Fish in a Tree

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Fish in a Tree Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Big-hearted book about overcoming dyslexia inspires.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 27 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Learning difficulties do not reflect intelligence; there are multiple paths to learning; hard work is as important as intelligence in succeeding; stand up for yourself; people have different strengths of equal value.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mr. Daniels is a committed and sensitive educator who's attuned to each student's gifts and potential. Ally's a thoughtful, creative, sensitive girl who seeks to understand the world around her. Albert draws big connections about the world and is fiercely protective of his friends. Ally's mom and older brother are present and encouraging. There are a few bullies, but some are shown in a more complex way: as kids who face pressure at home to be perfect.


A boy hits another boy in the stomach. A boy hits another boy in the face, knocking him down. A boy lifts another boy by the coat lapels and tosses him to the ground. A boy grabs a girl's arm and pushes her down. A boy dumps out a girl's purse.


A girl receives a love letter from a boy, asking her to meet.


A girl insults other kids at school often, calling them "losers" or "freaks." Other name-calling includes "dumb" and "stupid." Multiple insults about clothing, parents' income, other students' abilities or intelligence.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Fish in a Tree is a tremendous, sensitive account of a middle school girl's struggle with dyslexia and her inspirational progress in learning to read once she's paired with the right teacher. It's a powerful testament to the many ways in which different people learn and absorb information that upends traditional notions of how we define intelligence, what it means to be truly gifted, and what a difference an attuned, sensitive teacher can make in a child's life. It's a perfect read for any child who's struggled with academics, parents who remember their own difficulties reading, or anyone interested in becoming more sensitive to or better educated about learning differences. There's some name-calling and some schoolyard-variety violence: hitting and knocking or pushing someone down.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 3, 5, and 9-year-old Written byChristine V. August 16, 2018
Parent of a 10-year-old Written byapcrcom November 2, 2018

A very relevant and informative book about dyslexia

I think its hard for non-dyslexic kids to understand what its like for kids in their classes who really struggle with words. This book prompted some great discu... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written by24bennettk April 30, 2019

The amazing

I loved this book bc it lets you know that even if you can not tell that they have problems on the outside you should not assum that they are normal
Kid, 10 years old April 5, 2020


I'm so glad I picked up this book in the class library, even though it was a more easy to read novel. It explores themes like finding your worth, and tells... Continue reading

What's the story?

Ally has always been good at drawing, but she has a secret: She never quite learned how to read. Instead, she came up with a series of clever stalls and distractions to get out of it. But now, she has a new teacher, Mr. Daniels, more attentive than most, who seems determined to meet her where she is and find an alternate path to learning. But with other kids such as Shay always bullying and the lifelong shame Ally has felt about what she sees as her shortcomings, she's not sure if it's possible to ever "cure dumb."

Is it any good?

This book manages to take an issue that's hard to make compelling and gives it suspense and authenticity through powerful characters who really stick with you and make you feel for them. Ally's a tough, headstrong girl and a gifted artist who hasn't been told enough that her skills matter. But she thinks outside the box, cares about her family and peers, and has a unique way of thinking about the world, which she often sees in pictures. This captivating portrait, as well as her shame and discomfort at pushing past all the negative voices, both real and imagined, make you cheer her every step of the way as she progresses toward embracing her differences and committing to reading.

Kids who struggle to be good at school will find Fish in a Tree comforting and relatable. And the parents of those children, or adults who've struggled with learning disabilities themselves, will find so much here to be inspired by: the power of even one good teacher to change the course of your life, the power of one or two good friends to immunize you from the cruelties of your peers, and the power you have to change the narrative about yourself and focus on your gifts, not your shortcomings. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Fish in the Tree's remarkable portrayal of a learning disability. How are learning disabilities usually portrayed in media? Does this account feel more accurate to you? Why, or why not?

  • Why are stories about teachers such as Mr. Daniels so popular? Which other stories have you read about famous teachers? Have you ever had a teacher like him?

  • Does Fish in a Tree change your mind about how we define intelligence? How do you think we should define it?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age books and stories about learning difficulties

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