Who is Travis Nickerson from Fish in a Tree? by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Fish in a Tree is about a sixth grader named Ally Nickerson who thinks she’s dumb. She isn’t dumb, but she does have undiagnosed dyslexia until she meets Mr. Daniels, her new teacher. Ally learns that, although dyslexia poses some challenges, it also has some special gifts wrapped up inside of it as well. She learns to own and respect who she is. Really is.
But this isn’t the very first thing I knew about Ally. The very first thing I knew was that Ally loves her brother, Travis. I mean really adores him. The second Ally came to be, I knew this relationship through and through. Why? Because I knew “Travis” when I was little.
He didn’t look like he’d play the part of someone else’s savior.
His own mother called him a hood. He had long hair, a history of fighting, some brushes with the law, and a school-wide reputation among the teachers. There were some that said he’d end up in jail one day.
And yet, every day when I came out of school, there he was. Leaning against the wall, hands stuffed into the pockets of his black pea coat. He’d smile in that lopsided way—only on the right. Flipping his head to the side to toss the sweep of hair from his eyes. “Hey, Lulu,” he’d say. His nickname for me since I’ve had a memory. As a toddler, I called him “Keke” because I couldn’t say my big brother’s name. “Ricky.”
I learned—as Ally does—that there is a difference between an “older brother” and a “big brother” and Ricky has always been the latter. The big things he did mattered, but it was also in the millions of little things over thousands of days. Frying me an egg when I was hungry. Spending his own money to be sure I’d have Christmas presents under the tree. Taking me to the Children’s Museum and out to lunch. I remember him holding a handful of change at McDonald’s and, while he counted it, asking me if I’d wanted something else. I’d said no, but his face was earnest. “I can get you another burger if you’re hungry. Are you sure?” he’d asked.
Not to say Ricky and I didn’t disagree, as all people who love each other do. One day, when a caller asked for my mother on the phone, I replied, “She can’t talk right now. She’s busy building a pedestal for Ricky.” And then I hung up.
But, I always knew he was my flesh-and-blood guardian angel.
I often got sick with asthma when I was young. On one of many visits to the hospital when I was little, Ricky carried me in his arms. I was limp and only semi-conscious. The nurse pointed her chin toward the room full of orange chairs and told him that there would be a wait. Glancing over at the crowded waiting room, looking down at my chapped lips and pale face, feeling my labored breathing, he told her that I was sick. That I could. Not. Wait.
She snapped at him, saying that we’d wait our turn like everyone else. Still holding me in his arms, the memory of our brother, Michael Eric, coming to the hospital a few years earlier must have rung in his head. How Michael Eric had had asthma and pneumonia. How he had gone into respiratory failure. And how he never came home again.
His grip on me tightened. At first, he shifted his weight but then stood firm under the fluorescent lights and yelled, “No…This is my little sister. We are not going to wait.” He was loud and he swore and as security approached, he pleaded, “My little sister…can’t breathe.”
A doctor came over, touched my face, and waved to another staff member to get me a bed. After speaking with security, Ricky was ultimately brought in to sit with me.
Ricky did eventually go into the system as some had predicted and has stood before several judges. As an attorney. Which makes perfect sense. At the heart of him, Ricky is a defender. Just like Travis is.
Factually, Ricky and Travis don’t have too much in common. But, as a writer, the facts matter little. It’s the relationship—the sturdiness of it drove the writing. As Ally struggled and could have very well lost all hope, I could feel the solidness of both Rick and Travis buoying her as I told their story.
There is a scene in FISH where Ally receives an honor at school. In the first draft, Ally’s response to the award was, “My brother, Travis, will never believe this!”
In that first draft this chapter was a mess; I just couldn’t get it to work. It wasn’t until I realized that Ally would never assume he’d react that way—and he never would—that I got an authentic scene out of it. It’s funny how the things that drive a book’s authenticity are so deeply entrenched; some of the most important parts of a story are not on the page.
Watching Ricky as I grew up taught me things about life. And you know what? All of those things pertain to both writing and teaching as well:
You show you care about things by working hard at it.
Know the kinds of chances to take.
Don’t just look –see the world and people around you.
But remember to see inward, too; don’t be easily led by others.
