Please tell us about your book.
Fish in the Tree is about sixth-grader, Ally Nickerson, who misbehaves in school to hide the fact that she struggles with reading and writing. Since her dad is in the military, she has moved from school to school; this has helped her keep her secret. Having moved so often, she has not had to opportunity to forge strong friendships as well – until she meets Kesiha and Albert.
It is also very much a school story with eight different student personalities interacting with (sometimes crashing into) each other and their teacher Mr. Daniels.
What inspired you to write this story?
Well, my own life inspired the story. Although I’ve never been tested for dyslexia, I have been suspicious that I have at least a touch of it. I was in the lowest reading group in grades one through six. Mr. Daniels is based on my sixth grade teacher Mr. Christy. I realized about halfway through writing it that Fish in a Tree is a love letter to him and all teachers like him.
I have no doubt that Mr. Christy saved me. I came into sixth grade wondering what would become of me and left sixth grade with a laser focus on becoming a teacher and helping kids like he helped me. He set a high expectations. Even as a child I knew this was a high compliment and I tried very hard to reach every bar he set for me. He completely changed my perception of myself in on year – a powerful transformation. The man was amazing.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? If you don’t generally research, you could talk about your writing process, etc. Make this question work for you. (you choose or re-write to suit your work).
This book required a lot of research, actually. I had the opportunity to speak with some people who have dyslexia and were not helped until they were older. Unfortunately, even with all the screening in the early grades, kids still slip through the cracks until sixth grade or higher. Being a teacher I know that it is a very difficult job. When a child is very bright, they can often compensate very well and mask their difficulties. Ally Nickerson is such a child.
I also had to do a lot of research for Albert. He is a walking encyclopedia but that took hours of finding facts that were not only pertinent but interesting as well.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
The topics my book touches upon that make it a perfect fit for the classroom are family life, love of siblings, being different is a gift, bullying in the sense that we can’t control the bully’s behavior but we can control how we respond to it, a family struggling financially, and how learning disabilities are not necessarily
Tell me about the kind of kid you think fish in a tree will appeal to the most.
Keeping in mind that you’ve asked the author this question and I could be a bit biased, I would honestly say that there is something for everyone in this book.
Fish in a Tree is very much a school story, focusing on the new teacher Mr. Daniels and eight of his students. Like real classrooms, there is diversity in race, culture, socioeconomic status, intelligence levels, personality types, and family lives. And, just as in real life, each of the students brings their own experiences, worries, hopes, strengths, and insecurities to this classroom community.
My main character, Ally Nickerson, struggles in school and is ultimately diagnosed with dyslexia. However, her dyslexia is not the focus of this book because I am a firm believer in that we should never be defined by a single label. Kids feel like they are, sometimes, but I hope they will learn to view themselves as people with a myriad of gifts and shortcomings. And I don’t necessarily mean just negative labels either. As teachers, we’ve met the kids who are really good at something i.e. football and use that label as an excuse to wall themselves off from new experiences.