The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in.
“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”
Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.
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Chapter 1: In Trouble Again
It’s always there. Like the ground underneath my feet.
“Well, Ally? Are you going to write or aren’t you?” Mrs. Hall asks.
If my teacher were mean it would be easier.
“C’mon,” she says. “I know you can do it.”
“What if I told you that I was going to climb a tree using only my lips? Would you say I could do it then?”
Oliver laughs, throwing himself on his desk like it’s a fumbled football.
I see the world as mind movies in my head that are silly and exaggerated. But they are private and only for me. For Oliver everything is exaggerated on the outside so everyone sees.
Shay groans. “Ally, why can’t you just act normal for once?”
Near her, Albert, a bulky kid who’s worn the same thing every day—a dark t-shirt that reads, Flint—sits up straight. Like he’s waiting for a firecracker to go off.
Mrs. Hall sighs. “C’mon, now. I’m only asking for one page describing yourself.”
I can’t think of anything worse than having to describe myself. I’d rather write about something more positive. Like throwing up at your own birthday party.
“It’s important,” she says. “It’s so your new teacher can get to know you.”
I know that, and it’s exactly why I don’t want to do it. Teachers are like the machines that take quarters for bouncy balls. You know what you’re going to get. Yet, you don’t know, too.
I fold my arms and close my eyes. Hoping that when I open them she’ll be gone. But she’s still there.
“And,” she says. “All that doodling of yours, Ally. If you weren’t drawing all the time, your work might be done. Please put it away.”
Embarrassed, I slide my drawings underneath my blank writing assignment. I’ve been drawing pictures of myself being shot out of a cannon. It would be easier than school. Less painful.
“C’mon,” she says moving my lined paper toward me. “Just do your best.”
Seven schools in seven years and they’re all the same. Whenever I do my best, they tell me I don’t try hard enough. Too messy. Careless spelling. Annoyed that the same word is spelled different ways on the same page. And the headaches. I always get headaches from looking at the brightness of dark letters on white pages for too long.
I tap my pencil, thinking about how we had to dress up as our favorite book character for Halloween last week. I came as Alice in Wonderland, from the book my grandpa read to me a ton of times. Shay and her shadow, Jessica, called me Alice in Blunderland all day.
Mrs. Hall clears her throat.
The rest of the class is getting tired of me again. Chairs slide. Loud sighs. Maybe they think I can’t hear their words: Freak. Dumb. Loser.
I wish she’d just go hang by Albert, the walking Google page who’d get a better grade than me if he just blew his nose into the paper.
The back of my neck heats up.
“Oliver. Get back in your seat,” she says and I’m grateful that he draws attention away. But then she’s back to me. “Ally?”
I don’t get it. She always let me slide. It must be because these are for the new teacher and she can’t have one missing.
I stare at her big stomach. “So, did you decide what you were going to name the baby?” I ask. Last week we got her talking about baby names for a full half hour of social studies.
“C’mon, Ally. No more stalling.”
I don’t answer.
“I mean it,” she says and I know she does.
I watch a mind movie of her taking a stick and drawing a line in the dirt between us under a bright blue sky. She’s dressed as a sheriff and I’m wearing black and white prisoner stripes. My mind does that all the time—shows me these movies that seem so real that they carry me away inside of them. They are a relief from my real life.
I steel up inside, willing myself to do something I don’t really want to do. To escape this teacher who’s holding on and won’t let go.
I pick up my pencil and her body relaxes, probably relieved that I’ve given in.
But, instead, knowing she loves clean desks and things just so, I grip my pencil with a hard fist. And scribble all over my desk.
“Ally!” She steps forward quick. “Why would you do that?”
I can tell the scribbles to her are like kryptonite to Superman. I was right. She can’t stand it.
“What are you talking about? I didn’t do that,” I say pointing at the circular scribbles that are big on top and small on the bottom. It looks like a tornado and I wonder if I meant to draw a picture of my insides. I look back up at her. “It was there when I sat down.”
The laughter starts—but they’re not laughing because they think I’m funny.
I hear Suki sigh, so I glance over at her. She turns away as we make eye contact. She’s holding one of her small wooden blocks. She has a collection of them that she keeps in a box and I see her take one out when she gets nervous. She’s nervous now.
