Books for Transformation: Fish in a Tree

Last month I shared TED Talks to provide inspiration for transformation.  This month, I draw your attention to published texts that relate directly or indirectly to the Visioning work.  Beyond reading the books highlighted this month, I challenge you to share them with others through conversations rooted in positive, intentional change in classrooms, at schools, and across districts.

To kick off this series of posts, All American Boys and Save Me a Seat were shared with a focus on perspective, the lives of children and adolescents, and the role schools play in their social lives.

Now, I share Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  Published in 2015, this novel has been named a New York Times Bestseller and a Global Read Aloud choice in 2015, as well as numerous other awards.


This book is a call to action for educators to be that teacher – the one that sees deep within each child and commits to highlighting the possibilities of students as individuals.

“You know, a wise person once said, ‘Everyone is smart in different ways.  But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking that it’s stupid.”

We know from the Visioning document that we must strive to facilitate profound learning based on rigorous content.  As educators, we work to meticulously design learning experiences for our students in order to include opportunities for intra- and inter- disciplinary learning projects, self-reflection, and means for students to be creators of knowledge.  For students who are not able to fully access the content for various reasons, though, these artfully designed learning experiences do not have the maximum impact.  In the case of the character Ally in Fish in a Tree, she cannot successfully access the content in many learning experiences because of her reading and writing difficulties, so she struggles academically and socially in the classroom.  What her teacher, Mr. Daniels, determines is that Ally, who has worked to hide her inability to read in the many schools she has attended, has dyslexia.  The moment in the story that this learning difference is mentioned indicates the beginning of the resolution of conflict.  That is, Ally realizes there is more to her than she once believed and Mr. Daniels is committed to helping her learn to read and thrive in school.

Often, Ally escapes to what she calls a mind movie.  Can you imagine the opportunities digital tools allow for children to capture their own mind movies?  What a great record of thinking, process of learning, and artifact of experience!

We strive toward this premise:  I.h Children and youth need role models and adult guidance and connections even more than in the pre-digital era, but the role of adults is different, becoming one that is more about facilitating understanding, raising questions, and designing engaging tasks that produce learning than lecturing and instructing.  As educators, we ask: How can we support student learning through access to rich digital media/resources?  For the struggling student, how do I use data to help address and overcome the learning gaps?  As campus and district administrators, we ask: What systems/processes do we have in place to support teachers as facilitators – especially in the case of educators committing to support students like Ally?

Fish in a Tree is a book that I will not long forget and will discuss with colleagues as often as they will engage in conversation.

I encourage you to read (or re-read) Fish in a Tree and talk to someone about this book.  Ask questions.  Challenge your thinking.


One thought on “Books for Transformation: Fish in a Tree

  1. Lynda Mullaly Hunt says:

    Wow! This is just lovely. I am so grateful that you took the time to read Fish in a Tree and found it to be such a valuable teaching tool. I’m also quite grateful for this post! I appreciate it so much! It’s such a high compliment. 🙂


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