Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt;
Nancy Paulsen Books: New York, 2015; $16.99
In Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s new novel, Fish in a Tree, sixth-grader Ally Nickerson has a big secret that she’s afraid to share: she has always struggled with reading and writing. It’s been the same thing in every one of the seven different schools she’s been to (her father is in the military): her best work isn’t good enough. On top of that, Ally is bullied by two mean girls, queen bee Shay and her sidekick, Jessica, who insult her and call her many awful names, one of the worst being “dumb.” Ally fears that she is dumb, but she isn’t. When Ally’s teacher goes on maternity leave, a substitute named Mr. Daniels replaces her, and something special happens. Mr. Daniels cares so much about every student in his class. Ally eventually learns from Mr. Daniels that “everyone is smart in different ways” and that she has a learning difference that makes it harder for her to read but not impossible.
Mr. Daniels reminds me of one of my teachers. Like Mr. Daniels, Mr. Lemaire is kindhearted, generous with his time, and did his best to help each and every student in my class. I can remember many times when I stayed after school or came in before school to work on a range of things, from spelling to writing to practicing lines for our annual school plays, which all of us loved and he directed. In fact, he was the one who introduced me to Stone Soup and suggested good books. Mr. Daniels gave each student in his class a writing notebook and so did Mr. Lemaire. We would write about our thoughts on the books we read, and he wrote back to us every time. I will always remember how he helped me in fourth and fifth grades, and if I ever become a teacher, that’s how I would like to teach.
Mr. Daniels wasn’t the only person who helped Ally; her friends did, too. In the beginning of Fish in a Tree, Ally didn’t have any friends. I give her credit for trying to make them, and I was happy for Ally when she met Keisha and Albert. Ally admires Albert for his thick skin. Albert also gets teased, but he doesn’t let it get to him. Almost every middle-school kid wants to fit it, including Ally, but Keisha reminded her that sometimes it’s not good to fit in with the wrong people, like Shay’s mean crowd, and instead, Keisha stands up to them. I think this is good advice, and I believe that it is better to be who you are and not pretend to be like somebody else. My friends are the kind of people that I want to be around. I would rather have my few understanding, true friends than a flock of followers like Shay’s “friends.”
If you are looking for a good read that will make you think, laugh, and cheer, Fish in a Tree is waiting for you. Also, reading Ally’s story could be comforting if some parts of school are scary or seem stressful, or you’re getting teased or feeling lonely. A poster in Ally’s school reminded students: “Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is ask for help,” and don’t keep your struggles a secret. It is important to remember that you should never give up. You never know when impossible can turn into possible.