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Teaching a Fish to Climb a Tree

Teaching a Fish to Climb a Tree

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

This a great quote that is often mistakingly attributed to Albert Einstein. He didn’t say this, but the quote is powerful just the same.

This quote is the premise of the book, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. The main character is Ally, a sixth grader, who hates school because she feels stupid and thinks she will never be successful. Ally has isolated herself and does not take any risks towards academic work or towards making friends. She feels everything is hopeless until a new teacher, Mr. Daniels, comes in as a long-term substitute. Mr. Daniels recognizes Ally’s talents as an artist and is impressed by her “out of the box” problem-solving skills. He leads Ally to admit her fears and helps her to take risks that lead to a diagnosis of dyslexia. Mr. Daniels helps Ally build confidence and realize she’s not stupid, she just learns differently, which opens up the world academically and socially for Ally.

This is a very inspirational book for all students to read, not just those that may have dyslexia. It showcases through the many different characters that everyone has a talent and everyone has value, sometimes it takes a little more work to discover!  Research shows that 80-90% of all students that are identified as learning disabled have some degree of dyslexia. In fact, it is hypothesized that about 20% of the population is afflicted with dyslexia to some degree.

This book gives those students hope that they are not alone and that there are ways for them to shine and learn. It also helps to build empathy among the students that may not struggle in this way so they can better understand their classmates and encourage kindness to all.

Fish in a Tree is a wonderful book to use as a whole class novel study or for literature groups and book clubs.

Hook Reluctant Readers with Hatchet!

Hook Reluctant Readers with Hatchet!

One of the biggest frustrations I have as a parent is that my oldest son is a reluctant reader. He reads fine and does well in school but he has zero interest in reading for pleasure outside of an assignment. When he has read books for assignments he just gets through them and rarely enjoys the process.

When he was assigned to read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, that attitude changed. He came home from school and started talking about Hatchet. It was sparking an interest in my son! He told me it was a fantastic book and he hated to have to wait until the next day to continue reading. He wanted to sit down and read it as fast as he could! He’d never felt that way about a book before!

Each day my son would come home from school and voluntarily, which you know isn’t common with a middle schooler, tell me all about the chapter he had read that day! Seeing this book spark so much excitement in him made me realize this was a  novel study that I needed to create!

Summary of Hatchet (from the book jacket):
Brian is on his way to Canada to visit his estranged father when the pilot of his small prop plane suffers a heart attack. Brian is forced to crash-land the plane in a lake and finds himself stranded in the remote Canadian wilderness with only his clothing and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present before his departure. Brian had been distraught over his parents’ impending divorce and the secret he carries about his mother, but now he is truly desolate and alone. 

Exhausted, terrified, and hungry, Brian struggles to find food and make a shelter for himself. He has no special knowledge of the woods, and he must find a new kind of awareness and patience as he meets each day’s challenges. Is the water safe to drink? Are the berries he finds poisonous? Slowly, Brian learns to turn adversity to his advantage; an invading porcupine unexpectedly shows him how to make fire, a devastating tornado shows him how to retrieve supplies from the submerged airplane. Most of all, Brian leaves behind the self-pity he has felt about his predicament as he summons the courage to stay alive. 

A story of survival and of transformation, this riveting book has sparked many a reader’s interest in venturing into the wild. 

Hatchet is a great novel to accompany a study of:

  • Research the Canadian oil fields.
  • Investigate the purpose of flight numbers and flight plans.
  • Research how airplanes work.
  • Study search and rescue practices.
  • Learn about heart attacks and CPR procedures.
  • Research dehydration effects.
  • Learn about survival skills such as making fire.


Using Hatchet in the classroom is a great way to hook those reluctant readers and turn them on to reading!

Hatchet is a riveting book that will grab the attention of even the most reluctant readers.