Do the right thing even when it’s hard.
Keep your eye on what really matters.
And remember that, when it comes to life and love and writing a book, it’s not about white-knuckling it and merely getting through. Because white-knuckling it keeps you from doing the most important thing.
Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the author of middle-grade novel, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), winner of The Tassy Walden Award: New Voices in Children’s Literature, an ABA New Voices Pick, A Nerdy Book Award Winner, and an Editor’s Choice Book with Scholastic Book Clubs. It also appears on 22 state lists. Lynda has directed the SCBWI-NE Whispering Pines Retreat for eight years and is a former teacher and Scenario Writing coach. Her second novel, FISH IN A TREE, will be released in February 5, 2015. Lynda lives with her husband, two kids, impetuous beagle and beagle-loathing cat.
Such a beautiful post. Your deep love and respect is tangible in every paragraph. It’s wonderful to have a sibling like that whether older or younger in age. I am thankful for my brother too.
Thanks, Alex! Agreed – love my siblings. Growing uo would have been so vastly different without them. So grateful.
I adored everything about Fish in a Tree, everything. Travis and Ally’s close relationship was so true and so endearing and now I see why. What a lovely essay, Lynda. Thank you for sharing it.
Thanks so much, Brenda–very sweet words indeed. I’m glad that Travis and Ally’s love felt authentic. 🙂 BTW, LOVE ProseandKahn!!!
Lynda celebrates. I think this is THE one thing she does–among so many–well. Uniquely well. And this post brings that out for all us to see here. Thank you, Lynda, for helping us to take a closer look at the “Travis” in our classrooms. In our lives. In ourselves.
Thank you, Paul. The ability to celebrate was a gift–particularly when I was little. No matter how tough things were, I could always find that silver lining. Thanks for your continued kindness 🙂
I devoured your story, Fish In a Tree, last weekend. When I did a short book talk on it earlier this week, the class erupted as soon as I introduced that it was by “from the author of One for the Murphys”. Your writing, (books, as well as blog posts) is adored by my entire classroom community. Thank you for your wisdom, and your willingness to wrestle with your stories until you reached your destination.
Oh, Greg–thanks so much for this. Your description of your students (Fantasticos) makes me smile big! Also, as a writer yourself, you know what the wrestling is like. Difficult but well worth every move.
An unusually and incredibly moving post. You are a writer with an enormous heart.
Oh, Sarah – you are always at the ready with such sweet, supportive words. Thank you so much! xo
When Lynda’s pen meets her paper, my tears meet my cheeks. Thank you for sharing your inspiration for Travis Nickerson.
Well that’s a high compliment! Thank you 🙂
When Lynda’s pen meets her paper, my tears meet my cheeks.
Beautiful! Thanks for sharing your heart…I can’t wait to read this book!
Thanks so much, Angie 🙂
What an amazing post! I must go read these books right away!
Thank you, jenny 🙂 If you do I hope you enjoy them 🙂
Thank you for sharing your story. I fell in love with Ally and Travis immediately when I read Fish in a Tree. I’ve been singing the praises of your newest book and now I can’t wait to share this story too. The love for your brother shines through.
Thanks so much, Julie. I’m s glad that the love I have for Ricky shines through. 🙂 Thanks tons for your support–very sweet of you!
Oh my gosh, what a beautiful post. I immediately shared it with my husband. Now I will share it further. Thank you, Lynda, for offering these parts of yourself, your story . . . to make the road easier for someone else.
Such a sweet thing to say, Donna! Thank you. I hope your hubby liked it, too. I really do try to make the road easier for others – as others helped me! None of us make it on our own! GO, SCBWI! ❤
Such a beautiful post — you know how to make me cry! If we ever get back to school after all this snow, one of the first things I”m doing is book talking Fish in a Tree. I finished it this week and absolutely adored it.
Thanks, Paige! I’m always honored when a reader cries (although I always feel lie I should send chocolate :-). Thanks so much for your kind words!
I buy more copies, and they fly out the classroom door. I finally nabbed one long enough to savor, selfishly. Putting my youngest son to bed last night, I managed to “sneak” one more page before it was finally time for lights out.
