For the last two weeks, I unplugged. I went to a music festival. I went to the Outer Banks. I spent time with family and friends. I ate good food. Listened to great musicians. Took long walks. Sat on the beach. And, I read. At night, I wrote. And, read some more. It was decadent, and then the most wonderful thing happened to my super-chill self: I read the book that made me want to end my glorious summer vacation and get back to the classroom with my third graders. I read Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
I started it on the beach, continued it at the beach house, and then took it to lunch, and then back to the beach. I finished it in the car the next day, and as I closed the book and caressed its cover, I thought, This book is a gift. This book is a gift, and I can’t wait to share it with my third graders. Lynda Mullaly Hunt has created a treasure trove of positive, inspiring messages, packaged in a story that will cause each person who enters it to come away acknowledged, and changed.
Last November, at the NCTE annual conference, I had the good fortune to hear Lester Laminack passionately advocate for reading aloud. “Read to your babies often and well,” he implored. “Love the language. Don’t just give it out. Love it!” Rather than worksheets and needless reading activities, Laminack advised that we ask our students, “How will you be different now that you have lived this book?” And this, is what I’ve been thinking about since I finished Fish in a Tree.
My mind is still in Mr. Daniels’ classroom watching his teacher moves and observing the effect they have on Ally, the sixth grader who has learned a few moves of her own. An expert at avoiding all that she is sure to fail, Ally has learned by experience (“seven schools in seven years”) that there’s no point to doing her best. The result is always the same, and the labels are enough to cure anyone from trying. “Freak. Dumb. Loser.” Oh, Ally. How I love you! You were in my class last year. You will be in my class again this year. And the next. And, Ally, as the song, For Good, from the musical, Wicked, says: “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” You have given voice to the students who can’t say what they need their teachers to hear. Because of you, I expect that I will hear even better and observe even more keenly than I did before. And, I will do the same for Keisha and Albert, Max and Oliver, Jessica and Shay. Even for Shay! (I saw how even you tried, Ally!)
If you’ve read Fish in a Tree, you already know what I mean. If you haven’t read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s masterpiece of a book, don’t wait, as I did until I had time in the summer. Make time. Because, if I could, I would rewind time. I would spend a week of nights falling asleep on its pages so that I could share its captivating story and empowering messages with the students I sent off in June. How would they respond to Lester Laminack’s question? How would they tell me they’d live differently for having been in the pages of this book? I can never know the answer, but I know what my students and I will be doing this fall. We will gather together, and I will read each beautiful page aloud. Then, we will talk about it, just as Donalyn Miller advocates: “Reading and writing float on a sea of talk.”
We will have the perfect opportunity to read and write and talk because Fish in a Tree is one of the Global Read Aloud books this year. (Check out http://theglobalreadaloud.com/ and #GRA15 on Twitter for more info.) Classrooms around the world will read this book, and then they will connect with one another in myriad ways using technology, and not. I can’t wait for the conversations this book will generate!
As you enter the new school year, regardless of the age you teach. read Fish in a Tree. Share it. Talk about it. And, maybe we’ll cross paths through the Global Read Aloud. We will all be “changed for good.”