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Book Review: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

My 9-year-old son recently asked me, “what’s the name of the genre of books that are about people who have had difficult lives?” He had just finished the book “Wish,” by Barbara O’Connor and was doing some self-reflection as far as what to read next. The writer nerd in me loved that he was making the connection between books like “Wish,” “Wonder,” etc., with some of the interesting biographies he’s read (like the Who Was series and the True Tales of Childhood series). The next book I’m going to suggest he read? “Fish in a Tree” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. I don’t think there is a named genre as my son described it, but this book certainly fits his interest in this type of main character.

Intended Audience of Fish in a Tree

Middle Grade and Middle School (I’d suggest 4th-7th grade) and elementary and middle school teachers

This is another great book to consider reading WITH your child, especially for readers in this age group who struggle with novels (the main character has dyslexia and children who struggle to read will really relate to her).

I also love the idea of teachers reading this, either on their own or as a read-aloud to their class. A wonderful, understanding teacher that took the time to uncover the real reason this student was struggling made all the difference. It will remind teachers of the power they have to literally change the direction of their students’ lives, as well as their ability to create a classroom culture of acceptance and empowerment.

Summary of Fish in a Tree

This book centers around the relationship between Ally, a student with dyslexia, and Mr. Daniels, her caring and attentive teacher who quickly realizes that Ally is masking her learning challenges by misbehaving. It also addresses a wide range of timely topics that many students will relate to, like not fitting in, being bullied, personal loss and family instability (Ally’s grandfather has recently died, her father is deployed, and her mother works long hours as a waitress). Despite these heavy topics, Mullaly Hunt keeps it light enough for this age group through Ally’s whimsical imagination, which manifests itself in her journal full of doodles, which she calls the Sketchbook of Impossible Things.

What to Know Before You Read Fish in a Tree

I do worry that children who are experiencing similar struggles as Ally does (bullying, learning challenges, etc.) will feel daunted if they lack what Ally has in this book: a teacher who knows how to address her issues, combined with the development of real friendships with a few other “outcasts” in the class. It felt a little like when difficult challenges are fixed within the confines of a 30-minute TV sitcom. That said, for this age group, I think a positive outcome is important. I just worry that for those students who lack this type of teacher or compassionate classmates, they may feel more frustrated and lonely than they do hopeful.

Why You Should Read Fish in a Tree

This book sends a powerful message to students who struggle in the classroom (whether it is academically, socially, or emotionally) that with the right support and perhaps just the blessing of time, things can and will get better. I also found Ally and her budding friendships to be incredibly relatable characters that even children with less overwhelming situations will feel invested in and connected to. Mr. Daniels is now one of my literary heroes, as is Ally, and I think anyone who reads this will feel the same.

If you have a child who excels in school and naturally gets along well with others, but who often asks questions about classmates that have different styles of learning or unique needs, this is a great book to direct them to so that they can better understand and address their curiosity in an age-appropriate way. I love that this book treats Ally like the smart, amazingly talented child that she is.

After You Read Fish in a Tree

  • Start a journal of Impossible Things like Ally, whether it’s for doodles or quick notes or just fun ideas. I can envision my youngest child sketching out crazy Lego designs, while my oldest would probably write his own comics. This is Ally’s one source of comfort until Mr. Daniels enters her life, and I think many children could benefit from something similar. It allows kids a chance to explore what makes them special, especially if those talents don’t often present themselves in a traditional academic setting.
  • Embrace this opportunity to learn more about dyslexia. There are many resources online.
  • Consider supporting a program like United Through Reading, which records members of the military reading books to their children during a deployment, and then provides the families with the recording and the book for their children to have. I can only imagine how powerful something like this would have been for Ally’s family.

If You Like Fish in a Tree, Read These Books Next:

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Want to read other reviews of books we recommend? We have an entire page of book recommendations broken down by age range.


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The Best Stocking Stuffers for Young Readers

There are countless parenting pitfalls that I’ve fallen into. One is stuffing my children’s stockings with plastic junk, courtesy of last-minute, panic-stricken trips to Target and the Dollar Store on December 23. As my children have gotten older, we’ve tried to teach them to place less value on stuff, and more value on new experiences, quality time together, and doing those things you most enjoy. It became very apparent that my stocking stuffers didn’t pass my own sniff test.

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Books as Treats: Halloween-Inspired Book Recommendations and Reading Ideas for Every Age

I have a love/hate relationship with Halloween. Love the decorations, the thrill of deciding on and putting together costumes, the chatting with neighbors as we trick or treat. Hate the extreme sugar rush my kids come home from school with, come home from trick or treating with, and the fights over how much candy they can have each and every day after.

