Fish in a Tree
by Hunt, Lynda Mullaly

"Ally's greatest fear is that everyone will find out she is as dumb as they think she is because she still doesn't know how to read"-

Lynda Mullaly Hunt ( has received many honors for her debut novel, One for the Murphys, which is on over twenty state award lists, 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.

*Starred Review* Ally doesn't fit in. She draws beautifully and can create movies in her mind, but she is often bullied and hides the fact that she cannot read. Now in her seventh school, she plans to pull the wool over the eyes of her sixth-grade teacher, as she has done with many other teachers in the past. But Mr. Daniels is different. He believes in Ally, insisting she is smart, and it's almost enough to make her want to try his different way of learning. Could she actually, possibly learn to read? Filled with a delightful range of quirky characters and told with tons of heart, the story also explores themes of family, friendship, and courage in its many forms. And while a girl with dyslexia may be the center of the book, it has something to offer for a wide-ranging audience, making this an excellent class read-aloud. A hopeful and meaningful choice for those who struggle academically, this is as unique as its heroine. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Hunt draws a portrait of dyslexia and getting along. Ally Nickerson, who's passed through seven schools in seven years, maintains a Sketchbook of Impossible Things. A snowman in a furnace factory is more plausible than imagining herself doing something right—like reading. She doesn't know why, but letters dance and give her headaches. Her acting out to disguise her difficulty causes headaches for her teachers, who, oddly, never consider dyslexia, even though each notices signs like inconsistent spellings of the same word. Ally's confusion is poignant when misunderstandings like an unintentional sympathy card for a pregnant teacher make her good intentions backfire, and readers will sympathize as she copes with the class "mean girls." When a creative new teacher, Mr. Daniels, steps in, the plot turns more uplifting but also metaphor-heavy; a coin with a valuable flaw, cupcakes with hidden letters, mystery boxes and references to the Island of Misfit Toys somewhat belabo r the messages that things aren't always what they seem and everyone is smart in their own ways. Despite emphasis on "thinking outside the box," characters are occasionally stereotypical—a snob, a brainiac, an unorthodox teacher—but Ally's new friendships are satisfying, as are the recognition of her dyslexia and her renewed determination to read. Fans of R.J. Palacio's Wonder (2012) will appreciate this feel-good story of friendship and unconventional smarts. (Fiction. 10-12) Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Chapter 1: In Trouble Again
It’s always there. Like the ground underneath my feet.
“Well, Ally? Are you going to write or aren’t you?” Mrs. Hall asks.
If my teacher were mean it would be easier.
“C’mon,” she says. “I know you can do it.”
“What if I told you that I was going to climb a tree using only my lips? Would you say I could do it then?”
Oliver laughs, throwing himself on his desk like it’s a fumbled football.
I see the world as mind movies in my head that are silly and exaggerated. But they are private and only for me. For Oliver everything is exaggerated on the outside so everyone sees.
Shay groans. “Ally, why can’t you just act normal for once?”
Near her, Albert, a bulky kid who’s worn the same thing every day—a dark t-shirt that reads, Flint—sits up straight. Like he’s waiting for a firecracker to go off.
Mrs. Hall sighs. “C’mon, now. I’m only asking for one page describing yourself.”
I can’t think of anything worse than having to describe myself. I’d rather write about something more positive. Like throwing up at your own birthday party.
“It’s important,” she says. “It’s so your new teacher can get to know you.”
I know that, and it’s exactly why I don’t want to do it. Teachers are like the machines that take quarters for bouncy balls. You know what you’re going to get. Yet, you don’t know, too.
I fold my arms and close my eyes. Hoping that when I open them she’ll be gone. But she’s still there.
“And,” she says. “All that doodling of yours, Ally. If you weren’t drawing all the time, your work might be done. Please put it away.”
Embarrassed, I slide my drawings underneath my blank writing assignment. I’ve been drawing pictures of myself being shot out of a cannon. It would be easier than school. Less painful.
