Everyone Needs an Ivan…Book Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

“Ivan, I want you to promise me something,” Stella says.
“Anything,” I say.
“I’ve never asked for a promise before, because promises are forever, and forever is an unusually long time. Especially when you’re in a cage.”
I straighten to my full height, “I promise, Stella,” I say in a voice like my father’s.
“But you haven’t even heard what I’m asking yet,” she says and she closes her eyes for a moment.Her great chest shudders.
“I promise anyway.”      (Applegate, P. 111-12)

I found The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate on a list of great read aloud books for kids. It said it was a picture book, so I never bothered to look into it more. I know now that by “picture book”, the person reviewing the novel actually meant to say it has a handful of small drawings scattered throughout. I would estimate ten or less that don’t even cover a sixth of the page. A coworker and friend of mine read the book and had it on her desk. She recently suggested it to our assistant principal to read with the simple statement: “Everyone needs an Ivan.” It must have been something about the way she said it or how smiled with such admiration from just thinking about this imaginary character. In that recommendation, she not only recommended it to our principal, but also myself. I had to read this novel.

The One and Only Ivan is about a Silverback gorilla named Ivan that lives in a circus exhibit inside Big Top Mall and Arcade. Ivan is a simple gorilla who likes to relax, eat bananas, and draw pictures of bananas. One of my favorite characteristics about Ivan is that he states upfront that gorillas like to save their words for when they are really important; humans like to use as many words as they can. Every word in this novel is carefully chosen to make an impact. Ivan’s narration is simple, yet extremely powerful when you look at how he views words. Applegate’s writing in the narration of this story is simple: It is as if gorillas could actually talk. They are smart, yet they are still innocent and have limited experience. Ivan is honest about the experiences he does have and how he views the world around him.

Rosie is purchased when the circus show starts to go under. She is a baby elephants and who doesn’t love a baby? Rosie is in the cage next to Ivan with the other elephant, an older girl named Stella. Stella used to work for a circus and was abused there. As a result, she has a foot that never healed right and frequently gets infected. This makes it hard for her to perform and make money, so Rosie is brought as a new attraction. Ivan also has another friend, Bob, who is a stray dog that stays with him at night. Bob is a great character who is extremely sarcastic, but Applegate also uses Bob to make comments on the nature of the world. He is brutally honest and often comments on the cruelty of the world or extremely obvious observations about life that Ivan is too simple to make. For young readers, Bob is funny. For older readers, Bob is a philosopher.

An accident happens during on of the shows that causes Stella to ask for the promise I opened this post with. Ivan makes his first promise to Stella, that he will save Rosie. Ivan goes to work preparing a masterpiece to save Rosie. With the help of the janitors daughter, Julia, who brings Ivan fingers paints and paper, Ivan begins to paint a picture that he hopes will save Rosie’s life. Ivan works day and night to paint the picture, hiding his drawing when the mall owner, Mack, is around. Finally, when he feels that he has accomplished his goal, he gives his papers to Julia, hoping that with her artistic eye, she can make heads and tails of his gorilla drawing. The exchanges between Julia and Ivan are interesting because sometimes you forget that this is a gorilla and a young child interacting. It feels more genuine than that. Applegate’s writing suggests that, even though they can’t talk, Julia and Ivan are friends. And friends they are.

With a little time and patience, Ivan starts to see the fruit of his labor. I recently read a quote that said, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow” (Mary Anne Radmacher). This quote is Ivan. Ivan is courageous. Each day, Ivan watches and paints a few more pictures and hides them. He is courageous because Ivan is doing something not-Ivan. He is painting from his mind, something that makes him uncomfortable. Each day, Ivan has to return to his work. Finally, when Ivan feels that all hope is lost, zoologist and vets come to the zoo to rescue Ivan and shut down the Big Top Mall. Ivan not only saves Rosie, but Ivan is also able to save himself and in that, find something he has never had before in his life: a pack of gorillas to truly be a Silverback with.

I love the ending of this novel because it is almost a little tense until it ends, but it ends really happy. I love what Ivan gets in the end, as well as Rosie and Bob. I was so worried about little Bob in the end of this novel! This book is a great touch on humanitarianism and treating animals right, but it’s much more than that. It’s about sacrificing for people you love and doing something for someone else, no matter what it costs you. It’s about keeping your promises, no matter how much you want to give up. It’s about friendship and acceptance. It’s never too late to do what you always wanted to do. I cannot express enough how powerful this novel is. I wanted to cry frequently (I refrained as I was in class) and I smiled often. Applegate’s writing is so thoughtful and concise it is hard to imagine this book was written for children. Her means of developing personality individually in each character shows a different virtue our world needs more of–especially giving and caring and protecting our friends and family. As Bob frequently reminds Ivan, he is the One and Only. At the end of this book, Ivan lives up to that potential. He is Ivan. And he is great.

Rating: 5 Owls
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Why I loved it:
I loved this book because it was very deep. It made me question and think a lot as I was reading it. It’s also, despite the sadness in the beginning, a very sweet story. Ivan is simple and you love Ivan for his simplicity. He made a promise and sticks to it. I finished this book in a school day.

Why My Kids Loved It:
While I was reading, my students who read it said, “Oh, that’s sad, but that’s such a good book.” For a student, they are not going to dig into the philosophical Bob as much as an adult. They see a gorilla who made a promise and who kept it. It’s also on a lower reading level, so lower students will feel successful with this novel.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Fabulous book about possibility and friendship. Ivan is memorable and one-of-a-kind.

image from barnesandnoble.com

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Happy Reading! Go be someone’s Ivan today and change a life!

-Miss Wyoming

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Sometimes You Just Need a Hat….Book Review: North of Everything by Craig Crist-Evans (QUICK READ!)

