86 pages 2 hours read

Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a Tree

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


Fish in a Tree is a 2015 middle-grade novel by American author Lynda Mullaly Hunt. It follows the story of a middle-school girl named Ally, who is artistically and mathematically talented but unable to read due to her dyslexia. Throughout Ally’s school career, she uses humor, misbehavior, and feigned sickness to distract from her learning difficulty, doing everything in her power to avoid writing and reading tasks. Ally’s struggles are magnified by the fact that she has transferred schools many times over the past few years, as her family moves around for her father’s work in the military. Though Ally’s mother is supportive, she often works long hours as a waitress and does not have the time to look over Ally’s schoolwork. Ally’s older brother, Travis, is also loving and protective, though his own learning difficulties prevent him from helping his sister.

Ally’s new teacher—a kind, attentive man named Mr. Daniels—sees beneath the surface of her distractions. Sensing Ally’s intelligence and creativity, Mr. Daniels adapts his teaching to her dyslexia, helping her realize her unique abilities. Empowered by Mr. Daniels’ belief in her, Ally finds a new confidence and forms connections with her classmates, including an outspoken aspiring baker named Keisha and a scientifically gifted but socially struggling boy named Albert.

Albert often comes to school with bruises. As he and Ally become closer, Ally learns these bruises are caused by other kids who bully him. Albert refuses to fight back because he does not believe in violence. A mean rich girl named Shay and her friend Jessica often pick on the trio of friends, but when Ally sees how Keisha and Albert ignore them, she becomes more confident in her ability to do the same.

Ally’s reading skills slowly improve as a result of after-school meetings with Mr. Daniels, where he works with her using strategies catered to her visual learning style (such as playing chess and writing words in shaving cream). Ally’s confidence continues to bloom when she is nominated for class president and defeats Shay in the race. Though Ally’s win triggers more teasing from Shay, she is able to gracefully ignore this teasing and realize it is the product of Shay’s own insecurities. Ally isn’t bothered until the more aggressive bullies that have been picking on Albert target her and Keisha. As a result, Albert is forced to defend himself and his friends, affirming the importance of standing up for yourself and the value of friendship.

Ally continues working on extra projects, and Mr. Daniels honors her dedication by awarding her Student of the Month. He challenges the class to see the world in new ways, presenting a long list of famous individuals—including Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill, and Albert Einstein—who struggled with dyslexia. With his cooperative assignments and his elevation of every student’s differences, Mr. Daniels inspires the class to appreciate one another as unique individuals.

One day, when Travis comes to pick Ally up after school, she tells him about all the ways Mr. Daniels has helped her. Eager to overcome his own reading difficulties, Travis agrees to meet with him, demonstrating that it’s never too late to make the impossible possible