Monday, January 1, 2018

Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt (Puffin, 2015) features several middle schoolers who don’t fit in – as well as a pair of girls who tease all the others mercilessly. Ally is at the center of it all, spending as much time in the office as in class because she makes inappropriate comments or no comments at all and often creates a problem to avoid doing work she finds difficult.  She talks about the mind movies in her brain: “My mind does this all the time – shows me these movies that seem so real that they carry me away inside of them. They are a relief from my real life.”

Ally’s real life includes frequent headaches and “letters that dance and move on the page.”  When a new teacher gave her a journal to write in every day, she thought she’d rather eat grass. She draws instead. An observant teacher finally realizes Ally has dyslexia and slowly life begins to be worth living.  

Fish in a Tree provides many openings for thought-provoking discussions and writing (or drawing) that could help students become more sensitive to each other’s problems – or aware of their own.  For example, ask students if they can read the words in this phrase:

The phrase says, “Here I go in my swing” but it looks like the jumble above to a child with dyslexia.

The teacher, Mr. Daniels, had commented that, “If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking that it’s stupid.” After reading the book, ask students to figure out what the teacher means and how it applies to Ally – or perhaps themselves.

Ally suffered for a long time without letting anyone know she had problems reading.
·       Why is it so hard to ask for help when we need it?
·       Why do certain kids always tease and make life difficult for those who are different?

Ask each student to write a paragraph or a poem or draw a picture about some task or activity that is difficult or challenging for them. 
·       If this is an activity you have to do – like reading or math – how do you solve the challenge? Who helps you, if anyone?  What kind of help would you like?

In this picture, a young boy shows that he is not as skilled as his friend on the skateboard but he certainly showed what a wonderful artist he is! Everybody is smart in different ways.

Fish in a Tree won the Schneider Family Book Award  in 2016 as a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

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