Okay, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt really isn't a Hidden Gem - I think this book has gotten a lot of attention. However, I love this book. If you are teaching upper elementary or younger middle school grades, your class needs this book. It is really that good. It will speak to so many of your students in different ways. If you teach in Florida, Fish in a Tree made the Sunshine State Book List for grades 3-5 for 2016-2017. Your school library probably has a few copies available!
Summary of Fish in a TreeAlly is the main character in Fish in a Tree. We slowly get introduced to her and her family. At the beginning of the story, Ally comes off as very sad and insecure. She wants to do well and she tries her best, but things never work out for her at school. In order to escape, Ally decides to get in trouble and visit the principal - at least that way she doesn't have to feel stupid. (Wow, how many teachers have already thought of a few students?) Ally really puts her foot in it at her teacher's baby shower. I won't spoil it, but what she mistakenly does is heartbreaking. The reader just feels so sorry for Ally who-never-does-right. The new teacher, Mr. Daniels, is very different from her previous teachers. He is kind, but he also lets Ally know that her old tricks won't work.
At the same time, Ally has other issues that she is dealing with at both school and home. Ally is bullied by other girls in the class and struggles to make friends. Her family moved frequently, and she doesn't have any long-time friends to support her. Her dad is deployed, and her grandpa passed away recently. Ally's mom works as a waitress to try to make ends meet. Travis, Ally's older brother, is her main support system - but he has his own struggles.
You are probably thinking that this is a depressing book - but it's not. One of the things I love about this book is it is about resilience and overcoming adversity. I don't want to give away the story, but Ally's life improves so much by the end of the story. Ally makes some friends - who teach her a lot about coping with problems in different ways. Mr. Daniels is the teacher that all teachers want to be - and changes her life forever. You really just have to read the book. If I say much more, I will give it all away.
Teaching Fish in a Tree: Character Development & ThemesAs far as reading skills, Fish in a Tree would be great for character studies. Not only could you track how Ally changes in the story, but also her friends, brother, and the class bullies. Students could be assigned to track different characters and their actions in each chapter.
Fish in a Tree would also be great for teaching theme. As I stated previously, students will connect with this book in so many different ways. It is a terrific example of how a book can have more than one theme. A few that I noticed were:
- overcoming a learning problem
- dealing with loss of a family member (death or deployment)
- coping with bullies
- everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
- personal impact (one person can impact someone else)
This book would be great for the beginning of the year as well. You can discuss how the students treat each other and how that impacts learning.
I really hope you check out this book!