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Fish in a Tree Summary and Key Themes

Fish in a Tree, a 2015 novel by Lynda Mullaly Hunt showcases the story of Ally, a talented child with dyslexia, who initially struggles to fit in and understand her own abilities in a traditional school setting. Throughout the book, Ally’s journey is marked by a series of challenges and revelations, as she navigates the complexities of friendship, self-acceptance, and learning differences.

Full Summary

Ally, a sixth grader, faces a daunting challenge: writing about herself for a class assignment. Her teacher, Mrs. Hall, is going on maternity leave, and the exercise is meant to help the new teacher understand the students. However, Ally is secretly struggling with reading and writing. Instead of completing the assignment, she fills her paper with the word “why?”—a poignant reflection of her inner turmoil.

At Mrs. Hall’s baby shower, Ally’s attempt to show kindness backfires. She gives her teacher a card adorned with yellow roses, but the gesture is met with confusion and ridicule when Shay, the class bully, points out that it’s a sympathy card, not a celebration one. This incident highlights Ally’s reading challenges, as she misinterpreted the card’s message.

The story progresses with Ally experiencing various school life events. She bonds with her brother Travis over coin shopping, where they share a moment of connection through a special dime linked to their grandfather. This experience teaches Ally the value of uniqueness.

Ally’s new teacher, Mr. Daniels, introduces a more creative approach to learning. He encourages his students, including Ally, to express themselves through different mediums like a show-and-tell exercise and free writing in notebooks. Ally, taking a chance, draws a black cube, symbolizing her wish to be invisible. Mr. Daniels, however, reassures her of her importance.

Friendships and challenges at school evolve. Ally forms a bond with Keisha and Albert, fellow students who face their own struggles. They navigate school life together, from dealing with bullies to supporting each other during difficult times, like when they stand up for each other during a holiday concert.

As Ally tries to cope with her academic challenges, she employs various tactics to avoid writing assignments. However, her new friendships and Mr. Daniels’ supportive teaching style slowly help her gain confidence. She starts to understand that her difficulties in reading might be due to dyslexia, a revelation that comes as both a shock and a relief.

The narrative takes a turn when Ally realizes that her brother Travis might also have dyslexia. This discovery leads to a deeper understanding and connection between them. Mr. Daniels offers to help Travis, just as he has been helping Ally, showing the power of understanding and support in overcoming challenges.

Throughout the story, Ally grows from a confused and frustrated student into a more confident and hopeful individual. Her journey highlights the importance of empathy, understanding, and the right kind of support in facing personal challenges. The narrative ends on a hopeful note, with Ally feeling that anything is possible, a stark contrast to her feelings at the beginning of the story.

fish in a tree summary

Key Themes

1. The Struggle and Triumph Over Learning Disabilities

At its core, the book delves deeply into the complexities and challenges of learning disabilities, particularly dyslexia. It portrays Ally’s journey, highlighting her initial struggles with reading and writing, which manifest in her reluctance to engage in class assignments and her misunderstanding of the sympathy card. 

This theme is explored through Ally’s experiences in the classroom, her interactions with teachers, and her internal battles. The narrative thoughtfully depicts how learning disabilities can often be misunderstood or overlooked, leading to feelings of isolation and frustration. 

However, it also showcases the transformative power of understanding and tailored education. The introduction of Mr. Daniels as a supportive teacher who recognizes Ally’s potential and dyslexia, and offers appropriate guidance, underscores the theme of triumph. 

His methods not only help Ally but also pave the way for her to realize her abilities and strengths, thus offering a nuanced exploration of how learning disabilities can be addressed with empathy and effective teaching strategies.

2. The Impact of Bullying and the Power of Empathy

The book vividly portrays the impact of bullying on students, especially those who are already dealing with personal challenges. 

Ally’s interactions with Shay, the class bully, serve as a crucial narrative device to explore this theme. From being ridiculed for her misunderstanding of the sympathy card to facing humiliation over her reading challenges, Ally’s experiences highlight the emotional toll that bullying can take. 

However, the story also emphasizes the power of empathy and kindness in countering such negative experiences. The development of Ally’s friendships with Keisha and Albert, who face their own struggles, illustrates how empathy can foster resilience and solidarity. 

These relationships provide Ally with a support system and a sense of belonging, which are instrumental in her journey towards self-acceptance and confidence. 

The contrast between the hurt caused by bullying and the healing brought by empathetic relationships is a central theme that adds depth and complexity to the narrative.

3. The Journey of Self-Discovery and Personal Growth

Throughout the book, Ally’s character undergoes significant personal growth, evolving from a confused and disheartened student to someone who embraces her unique strengths and abilities. 

This theme of self-discovery is intricately woven into various aspects of the story, from Ally’s struggles with schoolwork to her interactions with her family and peers. The narrative showcases how Ally’s challenges, while initially sources of distress, become catalysts for her self-discovery. 

Her experiences with Mr. Daniels, her newfound friendships, and the realization of her dyslexia all contribute to her understanding of herself. This journey is not just about overcoming academic hurdles; it’s also about Ally learning to value her own perspective, as seen in her creative responses to class assignments and her growing confidence in expressing herself. 

The book thoughtfully explores how personal challenges can lead to a deeper understanding of oneself, highlighting the importance of self-acceptance and the courage to embrace one’s individuality.

Final Thoughts

The story is a heartwarming and insightful exploration of the challenges faced by students with learning disabilities. It underscores the importance of understanding, empathy, and tailored educational approaches in helping such students succeed. 

Ally’s journey from confusion and frustration to empowerment and self-acceptance is inspiring, highlighting the transformative power of supportive relationships and the importance of recognizing and embracing individual differences. 

The book serves as a reminder that with the right support and mindset, every student has the potential to overcome their challenges and thrive.