illustration of a fish in a tree
Book Review,  Books,  middle grade novels

Book Review: Fish in a Tree

I just finished reading Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

What a great read. It begins with a young girl, Ally, who is always getting into trouble at school. She’s in 6th grade and she spends most of her time in the principal’s office until a substitute teacher, Mr. Daniels, takes the time to figure out what is really going on.


I loved the theme that everyone is smart in different ways. So often we try to put people in a box and that just doesn’t work. We are all unique and we can all offer something and I love that this theme was so expertly woven into this story.

It can be hard to include theme in a book without it being too overt, but this theme was subtle and effective.

It also made me think about how we tie our self-worth to what we can or cannot do, which is what happens with Ally. She has a misbelief that she isn’t good enough just because she has struggles in school.


For me, characters make or break a book. Ally was fully developed and conflicted. Her friends were created effectively, too. I felt like they were real kids.

I loved the characterization of Mr. Daniels. We’ve had so many amazing teachers over the years and he represents what I’ve loved most: the genuine interest and care for my children. I am still in contact with people who taught my children 20+ years ago. Mr. Daniels notices something about Ally and instead of blowing it off, he takes time to get to know her and figure out why she’s acting the way she does.

So many kids have behavioral issues at school and when a teacher takes time to understand why, that can be such a turning point for that child. Many kids misbehave not because they are “bad kids” but because they are struggling with learning.

Emotional Reaction

There were a few scenes that actually brought me to tears. Exactly what an author wants from a reader: strong emotion. Ally was such a realistic character with internal conflict I could believe and understand. She seemed like a real kid with real problems, including a bully named Shay. She tugged at my heart strings as she struggled to figure things out.

The author was invisible as I read the story and every scene pulled me in. Great writing!

I highly recommend this book!

From the back cover:

New York Times Bestseller!

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.

You can read my review of Out of My Mind here. Or my review of Paper Wishes here.

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