Dad sits on the edge of my bed,
his hand holding mine.

I tell him
about my dream,
the stars
like eyes of God,
like an open mouth,
the sky so black
it swallowed
all the sounds. (Crist-Evans, p. 22)

North of Everything is a short little book that encompasses a whole lot of emotion. Written by Craig Crist-Evans, this book is 67 pages of verse novel showing life as it is really handed to us. The narrator, unnamed, moves with his family from Florida to Vermont so his dad can farm again. We learn that his dad is sick of his nine-to-five and wants to be with the fresh air because he feels that it will help him. This was my first experience with verse in a long time. It’s quick and too the point. The writing is very fresh and free.

After moving, our narrator learns two things: first, that his mother is pregnant with a baby and second, that his dad is really sick with cancer. In it’s sparse words, the book shows the truth of dealing with illness in your family. It shows his father steadily decline and how it affects both the narrator and his mother. The narrator spends time at school sleeping and is frequently checked out. Crist-Evans uses the new baby to contrast the struggle of the mother and son to the new child’s experience of not knowing what a dad is. The new child, who the narrator calls Spanky, has no concept of father and was never old enough to get to know hers when he was well.

Eventually, the narrator finds out that being in the beautiful open country does not keep your family safe. As the father diminishes to a wisp of a man in his final days, the mother and son find a way to cope. This is very interesting because Crist-Evans subtly alludes to their lives falling apart. It’s implied, not stated, that the mother develops a drinking problem. The son remains relatively unaffected by this, seeming to understand that his mother needs this to help her cope. He makes a friend who has rabbits. These rabbits, like the baby, contrast birth and death.

The novel ends on a really sweet note, during the spring, as everyone’s lives come back together. My favorite poem in the book details the family out at ice cream together and a stranger makes the mother a balloon hat, telling her that sometimes you just need a hat. The last poem of the book is a bit quirky. The family is at dinner and the baby says her first words. There isn’t a real “closing” poem to the novel as there was an opening poem, but this final poem brings a sense of peace and closure that I do not think a poem written to end the novel would have. Life doesn’t end with a closing note–this book does a good way of showing that. It ends, just as the book ends, in a moment shared with others or alone. A moment that you may not think to be the last word, but is. It was brilliant.

Rating: 3.5 Owls
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Why I liked it:
This book doesn’t get a love–it gets a like. I liked the honesty of the poetry in conveying human emotion. I liked that the boy didn’t spend too much time on his mom’s story when he was more concerned on his own. I liked that it ended on a random poem instead of a poem meant to bring closure. I liked the honesty and grief and coping of this book.

Why my kids liked it:
It’s short enough that they felt successful. Especially for my students on the low end of the reading spectrum, this was a really quick read that wasn’t a challenge. They also liked the story line and how sad it was at times.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Honest emotions about a young man dealing with death, life, and all of the other challenges of life.

Image from barnesandnoble.com

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Happy Reading! It’s cold here!

-Miss Wyoming

First Review: Gregor the Overlander and the Underland Chronicles

I don’t even remember how Gregor the Overlander was suggested to me. One day, it was out of my life and the next day it was in my life. And once is comes into your life, this series is hard to forget!

Written by Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games trilogy, Gregor the Overlander chronicles the adventure of a young boy who gets sucked into an underground world. While watching his sister in the laundry room of their run down apartment building, Gregor notices that Boots has gone missing. When he tries to find her, he sees that the air vent has been opened and a weird mist is coming out. Thinking that Boots crawled into the vent, Gregor sticks his head inside to look around and unknowingly falls into a mysterious world built miles and miles below New York City. From giant talking cockroaches to a mysterious breed of people with translucent skin and purple-ish eyes, Gregor is introduced to the Kingdom of Regalia and the Underland. Gregor soon learns that his fate and the fate of the Underland are mysteriously entwined and must go on several adventures to save the Underland from the reign of terror caused by an army of rats.

Here is my amazon review on this book….I think it speaks for itself:
Collins is brilliant! A shame Hunger Games outshone this series!! Perfect for Potterheads (:”

Gregor the Overlander is a fabulous introduction in the world if the Underland. Once I purchased this book, I could not put it down and quickly had the entire series finished. I teach middle school and many of the boys in my class have been passing it around. I recommend this to anyone who needs a good, fictional read. I am a Potterhead and this series easily ranks up there with Harry Potter. Suzanne Collins is brilliant! It’s a shame Hunger Games outshines this series.

***

It truly is ashame that the Hunger Games outshone this series. It reads a little like “City of Ember” in the beginning, but very very different as you move through it. I have many of my kids reading this book as a lot of them have never heard of it. The boys love it! It’s very similar to Percy Jackson or Harry Potter. There are sequential books where the protagonist, Gregor, has to go on missions to save the kingdom, a person, etc. I highly recommend it for any age starting at 5th grade up.

The Quick and Dirty 160 Character Review:
Amazing book! Adventure packed and compelling. Character’s are personal friends. Wish this was going to be a 5 part movie series!

Why I loved it:
I really loved this book because it was different–it opened the doors for me to read Percy Jackson style books. Typically, I get stuck in the “what’s trendy” phase. This is a trendy author writing a little acknowledge series that demands to be felt (John Green, anyone?).

Why my kiddos loved it:
The boys in class love it for the same reason they love Percy Jackson–it has compelling action and a middle school male protagonist. There is sword fighting, war, and some funny scenes. There is also young love, friendship, brotherhood, and camaraderie. But mainly, there is just a lot of sword fighting and compelling action.

CLICK TO BUY!

image from barnesandnoble.com

image from barnesandnoble.com

Happy reading!

-Miss Wyoming