I want to be Mr. Daniels to my students, and I just pray that my 16 year old, struggling with life, smart as a whip, but has given up on public education son can find his OWN Mr. Daniels! Please, just let there be one teacher to see his greatness.
Thank you for another wonderful story that resonates deep within my teacher soul, and at the same time, hits home in so many ways. You inspire me!
Such a sweet comment, Teresa. I am honored to have touched you with my story. I do hope with all my heart that your son finds his Mr. Daniels – I believe we all deserve one. Big hugs!
What a beautiful post that made me curse these darn winter allergies! As a girl who grew up with three big brothers, I totally get this and nodded along as I read. Thank you for sharing your story and for always writing so honestly and authentically.
HA! Yeah, I have those winter allergies, too, sometimes. Big bros are awesome. Thanks for your kind words, Joanne. Between being Irish and Sagittarius I do tend to be honest–for better or not 🙂
Loved this post, Lynda. I loved Fish In A Tree, too. One of the things I loved about it was the relationship between Travis and Ally. I’ve always thought I wanted an older brother; now I see what I really wanted was a “big brother”.
Ally compares the difference between big brothers and older brothers. This isn’t in the ARC but is in the hardcover. I didn’t “hear it” until I read the ARC. 🙂
Thanks for a peek into your life and such a sweet tribute to your big brother. Now I can’t wait to meet Travis! Great post!
Thanks, Nancy! Travis is one of my most favorite characters in FISH. I see him so clearly. I hope you enjoy meeting him 🙂
I cried at the mention of Michael Eric. I didn’t know! I can’t wait to meet your new lovely characters.
Thanks, Melanie ~ I have a picture of Michael Eric next to my desk. I think of him every single day.
I loved this post! My grade 6 class read One for the Murphys, which they loved. Then, we Skyped with Lynda Mullaly Hunt last week, which was amazing. And, this morning I read this post by Lynda which reveals, once again, the depth of her stories. I didn’t know about Michael Eric either. So many emotions in these books. So rich for kids and adults, alike. Thank you Lynda for such powerful stories and characters who will live on in our hearts for years to come.
Thanks so much, Elisa! I appreciate your kind words. 🙂 i loved Sykping with your kids–please give them a big hello from me 😉
Lynda, I am really mad at you. Why didn’t you post a warning at the top of this post that tissues would be required? Sniff. Thanks for this poignant essay.
Hey, Kirby – my goodness! You are always so very sweet. Thank you so much. This is a high compliment coming from you. I am such a fan of your writing!
There you go again…sending me reaching for the tissue box. This post is a beautiful tribute to Ricky. Thank you for sharing the back story with all of us. Your reminders of what’s really important are so timely as many are entering the season of “high stakes” testing. I’ve shared your post with in weekly newsletter to the teaching staff in my buildings! It’s a “silver dollar” post that everyone needs to read!
And YOU are fantastico, Susan Dee! Thank you for being YOU! xo
Your story here is deeply touching. I have a younger sister whom I adore. She’s always been there for me. I always wanted an older brother, so I “married” one. My husband is the older brother of three sisters. I couldn’t have married anyone better. Thanks for your heartfelt writing. Fish in a Tree is circulating in my room and hasn’t landed back on the shelf yet.
Hey! Thank you so much! I’m lad that you were touched by my post. I am happy your found the right hubby. 🙂 Thanks, also, for letting me know that the kids are enjoying Fish in a Tree!
Touched my heart. Thank you!
Thanks so much, Linda 🙂
I cried through this post. Not because I have a brother. I do. Not because I’ve met Linda. I have. But because I am right there right now struggling to get a relationship down on paper that is deep like that of Travis and Ally. Your words encourage me to keep at it. If it’s in me, it will come. Reach.
I hit post before I saw I misspelled Lynda’s name. Sorry.
No problem 🙂
I cried through this post. Not because I have a brother. I do. Not because I’ve met Lynda. I have. But because I am right there right now struggling to get a relationship down on paper that is deep like that of Travis and Ally. Your words encourage me to keep at it. If it’s in me, it will come. Reach.
Hey! Oh, I feel for you and I have certainly been there! Consider giving these characters traits that you are drawn to. If you connect to them, your other characters will as well. Good luck! I’ll be thinking of you!
