Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree Chapter 29 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ally's class gets off the bus to visit the Noah Webster House. Ally thinks it'll be a silver dollar day as Albert starts filling his pockets with acorns. Oliver and Max throw acorns at a tree, Ally picks one up too, and Shay laughs at Albert when Mr. Daniels isn't looking. Ally tells her not to, so Shay says she'll laugh at Ally instead. Ally and Keisha encourage Albert to stand up for himself, but he says that doing so will only let Shay know it bothers him. He says that he's more worried about the acorns right now, as he believes the trees might be in danger of fungus.
By changing the subject to talk about the potentially sick trees, Albert shows that he does much the same thing that Ally does when faced with uncomfortable situations. While she escapes into mind movies, Albert escapes into science. Both methods allow them to ignore or rationalize what's happening to them, though these methods do isolate them from even kind people.
Themes
Identity and Self-Esteem Theme Icon
Bullying, Friendship, and Social Status Theme Icon
Ally ends up in a group with Albert and Shay and the guide takes them through the house. They see a bedroom and Albert can recite where the origins of the phrase "sleep tight" comes from, though Shay makes fun of him for it. Then, they tour the kitchen. Ally latches on when the guide says that girls didn't go to school as much as boys did, and she asks Albert if time travel is possible and how she'd look in a bonnet. Albert is just puzzled.
For Ally, learning that there was a time when dyslexia wasn't something that would've held her back as much only increases her sense that she's abnormal and weird. It makes her feel like her real crime was being born in the wrong time, not that she's a victim of a school system that can't properly serve her.
Themes
Dyslexia, Intelligence, and Learning Theme Icon
Identity and Self-Esteem Theme Icon
Then, they go to a colonial schoolroom with the rest of the class. A lady talks about how Noah Webster developed the first American dictionaries and helped to standardize English. Ally thinks Webster was a jerk for doing so. The lady passes out slates and Ally draws a picture of her acorn. Then, the lady pulls out a dunce cap and explains that bad students used to wear them and stand in corners. As Shay giggles and shows her friends her slate, Ally catches sight of it—she drew a head in a dunce cap and labeled it "Ally." The lady sees and tells Shay to erase it, but Ally runs out of the room in tears.
Shay's willingness to draw this horrible drawing suggests that she understands that because the class is in a new place and Mr. Daniels is nowhere to be seen, this is a prime opportunity to get away with this kind of behavior. This reminds the reader just how dependent Ally's comfort is on whether or not the adults in charge are willing and able to take control of Shay.
Themes
Teaching, Mentoring, and Trust Theme Icon
Bullying, Friendship, and Social Status Theme Icon
Ally runs until she finds a swing set that reminds her of Grandpa. Before too long, she notices Mr. Daniels's feet in front of her. He asks if she'll tell him what happened, but Ally just wants to be left alone. Mr. Daniels is quiet for a moment and then picks up a stick and writes in the dirt, saying that he and his brother used to write on the beach. He invites Ally to write something, but she wants to get away from words. Mr. Daniels asks Ally to let him help her.
By bringing Mr. Daniels and Grandpa together through the swing set, the novel sets up Mr. Daniels to more formally take Ally's place as her mentor and cheerleader. In this way, Ally can start to move on more from Grandpa's death, as well as move forward with learning to read.
Themes
Dyslexia, Intelligence, and Learning Theme Icon
Teaching, Mentoring, and Trust Theme Icon
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Finally, Ally says that nobody's going to be able to help her because she's dumb. Mr. Daniels seems shocked to hear that she believes this, and says Ally isn't dumb. When Ally asks why she can't read, Mr. Daniels says she might have dyslexia, which just means that her brain figures things out differently. He tells her she's brave for continuing to come back to school, despite the bullying and difficulties. And, he says, she can do amazing things like draw, do math, and come up with good one-liners.
It's important to recognize that by framing Ally's inability to read as a learning disability and a difference in Ally's brain, Mr. Daniels is able to help Ally think more positively about it. This shows again the power that words have to shape perception: Ally's not dumb, she's just different, and thinking about her reading difficulties in that way can help her become more confident.
Themes
Dyslexia, Intelligence, and Learning Theme Icon
Teaching, Mentoring, and Trust Theme Icon
Identity and Self-Esteem Theme Icon
Finally, Mr. Daniels says that he's spoken to Mrs. Silver and Miss Kessler, and they'd like to give Ally some tests. The results will help them help her. Ally looks Mr. Daniels in the eye as he says that she is smart, and she will learn to read. Ally feels she has no choice to believe him; she's tired of feeling miserable. As they head back to the museum, Mr. Daniels says that once, someone said that if a person judges a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it'll believe it's stupid. Ally sees mind movies of animals doing absurd things and wonders if it's really that simple.
Mr. Daniels's saying introduces the idea that a person must be celebrated for the things that they do well, or all they'll focus on is the things they do poorly. In Ally's case, this means that her drawing and her abilities at math haven't been celebrated enough, while all the focus has been on her failure to grasp written language—which, taken together, makes her feel dumb.
Themes
Dyslexia, Intelligence, and Learning Theme Icon
Identity and Self-Esteem Theme Icon