Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Lynda Mullaly Hunt's Fish in a Tree. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Lynda Mullaly Hunt was born in Tennessee in 1960. She was the youngest of five children and led an active and outdoorsy lifestyle as a young person. One of her brothers died just before his fourth birthday, and throughout her childhood, Hunt wrote songs about him, which she credits as being the foundation for her later writing career. She earned two degrees in education and as a teacher found that her students were much more receptive to having their own writing edited when they also got the opportunity to edit her work. This led Hunt to begin writing stories (which she says were purposefully written horribly) to then give to her students to correct. She left teaching to have her two children and then joined a writer's group when they were young. Her debut novel, One for the Murphys, was published in 2012. She began writing what eventually would become Fish in a Tree at this time, which was initially titled Alphabet Soup and set in the 1970s.
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Historical Context of Fish in a Tree

Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by trouble reading, spelling, and sounding out words—though these are only some of the symptoms, and not all dyslexics experience every possible symptom or experience them all to the same degree. It was identified in the 1880s and, at first, the term only referred to the reading problems and not some of the other possible symptoms or characteristics of people with the disorder, which in Ally's case include difficulty paying attention, thinking only in pictures, and struggling to hold a writing utensil normally. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), U.S. schools are required to provide testing and, if a child is identified as having dyslexia, provide special services tailored to their needs. Dyslexia isn't something that can be cured, but with specialized instruction, people with dyslexia can develop tools and tricks that help them overcome barriers to reading.

Other Books Related to Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree joins a growing body of teen and children's literature that explores characters with disabilities or major differences from their classmates or peers. These take place in both real-world settings, like in R.J. Palacio's Wonder and Harriet Johnson's Accidents of Nature, as well as more fantastical settings, as in Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue or Holly Black's The Iron Trial. As a book about the role an exceptional and caring teacher can have in a student's life, Fish in a Tree also shares similarities with books like Sahara Special by Esmé Raji Codell, Roald Dahl's Matilda, and the Harry Potter series. Ally also reads Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing with Mr. Daniels's help, and Lewis Carroll's Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland acts as a motif throughout the novel.
Key Facts about Fish in a Tree
  • Full Title: Fish in a Tree
  • When Written: 2012-2014
  • When Published: 2015
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Bildungsroman, Issue novel
  • Setting: A small town in the northeastern U.S., mid-2010s
  • Climax: Ally wins the election for class president
  • Antagonist: Shay, Dyslexia
  • Point of View: First person, narrated by Ally

Extra Credit for Fish in a Tree

Different Languages. People with dyslexia tend to have a more difficult time if they speak English or French, as the languages are considered orthographically complex—that is, the relationships between letters and sounds aren't always predictable. Italian and Spanish pose fewer problems, while logographic languages like Chinese are extremely difficult given that they use symbols to signify whole words. People who speak languages that aren't written don't experience dyslexia at all!

Backwards. Despite the common belief that dyslexics see letters backwards, this isn't true; many kids first learning to write will write letters backwards, whether dyslexic or not. This belief possibly arose from what's called the "recency effect," in which a dyslexic reader will say a word using the most recent sound first (for example, saying "pal" instead of "lap").