What a beautiful backstory to your beautiful book. Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you, Emily 🙂
Thanks for sharing that beautiful post!
Thank you, Jana!
What a beautiful post and story about the love between siblings. I loved it.
Thank you, Kimberley! I don’t know what I would do without my sibs 🙂
I just started reading this book to my 5th grade class and we love it! When I have to stop for the day the whole class sighs in unison! Thank you for the inspirational book.
A sigh in unison! Normally a thing like that wouldn’t make me smile. Thank you!
Thank you for this touching post. The pictures are precious. Are you still close? I’m so excited to read Fish in a Tree!
Very close, Tracy. Just before Ricky walked me down the aisle to be married, he turned to me and said, “Thanks for asking me to do this, Lulu.” and I replied, “Thanks for being the only one I would ask.” I started the walk down the aisle already weepy! He is the Godfather of my firstborn and still one of my best buds.
Linda- When you share your insights as an author, it helps us dig deeper into the story. Thanks so much for all you do!
And as soon as I pressed “post,” I knew I had misspelled your name! My apologies.
I LOVE to help readers dig into the story! Thank you 🙂 (No problem on the name!)
Reblogged this on katelynchwrites and commented:
You have to-you must read this by the fabulous Lynda Mullaly Hunt. ❤
Thank you, Kate! You’re pretty fabulous, too!
Reblogged this on Be someone's hero. No cape required. and commented:
My post on Nerdy Book Club. There is a giveaway on that site you may enter until Sunday, March 8, 2015. Find it here: https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/who-is-travis-nickerson-from-fish-in-a-tree-by-lynda-mullaly-hunt/#comments
Pingback: Who is Travis Nickerson from Fish in a Tree? by Lynda Mullaly Hunt | Be someone's hero. No cape required.
What a wonderfully touching post! I absolutely loved One for the Murphys, so I can’t wait to read this book. I already know it will be one of my favorite books this year!
All of this is bringing a lump to my throat. Thank you for your honest, heartfelt writing. The world is better because of it.
Waiting anxiously for my backordered copy! Cannot wait to read it and pass it off to voracious readers!
Very excited to read this! I plan on buying a copy today. It sounds like a great book to read with my middle school students.
We just received this book at the library, and I thought I would take a quick peek before putting it on the shelves. An hour later, I finally put the book down, with tears in my eyes for how much your stories and your characters spoke to me.
It was tough seeing Ally struggle but it was so rewarding to see how she came to learn that she was not dumb and take pride in her own strength and determination.
Mr. Daniels is a teacher that we all wish you had – how he recognized the difficulties of his students and worked with them privately (and subtly in class) so as not to single them out was wonderful.
And I absolutely loved the description of Travis as a big brother, as someone who smiles every time he sees his little sister. Your entire book had such wonderful descriptions. It did sadden me to see Travis’s light dim, even as Ally’s brightened, but I am glad that he was taking steps to begin work with Mr. Daniels as well.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful story with us. It was beautifully written, and had such an important message.
This is a lovely post. I loved Fish in a Tree, particularly the relationship between Ally and Travis. I have a true big brother too, and it is a relationship I cherish. I plan on using this title with the girls’ book club I lead at my library, probably as my lead-off book in September. (I save that spot for a particularly strong and engaging title since it sets the tone for our year.) Being able to get inside Ally’s head and witness her struggles and triumphs was tremendous. I have to add that I also loved One for the Murphys.
The bond between two siblings is very precious. Not always rainbows and sunshine but they walk beside you in life and are your kin. I am thankful I was able to experience the bond of a brother growing up. He has passed on now but I hold him close to my heart and have learned so many things from him in life. Can’t wait to share this beautiful book with my students this coming school year in our schools first time in the Global Read Aloud!
This type of relationship is totally like me and my siblings. I love this book cause Ally’s brother,Travis, is my favorite character cause he was always there for Ally, and now I think of me and my sister when you mention Ally and Travis. I am so glad that this book was in the Global Read Aloud, cause this is by far the best book ever!
So we are reading this book in my class and its absolutely amazing. I would recommend this book to many people. Thank you so much for making such an amazing book to enjoy and read. Have a great day.