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Ally has a secret that she hides from everyone is her class, even her teachers. When she tries to read the letters start moving around the page and get jumbled up, giving her terrible headache whenever she tries to read. She can’t write a simple card and when she gets a note, she pretends to understand what it says. She goes at length to memorize things, so she wouldn’t have to read. But now, with Shay, the most popular girl bullying Ally, her facade is falling apart.

Fish in a Tree is a middle grade novel about the challenges of being dyslexic in a system that is quick to brand children as troublemakers and slackers. The author skillfully captures the nuances of navigating the social quagmire of middle school as a twelve year old. Everything changes for Ally when the new teacher Mr. Daniels, notices Ally’s learning difficulties and in a heart warming display of ‘connection before correction’ Mr. Daniels enables Ally to lift herself up and repair her self- esteem.

Not only does A Fish in a Tree tackle learning challenges, it also claps back against bullying and at its core this is a tale of friendship. Ally’s thick-skinned friend Albert, demonstrates how being financially disadvantaged does not hold you back, how no one can make you feel bad about yourself unless you let them. The title comes from this popular saying, “ If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

We borrowed this book from the library this month and my daughter who is 8 years old, read it twice. I plan to buy a copy for home and a maybe a couple of extra ones for giving as a gift. A must-read book for children, parents and teachers. While this book is a testament to the fact that an empathetic individuals can change the entire trajectory of a child’s life, I like how Mr Daniels is an enabler but not the hero of this story. The real heroes are the children.

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