“C’mon,” she says moving my lined paper toward me. “Just do your best.”
Seven schools in seven years and they’re all the same. Whenever I do my best, they tell me I don’t try hard enough. Too messy. Careless spelling. Annoyed that the same word is spelled different ways on the same page. And the headaches. I always get headaches from looking at the brightness of dark letters on white pages for too long.
I tap my pencil, thinking about how we had to dress up as our favorite book character for Halloween last week. I came as Alice in Wonderland, from the book my grandpa read to me a ton of times. Shay and her shadow, Jessica, called me Alice in Blunderland all day.
Mrs. Hall clears her throat.
The rest of the class is getting tired of me again. Chairs slide. Loud sighs. Maybe they think I can’t hear their words: Freak. Dumb. Loser.
I wish she’d just go hang by Albert, the walking Google page who’d get a better grade than me if he just blew his nose into the paper.
The back of my neck heats up.
“Oliver. Get back in your seat,” she says and I’m grateful that he draws attention away. But then she’s back to me. “Ally?”
I don’t get it. She always let me slide. It must be because these are for the new teacher and she can’t have one missing.
I stare at her big stomach. “So, did you decide what you were going to name the baby?” I ask. Last week we got her talking about baby names for a full half hour of social studies.
“C’mon, Ally. No more stalling.”
I don’t answer.
“I mean it,” she says and I know she does.
I watch a mind movie of her taking a stick and drawing a line in the dirt between us under a bright blue sky. She’s dressed as a sheriff and I’m wearing black and white prisoner stripes. My mind does that 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.
I steel up inside, willing myself to do something I don’t really want to do. To escape this teacher who’s holding on and won’t let go.
I pick up my pencil and her body relaxes, probably relieved that I’ve given in.
But, instead, knowing she loves clean desks and things just so, I grip my pencil with a hard fist. And scribble all over my desk.
“Ally!” She steps forward quick. “Why would you do that?”
I can tell the scribbles to her are like kryptonite to Superman. I was right. She can’t stand it.
“What are you talking about? I didn’t do that,” I say pointing at the circular scribbles that are big on top and small on the bottom. It looks like a tornado and I wonder if I meant to draw a picture of my insides. I look back up at her. “It was there when I sat down.”
The laughter starts—but they’re not laughing because they think I’m funny.
I hear Suki sigh, so I glance over at her. She turns away as we make eye contact. She’s holding one of her small wooden blocks. She has a collection of them that she keeps in a box and I see her take one out when she gets nervous. She’s nervous now.
“I can tell that you’re upset, Ally,” Mrs. Hall says.
I am not hiding that as well as I need to.
“She’s such a freak,” Shay says in one of those loud whispers that everyone is meant to hear.
Oliver is drumming on his desk now. Suki sighs again.
“That’s it,” Mrs. Hall finally says. “To the office. Now.”
I wanted this but now I am having second thoughts.
Everyone laughs again. She puts up her hand. “Anyone else who makes a sound gives up their recess.” The room is quiet.
“Ally. I said to the office.”
I can’t go see our principal, Mrs. Silver, again. In the two months I was in this school last year, I was in her office so much I thought they were going to hang up a banner that said, “Welcome, Ally!”
I’m lucky Mrs. Hall is such a pushover. “I’m sorry,” I say, actually meaning it. “I’ll do my work. I promise.”
She sighs. “OK Ally, but if that pencil stops moving, you’re going.”
She moves me to the reading table next to a Thanksgiving bulletin board about being grateful. Meanwhile, she sprays my desk with cleaner. Glancing at me like she’d like to spray me with cleaner. Scrub off the dumb.
I squint a bit hoping the lights will hurt my head less. And then I try to hold my pencil the way she wants instead of the weird way my hand wants to.
I write with one hand and shield my paper with the other. I know I better keep the pencil moving, so I write the word, “Why?” over and over from the top of the page to the very bottom.
One, because I know how to spell it right and, two, because I’m hoping someone will finally give me an answer.

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