acting out/ distracting the teacher and putting in insanely long nights to get her homework done. Every year she has had to change schools and as the grades keep getting harder, her problem grows worse. She also faces bullying from the local clique of mean girls.

Enter Mr. Daniels. He is a young, fun teacher with a genuine gift for helping his students. He wants to help Ally, but she is more used to teachers humiliating and punishing her than trying to help.

This is a really touching story about how it feels to think you are dumb and unteachable until the right teacher comes along. A lot of the story deals with Ally’s self-esteem and emotions as she goes through school unable to do everything the other students do. The years of hurt have built up and now she does her best to disappear.

Throughout the year Ally starts to come out of her shell. Mr. Daniels notices her creativity and cleverness instead of just focusing on her misbehaviour and bad spelling. She also starts to make friends with a couple of other “misfits” in the classroom. Albert is a genius who has trouble relating to people and gets beaten up on the way home on a daily basis. Keisha has a tendency to stand up to the class bullies and wants to become a professional baker. Together, they tentatively start to rebuild the way they see themselves and their classmates.

I really loved Ally’s character. Hunt does a great job of describing how scary it can be to think that something is wrong with you but be to shy to ask for help, and how important an attentive and caring adult can be to a child. I really enjoyed watching Ally get stronger as she realized she is more than just her inability to read.

I found this book very compelling and would be a great read (or read to) anyone with a learning disability who thinks they have nothing to offer. It also has a great anti-bullying message.

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