It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: November 24th., 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

 

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and Sheila at BookJourney

Among many unexpected and wonderful moments at NCTE, was happening upon my very own copy of this book:

I read it on the way back from NCTE, completely engrossed in the story as Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and a good part of New Jersey flew by.  I had a feeling this would be the case, as I had had a similar experience with Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s previous book, One For The Murphys.  Lynda writes with a heart that knows children well; she knows what wounds, what heals, what sustains, and what grieves a child.  And she creates characters and worlds which ring true, and speak the truth.  Here’s the back cover copy:

The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in.

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

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.

What spoke to me about Fish in a Tree (which should be required reading for all parents and teachers) is that it is such a finely drawn portrait of what it is like to be a child for whom school has become a place of defeat.  For Ally, each and every school day is another attempt to cross a reading and writing minefield.  The way in which this is described struck me as so painfully accurate – this must be how our children suffer and struggle when learning difficulties get in the way.  

Here, for example, is a passage from a scene early in the book.  Ally has chosen a lovely card with cheerful flowers as a send off to her teacher who is leaving to have a baby. Had Ally been able to read the card, she would have known that it was a sympathy card.  But words squiggle and move for Ally, so she had focused just on those lovely flowers.  Needless to say, this lands her in the principal’s office.  When Mrs. Silver asks her to reflect on the message on a poster there, Ally is stumped, once again.  Then:

“She waves me out and, as I stand, I look at that poster again.  I wish I knew what it was that I should learn, because I know that I should know a lot more than I do.

She sighs as she leaves her office and I know she’s tired of me.

Even I’m tired of me.”

Had Ally been able to do so, this is what she would have read on the poster:

“Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is ask for help.” C. Connors

Mr. Daniels is the teacher we all hope to be – the one who takes the time to notice small signs and red flags.  The one who commits himself to figuring out Ally’s disability without diminishing her brave spirit.  He is her cheerleader, but he does so in an such an empowering way that Ally comes to recognize all that she can do in spite of her dyslexia.  Don’t we want to help our kids to make Ally’s learning journey one that travels the distance between “invisible to invincible”? To learn that ” “I’m having trouble” is not the same as “I can’t.””?

There is a parallel narrative of bullying and kindness within a classroom community that is woven into Ally’s story, which gives Fish in a Tree added depth and dimension.  Through this, Ally learns what we all should aim to learn, so that we can live in a kinder world:

“…looking around the room, I remember thinking that my reading differences were like dragging a concrete block around every day and how I felt sorry for myself.  Now I realize that everyone has their own blocks to drag around. And they all feel heavy.”

I loved Fish in a Tree so much, that I was sad when it came to an end.  I wanted to stay with Ally and Mr. Daniels and that entire cast of character for a whole lot longer.    This is a special, special book, and I feel lucky to be able to put it into the hands of my sixth graders.

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16 thoughts on “It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: November 24th., 2014

  1. I am so bummed I didn’t get a copy of this book. I checked in at the booth and they were out (and refused to give me one of the 5 still on the shelf.) I did have a nice chat with Linda in the hallway. I’ll order it the old fashion way. She is one of my favorites not only for her great writing, but also for her real, quiet, and kind self.

  2. This is the ARC I am probably most excited about, and I’m looking forward to reading it this week, especially after reading your eloquent review here. So lovely to meet you at NCTE, Tara! My college students devoured One for the Murphys, Wonder, and Absolutely Almost, and I have a feeling that Fish in a Tree is going to be another title for that list.

  3. Although I have a bag full of books I can’t wait to read, this isn’t among them. Based on your thoughts about the book, I’ll be ordering it soon. It sounds like a keeper. It was wonderful to see you this weekend!

  4. Thank you for a wonderfully detailed review. Reminds me so much of several middle and high school students over the years. As a reading specialist, I’ve suggested to many peers, when asked about a student’s behavior in a class, to consider a reading issue as a reason for repeated disruptions. Most colleagues are surprised by this idea. Excellent book to support a professional discussion!

  5. Tara, I also read this book today on my trip home. So glad that we were able to snag a copy. I felt the same way about not wanting the book to end. Maybe Lynda will take us back to this classroom in a future book.

  6. Can’t wait for this book, & I love this last quote, Tara. I have more than one students with challenges, & luckily they have acknowledged them. There is one, however, I need to work with, finding some path for him to take rather than just do what he thinks is “just him”. There are choices… Thanks for such a detailed review!

  7. Tara,
    Thanks for sharing about this book. I am interested in reading it soon… I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of tweets about it flowing through the twitter stream. I am looking forward to reading it.

  8. Oh lucky you! I loved hearing Linda speak at that wonderful session on shame. If the book is half as moving as her presentation it should win all sorts of awards.

    I also loved getting to spend some time with you—though it wasn’t enough. So I hope our paths cross again soon, and in the meantime, there’s always blogs.

  9. Hi Tara! I have just submitted a proposal to teach a new course module on multicultural Middle Grade/YA/ Graphic Novels for the August 2015 semester. I will definitely include this title in my text-set. I am crossing my fingers that my course proposal will be approved by the Dean. 🙂

  10. Pingback: #sol15: March 13, 2015 – Poetry Friday: “The End” by Laura Purdie Salas | A Teaching Life

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