The Whimsy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

The Whimsy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Every 4th grade school year I started out with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing as our first novel unit. It is such a humorous book, yet still opens itself to many discussions and activities that can be tied to the curriculum and standards. Children can so relate to the main character, Peter Hatcher, and his struggles to get through the everyday life of a typical 4th grader. Throw in the antics of the younger brother, Fudge, and you are in for a treat! I have never had a child tell me they didn’t enjoy this book. Most all are fighting over who gets to read the sequel, Superfudge, as soon as we finish the unit!

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is one of my favorite novels. I loved it as a child and I still love it as an adult. I so enjoyed sharing this story with my students and my own kids. There are so many ways that kids can identify with the main character, Peter Hatcher. Peter seems to have that streak of bad luck that hits us all, at one time or another. Anyone who has a younger sibling (or a toddler of their own) can completely identify with the challenges that Peter’s brother Fudge, creates for the family.

Some elements of the story can be a bit dated, it was written in 1972 after all, but this does not seem to bother my students in the least bit! Being from Omaha this book also opens up the discussion of what it is like to live in a metropolis such as New York City. My students always enjoy discussing how Peter’s life compares to theirs and I am sure that is even more pronounced for students in more rural areas.

I highly recommend using Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing in your classroom. Not only is it an informative book, it is fun! Students will love reading this book and sharing the humor together.


I am a big advocate for using humorous books to spark a love of reading, especially with boys. Students can extend their love of Peter and Fudge by reading the sequels Superfudge, Fudge-A-Mania, and Double Fudge.


The Crazy, Silly Joy of Wayside School

The Crazy, Silly Joy of Wayside School

One of my favorite children’s authors is Louis Sachar. I love his quirky sense of humor and even more, I love sharing this humor with my students and giggling right along with them! I have many “inside jokes” with my students related to his books. The humor really brings us together as a community. I am a big advocate for humor in children’s literature because it draws out those reluctant readers and shows them how truly enjoyable reading can be. Oftentimes, this is just the spark those students need to explore other forms of literature and really begin a lifelong love of reading.

One of my favorite Louis Sachar books is Sideways Stories From Wayside School. Even though I have read this book, and the 2 sequels, more times than I can count I still get a chuckle each and every time. The Wayside School series is the great for a class read aloud or to use as a novel study.

Sideways Stories is told from the point of view of Louis the Yard Teacher. Louis Sachar based this character on himself. He spent a college semester working as an aid in an elementary school and spent some of that time as “Louis the Yard Teacher”. He also based most of his characters from the book on students he worked with during that time. Sideways Stories was Louis Sachar’s first book and was first published in 1978 but it took several years to gain widespread popularity.


Wayside School was an architectural mistake. It was mistakenly built 30 stories tall with only one classroom per story. The story revolves around the class on the 30th story. Each chapter examines one student or teacher from the class or school. The book begins by telling us the story of the teacher on the 30th story, Mrs. Gorf. Mrs. Gorf has a special talent that leads to her demise. She is replaced by Mrs. Jewls in chapter 2. Mrs. Jewls is a sweet, but somewhat naive, teacher. A lot of humor comes from Mrs. Jewls’ seemingly lack of common sense. The other teacher discussed in the last chapter is Louis the Yard Teacher. All the rest of the chapters (there are 30 of course!) detail a student. Each student is unique in some ironic, humorous way.

I have used this book in several different ways in my classroom. First I have used it as a read aloud to spark a sense of community. Reading, discussing, and laughing together brings a class together. I can read this at the beginning of the year and still have kids quoting it or bringing up a joke from it at the end of the year. I have yet to find a child who did not thoroughly enjoy this book.

I have used this book as a whole class novel unit as well as a small literature circle group unit. I have also used this book as an independent study unit for students. I created a unit to accompany Sideways Stories From Wayside School and each of the sequels, Wayside School is Falling Down and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger.

You can also buy all three units together in a discounted bundle!

Whether you use these books for the whole class, small group, or individual instruction you will find your students laughing and really truly enjoying reading. Even if you don’t use these units in your class make sure that you include them in a class library for your students to read or read to your class as read alouds. Whatever you do make sure your students have access to these books! They are so much fun and really opens up the reading world for those reluctant readers!

