Fish in a Tree

by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Grade 5-8


Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? 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.

Discussion questions from SOMN

  • When might someone feel as if he or she is a fish in a tree? Have you ever felt this way?
  • At the beginning of the story, we learn that school is painful for Ally and that she doesn’t feel as if she fits in with her peers. When thinking about her class, she says, “Maybe they think I can’t hear their words: Freak. Dumb. Loser.” (page 3) Discuss the effect of these word choices.
  • On page 11, Ally says, “I wish I had my Sketchbook of Impossible Things. It’s the only thing that makes me feel like I’m not a waste of space.” Why does Ally feel like a “waste of space?” How could you make her feel like she is important?
  • How do Mrs. Hall and Mr. Daniels set the tone for respect in the classroom? How do they treat Ally? How does Ally respond to the way they treat her?
  • How does the friendship bond among Ally, Albert, and Keisha inspire each of them to believe in themselves?

Classroom activities from SOMN

  • Experience what it may be like to have dyslexia
  • Write a letter of advice to Mr. Daniels or Ally’s mom about how best to help Ally.
  • Ask students to begin a word collection list in which they collect powerful words or phrases that describe the way Ally sees herself and the way others perceive her.