Ally doesn’t know it, but she’s dyslexic. Her mom and her teachers just assume she’s being difficult or not trying hard enough when she acts out. She’s moved around so much (with a father in the military) that she hasn’t been in one place long enough for someone to realize what’s really going on. At her latest school, she’s attracted the unwanted attention of the class mean girl, who has a way of finding exactly the right thing to say to set her off. Teachers and her mom do a lot of sighing and wishing Ally would suck it up and change.
Ally and her quirky classmates come to life in Fish in a Tree (by Lynda Mulally Hunt), a middle grade novel about Ally’s struggle to overcome what her new teacher suspects is dyslexia. Two other outcasts from the mean girl’s strict social order, Keisha and Albert, become her friends, and together they begin to change themselves and their classmates. It’s not an easy task or a quick one, and Ally faces quite a few setbacks, having spent years not trusting anyone with her secret. In the end, though, they grow together and support each other on good days and bad.
Looking for other books with kids who feel, think, act or look different and who come into their own?
The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee – Barry Jonsberg. Candice is somewhere on the autism spectrum and is painfully honest (and funny) about her life, parents, new friends and pet fish.
Counting by 7s – Holly Golberg Sloan. Willow is brilliant at some things, but confused and alarmed by others. When she loses her adoptive parents in an accident, she has to bring together people who will become her new family.
Wonder – R.J. Palacio. Auggie has had 27 operations to try to correct facial deformities and knows he will have some challenges fitting in to a new school after being homeschooled for years. Is he ready for all his new life will mean?
Rain Reign – Ann Martin. Rose has Asperger’s but manages to navigate life until her dog goes missing in a storm. Can she let go of some of her routines find her dog and do what’s right?
Al Capone Does My Shirts — Gennifer Choldenko. Moose and Natalie move to Alcatraz Island in 1935 with their parents so their dad can work as a prison guard. (Natalie has some special needs and a very cool button collection.)
Because of Mr. Terupt – Rob Buyea. Told from many perspectives, this story about a teacher’s first class covers many topics familiar to middle grade readers, including the teased, the mean girl, and the struggling.