Review: Fish In a Tree

Fish in a TreeFish In a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. 9780399162596.2015. Gr. 4-6.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

This quote is attributed to Albert Einstein, although there is debate on whether he actually ever said it. Either way, it provides the title for this heartwarming book from Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Ally is a sixth-grader who feels as out of place as a fish in a tree, as school is not a place that makes her feel comfortable. She spends a lot of time in trouble in the principal’s office, facing exasperation and disappointment from the staff. When Ally’s teacher goes on maternity leave, a long-term substitute, Mr. Daniels, takes over the classroom and vows to try his best not to send Ally to the principal’s office again.

Ally is clearly a bright student, as she is great at visual thinking and is very artistic. But what Mr. Daniels and others in Ally’s life don’t know is that she has kept a secret for a long time—she doesn’t know how to read. Mr. Daniels eventually sees through her façade and identifies dyslexia as the culprit behind her learning differences. His patience and understanding are integral in Ally’s growth, as are two friends, (also social outcasts), who she leans on for support.

Mullaly hits upon a lot of issues that kids can identify with: Bullying (both mental and physical), learning difficulties, what it means to be a good friend, and more. While the book could have gotten mired in negativity, I love the way Mullaly makes sure that positivity shines through. While we learn that Ally has learning difficulties, we also learn that she isn’t defined by that; she has definite strengths as well.

This is a feel-good book that will have you rooting for Ally and her friends. Mullaly writes with an understanding of and empathy toward her characters that just feels good…sure, maybe they are a little idealistic, but they give readers wonderful doses of positivity. Mr. Daniels is the teacher we all want to have or be, Travis is the supportive brother every sibling wants, Keisha and Albert are the “through thick and thin” friends every sixth grader needs, etc.

Students who are struggling will see themselves in the pages of Fish In a Tree…I bet even Albert Einstein would have appreciated that.

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