Book Review by Saima Bukhtiar
Fish in a Tree is a story of a sixth grader, Ally, who has dyslexia. No one is aware that she has learning differences, including Ally and her family. She feels she is not smart and manages to keep her teachers in the dark about not being able to read by retrieving to unacceptable behavior. As a result, her trips to the principal’s office are frequent. Her peers pick on her and call names, which leads her to undermine herself and hate school.
While she dreads going to school, Ally is very close to her big brother and adores her mother. Her dad is in the army and away, whom she misses dearly. She often thinks of her grandfather, who taught her and her brother many things. They both fondly recall the time spent with him. Although she has a supportive family, the lack of social life at school makes her feel very lonely. When asked the difference between lonely and alone, Ally defines them as:
“Alone is a way to be. It’s being by yourself with no one else around. And it could be good or bad. And it can be a choice. But being lonely is never a choice. It’s not about who is with you or not. You can feel lonely when you’re alone, but the worst kind of lonely is when you’re in a room full of people, but you’re still alone. Or you feel like you are, anyway.”
Ally’s life changes when her teacher leaves for maternity leave and is replaced by a new teacher, Mr. Daniels. His encouragement and faith in her helps Ally build confidence and she starts believing in herself for the first time. Mr. Daniels earns Ally’s trust and helps her learn to read after school, using special techniques for dyslexic kids. This changes Ally’s attitude toward school. She actually starts looking forward to learning and even makes friends who back her up anytime Ally doubts herself or needs help.
Although this is a kids’ book, it carries lessons for all ages. It highlights that even if someone struggles in some aspects due to their disability, they can be smart in other areas. All it takes is some love and encouragement to instill a positive attitude which takes that person a long way. The act of letting them know that someone believes in them and that a bit of reassurance can assist them in embracing their limitations and focusing the energy on their strengths to achieve success.
“No matter how smart you are, success is reached with hard work.”