Happy MMGM, everyone!
Today, I'm reviewing Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
It's a sweet story about a girl who's always felt ashamed about her learning challenges, until one inspirational teacher helps her realize that she does have a lot to offer the world.
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Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: February 5th 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Hunt's book will inspire both readers young and old, while also making them reflect on how they interact with those who may experience similar challenges in real life.
However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.
Hunt introduces us to Ally, a young girl who has built up a reputation at every school that she's attended. However, it's not the type of reputation that most kids would want; Ally is known for being a smart aleck, and for making the type of faux pas that make other students cringe, and leave teachers questioning her motives.
But what none of her classmates or teachers realize, is that Ally isn't deliberately acting out. She's always had trouble learning, and acting disruptive is the only way she's been able to cover up those challenges. It's not until one observant teacher realizes that Ally's mind works a little differently, that she begins to realize that her challenges are able to be conquered…
I was absolutely engaged with Ally's story from the very first page. Hunt does a brilliant job of showing Ally's feelings of inadequacy in being unable to complete simple tasks like reading, and how she's refined her ability to act out to prevent those learning difficulties from being discovered.
Even as Hunt acknowledges that Ally's decision to hide her learning difficulties is misguided, she's also careful to show that it's based on a youthful and naive desire to make everyone's lives easier. This is a family with two adults in difficult positions and a loved one in combat, and it's easy to see how Ally can eventually get the idea that her problems are both unfixable, and just not as important as keeping the family in harmony. I certainly thought the same about certain problems when I was younger, and I have no doubt that other readers will see a bit of themselves in Ally, as she tries to hide her problems.
Once Mr. Daniels and Ally's newfound friends begin to help breakdown the emotional and intellectual walls that Ally has put up in the past, we begin to see her personality shine through. She's more willing to try challenges, and readers will undoubtedly cheer her ability to use her unique way of thinking to solve classroom problems - e.g. the puzzle boxes that Mr. Daniels creates.
However, Hunt is still careful to show that Ally's problems aren't going to disappear overnight. There's an especially poignant moment in the latter half of the novel, when Ally feels like her trust in someone has been betrayed and her differences have been carelessly pointed out for an entire classroom.
Both Ally's subsequent reaction, and the explanation and apology that she receives in the process, goes a long way toward emphasizing the underlying lesson that challenges like dyslexia won't go overnight, and it sometimes takes weeks, months and even years, before the process for working with those challenges is perfected. However, it's also that very patience, acceptance and hard work which will make all the difference in the end.
While Ally's story ends on an optimistic note, it's Hunt's decision to have Ally also reach out to others with similar challenges, which touched me the most. There's a definite pay-it-foward aspect to her decision, and it's a strong reminder that helping one person conquer their fears is not only rewarding, but will likely have positive ripple effects.
It's a strong lesson to conclude the book with, and a wonderful adage for readers to apply in their own day-to-day lives.
Hunt's beautifully written tale reminds readers that it's okay to ask for help when experiencing said challenges, and that it's never, ever too late to work on those challenges. These are all important lessons for readers of all ages to experience, and I'm so happy that they'll have Hunt's book to look up to when taking their first tentative steps to empower themselves.
I highly recommend this book for all readers, but especially for educators and parents who are looking for relatable reading for the young readers in their lives.
About the author:
Lynda Mullaly Hunt's debut novel, One for the Murphys, is on twenty-one (and counting) state award lists, and has received many other honors, including Bank Street’s 2013 Best Books of the Year. She's a former teacher, and holds writers retreats for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, two children, impetuous beagle, and beagle-loathing cat. Visit her at www.lyndamullalyhunt.com.