Ally Nickerson is a sixth grader with dyslexia. She can’t read but tries to struggle through school anyway. Her teachers and administrators at school don’t understand her and don’t know how to help her. Until Mr. Daniels comes along. He is studying for an advanced degree in Special Education, and he sees the signs of Ally’s disability. He gets her the help she needs, and because of him, her life at school gets better.
I will say that I usually hate books written in first person, present tense. I loathe them. It always feels like the least effective method of storytelling. I would enjoy the stories so much better if I could see them from another’s viewpoint, or at least with the benefit of the protagonist’s hindsight. It bothers me to read the person’s thoughts as they’re happening. However, Fish in a Tree is different. Instead of making me annoyed at the main character, I sympathized with Ally. I actually felt her struggle and embarrassment. I don’t know if it was the most effective storytelling method, but it, at least, worked.
This is a children’s book. I found it in a list of books every teacher should read (I’m not a teacher, just a Pinterest user who likes to read), so I didn’t know what to expect going in. It’s definitely a kids’ book for older (fifth to sixth grader) kids. And I think they should read it. It has good lessons about compassion and understanding that are important for all kids to learn. Ms. Hunt tells the story in a way that shows the depth of feeling of a child who feels alone in her problems.
I love Ally’s family. Often writers like to give bad parents to struggling children, but Ms. Hunt didn’t. Ally’s mom is loving and supportive, but she’s also busy with her job as a waitress. Ally’s dad is in the army and has been deployed for the past several months. Both love Ally and support her and do what they can to help her and her brother - who struggles similarly. I also like Ally’s friends. They stand with her, and they’re supportive and helpful. One of them is extremely bright and deals with his own issues at home. The other is the new girl who is brave and stands up for others.
This is a good book. Like I said before, it’s a lesson in compassion and understanding. Ally is going through what would be a serious struggle for anyone: she can’t read, her classmates make her feel stupid, and she doesn’t feel like she has any friends. All it takes is one person to help her reverse all of that - one person who cares and helps her gain confidence.