“I can tell that you’re upset, Ally,” Mrs. Hall says.
I am not hiding that as well as I need to.
“She’s such a freak,” Shay says in one of those loud whispers that everyone is meant to hear.
Oliver is drumming on his desk now. Suki sighs again.
“That’s it,” Mrs. Hall finally says. “To the office. Now.”
I wanted this but now I am having second thoughts.
Everyone laughs again. She puts up her hand. “Anyone else who makes a sound gives up their recess.” The room is quiet.
“Ally. I said to the office.”
I can’t go see our principal, Mrs. Silver, again. In the two months I was in this school last year, I was in her office so much I thought they were going to hang up a banner that said, “Welcome, Ally!”
I’m lucky Mrs. Hall is such a pushover. “I’m sorry,” I say, actually meaning it. “I’ll do my work. I promise.”
She sighs. “OK Ally, but if that pencil stops moving, you’re going.”
She moves me to the reading table next to a Thanksgiving bulletin board about being grateful. Meanwhile, she sprays my desk with cleaner. Glancing at me like she’d like to spray me with cleaner. Scrub off the dumb.
I squint a bit hoping the lights will hurt my head less. And then I try to hold my pencil the way she wants instead of the weird way my hand wants to.
I write with one hand and shield my paper with the other. I know I better keep the pencil moving, so I write the word, “Why?” over and over from the top of the page to the very bottom.
One, because I know how to spell it right and, two, because I’m hoping someone will finally give me an answer.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 In Trouble Again 1
Chapter 2 Yellow Card 6
Chapter 3 Never up to Me 11
Chapter 4 Bird in a Cage 16
Chapter 5 Silver Dollars and Wooden Nickels 24
Chapter 6 Triple-Sided Coin 30
Chapter 7 No Grandpas Here 35
Chapter 8 Real Trouble 39
Chapter 9 Bag Full of Nothing 43
Chapter 10 Promises, Promises… 53
Chapter 11 Scrambled Egg 58
Chapter 12 What's Your Problem, Albert? 64
Chapter 13 Trouble with Flowers 70
Chapter 14 Boxed in and Boxed Out 75
Chapter 15 Ungreased Gears 82
Chapter 16 What I've Got 88
Chapter 17 Misfit Lunch 91
Chapter 18 Truths and Untruths 96
Chapter 19 Not-So-Sweet Secret 101
Chapter 20 Is This a Good Thing? 108
Chapter 21 Butterfly Wishes 114
Chapter 22 No Way to Treat a Queen 119
Chapter 23 Words That Breathe 122
Chapter 24 Imaginary Hero 126
Chapter 25 Celebration or Devastation? 133
Chapter 26 Stalling 137
Chapter 27 Half-Baked Afternoon 141
Chapter 28 Deal of a Lifetime 145
Chapter 29 Fish in a Tree 150
Chapter 30 Miserable King 160
Chapter 31 Lots of Ways Home 164
Chapter 32 Screen Time 168
Chapter 33 Possibilities 174
Chapter 34 Birth of a Star 178
Chapter 35 A Picture is Worth a Gazillion Words 185
Chapter 36 In the Game of Life… 190
Chapter 37 A Chicken, a Wolf, and a Problem 193
Chapter 38 Loser for President 198
Chapter 39 To-Shay 202
Chapter 40 Tears of Different Kinds 209
Chapter 41 Not-So-Secret Letter 211
Chapter 42 The Gifts of No Excuses, Scotch Tape, and Antibiotics 217
Chapter 43 Set the World on Fire 223
Chapter 44 Tales of a Sixth Grade Something 225
Chapter 45 My Brother's Question 228
Chapter 46 Flying Tigers and Baby Elephants 232
Chapter 47 Great Minds Don't Think Alike 236
Chapter 48 Oliver's idea of Lucky 244
Chapter 49 I See the Light 250
Chapter 50 A Hero's Job 253
Chapter 51 C-O-U-R-A-GEnius 260
Letter from the Author 273
Discussion Questions 275
The Sketchbook of Impossible Things 277