by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
This book was suggested to me by a commenter on my other blog when I began writing about my daughter’s dyslexia, which we only recently discovered that she has.
Fish in a Tree is a tween book, aimed at the 9 – 12-year old crowd. Narrated by Ally, a sixth-grade girl who has attended seven schools in seven years, because her dad is in the army and the family moves a lot. Ally has always been seen as a trouble maker at school – a girl who is defiant, goofs, off, and seems to prefer being sent to the principal’s office over staying in class and learning. What nobody knows is that this behavior is merely a front. More than anything, Ally wants to get along, she wants to be liked, and she wants to fit in – but she can’t read, and she’ll go to great lengths to keep that secret.
When her sixth-grade teacher goes out on maternity leave, the long-term sub comes in and shakes the class up with his enthusiasm and determination to see the best in every student – even Ally. It doesn’t take long for Mr. Daniels to figure out what’s really going on with Ally, and he takes matters into his own hands, determined to address her dyslexia and show her that not only can she learn to read, but that she’s smart and gifted in her own way.
A little ableist, a little contrived, but still an enjoyable story. It’s very much a teacher-as-hero story, and while it is a feel good story (and written for a certain young age group), it saddened me that real life school doesn’t often resemble anything close to what was portrayed in the story. The hero teacher seems to be an endangered species, as the pressure increases to fit kids into neat little boxes, and to squeeze the best test scores out of them. Also, shockingly, dyslexia is rarely “recognized” by public schools, even though it is the most common learning disability. Because most schools and school districts do not officially “recognize” dyslexia, although they may recognize reading troubles and offer reading tutoring, most schools do not offer intervention that addresses the very specific needs of a child with dyslexia. This leaves a lot of kids up the creek. They either fall through the cracks (as was happening to my daughter before I began homeschooling her a year ago – and I didn’t even figure out that she has dyslexia until recently), or their parents are forced to spend big bucks for private tutoring by dyslexia specialists. California just passed a law mandating that California public schools recognize dyslexia and offer services for dyslexic students the other day! It’s 2015, folks. And it won’t even go into effect for a year or two.
So, yeah. Enjoyable book, but probably doesn’t reflect real life all that well. It does have a few tear-jerker moments, and the underlying message of “Great minds do not think alike” is a good one for kids. I’d love to have my daughter read this, but it’s probably a year or two above her reading level. We’re working on it though! (Her reading, that is.)