One way to alleviate a bit of the candy coma is by treating your children with books, and encouraging family (like those spoil-them-rotten grandparents!) to do the same. We typically get our kids a Halloween book each fall, or we’ll check out a stack from the library. Over the years, we’ve built a nice collection without ever spending more than $10-15 each October. It’s fun to read one or two each night in the week leading up, and sometimes for days after if we’re still in the spirit.

Books are a way to extend enjoyment of this holiday in a way that doesn’t give kids cavities.

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Tips for Shopping the School Book Fair

At many schools around the country, librarians are frantically (pulling their hair out) getting ready for the school book fair. And it’s a right of passage for children, too… many of us can remember walking into the library with our class, money clenched tight in our fist, anticipating what treasured book we might bring home.

As parents and caregivers, the book fair can sometimes leave us a bit confused or unsure about how to help our child make the most of this event.

It is an important moment on the school calendar, for two big reasons: Read More

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Book Recommendations for Kids Who Love the Who Was Series and TV Show

Every summer my kids tend to get hooked on a particular TV show during their allotted screen time. Last summer, it was Phineas and Ferb and they spent all their free time pretending to go on crazy adventures like those boys do. This summer, they fell in love with Netflix’s Who Was show, based on the best-selling Who Was series of books.

My oldest son had read a few of the books, as both his school library and our public library have shelves full of them. I love that there are such a wide variety, to capture whatever interests your children might already have (sports, art, pop culture, science, etc.). Most are biographies, but some are about historical events or famous places. The cover art is definitely the hook here: the goofy illustrations look like bobble heads, making these otherwise serious historical figures relatable and fun.

Thoughts on the Who Was TV Show

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Reading Strategies and Book Suggestions for Toddlers and Preschoolers Who Can’t Sit Still

When my oldest child was a toddler, I only needed to bring a tote bag of his favorite books to keep him happy and entertained for an hour or more. We nicknamed him The Professor. But then my youngest came along. Cue the Jaws music. His first nickname was The Destroyer… you know the type.

I suddenly had to rethink my strategies for making books a part of his very active, mobile (and developmentally normal!) life.

Toddler and preschool years are crucial in a child’s development as a reader. Even though they can’t yet read independently, they’re learning all the behaviors necessary to do so in the future.

As a point of comparison, clutching a crayon in their chubby, clenched fists and scribbling away is the first step toward being able to write. Soon their fingers get stronger, they start to grasp a pencil and exhibit more control as they draw. It works the same way with reading. 


But how to balance your child’s need to move with your desire to read to them in an enjoyable way? We’ve got some tips and book ideas to help.

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Book Review: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

And the Oscar goes to…

Typically, best picture movies are edgy or push the envelope, they often have cultural ramifications, and of course, they’re are extremely well-written with phenomenal acting. In the kid lit (or children’s literature) world, the John Newbery Medal is also shiny and gold, but unlike the Oscar, it is a seal that adorns future copies of the winning book. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is the 2018 winner of the Newbery Medal and it embodies all those qualities we’ve come to expect from award-winning films.

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Where to Get Book Recommendations Your Child Will Love

Our most recent posts have encouraged families to allow their child to choose their own reading material and to reflect thoughtfully on how books impact childrens’ (and adults’) lives. But where to turn when you’ve read the last page of a recent favorite, or finally finished that series you started 6 months ago? (I call this having a book hangover and the only cure is a new favorite!) Or maybe you’re still searching for that one book that is sure to hook them to love reading long-term.

Here are some fool-proof resources for great children’s book recommendations… some for when you have loads of time to browse with your child and a few that take only a few seconds!

Helpful Sources for Children’s Book Recommendations

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Book Review: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

One of the ways we hope Raising Real Readers can help busy parents and caregivers is by keeping an eye out for the latest books that will soon be on all the must-read lists. Very few people have time to keep up with books lists and release dates! Front Desk by Kelly Yang is a great example of a new book with lots of buzz, but even better, it provides an accessible starting point for conversations with your elementary school child about timely, difficult topics. You can see our other book recommendations here.

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Book Review: Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

I think some of the most exciting work happening in children’s literature is found in the Young Adult niche. A couple of my most favorite reads from the past year are young adult books. They are stories that dig deep into the human spirit. Plus, I love that they typically read a bit quicker than many books geared toward adults–perfect for summer days when you’ve got one eye on the kids in the pool and one eye devouring your book. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon is just such a book.

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