Wishtree in your Classroom!

Wishtree in your Classroom!

A friend recently suggested a new book to me, Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. Katherine Applegate is the author of the beloved book, The One and Only Ivan, that I absolutely adore so I went straight to Amazon to purchase and I am so glad I did!

You first realize this book is narrated by a tree. A tree? Doesn’t sound super exciting, but it really is. The story is written in such a beautifully poetic way and how the author ties current events is really mesmerizing and thought-provoking. The reader is left with a lot to contemplate about how we treat others, especially those that are different than ourselves.

Click the book photo to learn more about this book, read an excerpt, and find where to purchase:

These lessons are so needed in classrooms today. This book is sure to hook any reader and make them think and philosophize. I highly recommend using this in your classroom! You can find my complete novel study for Wishtree here:

The Power of El Deafo!

The Power of El Deafo!

A couple months ago I was partaking in a discussion on Facebook about the factuality of the novel Wonder. Now, I love the book Wonder and feel it has a solid needed place in the classroom, but on the subject of hearing loss which is touched on in the book, I do have definite questions and concerns. I addressed this in my novel study by adding a non-fiction article to help portray the real side of hearing loss so that students reading the novel understand the mistakes made by the author. I understand that Ms. Palacio isn’t someone who has walked in the shoes of hearing loss and she did her best and since the rest of the novel is so wonderful I am easily able to overlook it by adding in the non-fiction article while teaching.

While discussing my feelings on Facebook another person asked me if I had read the novel, El Deafo by Cece Bell. She was curious how real and factual it is to a person who walks in the shoes of hearing loss such as myself. She says her students overwhelmingly love the Newbery Honor-winning graphic novel. I had never heard of the book before so I ordered it to read and I am so happy that I did!

I have been living with hearing loss for almost 25 years. It is a daily struggle to communicate with my family and the world. I have lost many things due to my hearing loss including my teaching career. ElDeafo is the autobiographical story of Cece Bell’s struggles with hearing loss told in a graphic novel format that is perfect to get the true feelings across. The book highlights how Cece embraces these struggles and turns them into a superpower! Even though Cece is in elementary school in the book and I am a 46-year-old, I found myself shaking my head in agreement and relating to Cece like I never have before in any other story I have read. It’s like so many of the things she was saying I have said or felt so many times!


The message that volume does not equal better hearing was strong in this book and it is a message that the hearing world really fails to understand and yet, really needs to! Talking louder, talking slower, talking more pronounced DOES NOT HELP! It makes it so much more difficult for those like Cece and myself who rely on lip reading to understand. If the only message that people take away from this story is to not turn up the volume for those with hearing loss the world will be a better place! That’s not the only message though. There are so many I could relate to, the isolation, the feelings of shame, embarrassment, avoidance of situations, putting up with things and people only due to fear, and on and on. Cece doesn’t just focus on the negative though, she embraces some of her differences and turns them into a superpower that draws people to her. I just loved everything about this book. I also truly believe that you don’t have to have a hearing loss to relate to and love this book. It is such a wonderful read for ALL students.

Because I loved this book so much and feel it is important to get this into classrooms I created a novel study. I have never created a study for a graphic novel before so it was a different process for me, especially with the lack of vocabulary activities. I also wanted to include as much real-world information so that the student walks away with a greater understanding of the factual side of hearing loss and so they can learn to better communicate with those that live with a hearing loss. There is so much great information out there on this subject so I thought Web Quest activities would be a good way to address this portion of the novel study, especially in the ever more frequent digital classroom! As with all of my other novel studies, these activities are also available in a Google Drive format for those in a paperless classroom.

If you haven’t read this book please do so, even if you don’t plan to do a novel study. I just cannot recommend this book enough for everyone! I hope you will choose to use this in your classrooms to help get the knowledge out there for everyone who lives with a hearing loss or knows someone that does. Knowledge leads to understanding and understanding leads to inclusion and empathy. We can never have enough of that in this world!