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


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

A Cyborg Cinderella…..Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

The screw through cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle. Her knuckles ached from forcing the screwdriver into the joint as she struggled to loosen the screw one gritting twist after another. By the time it was extracted far enough for her to wrench free with her prosthetic steel hand, the hairline threads had been stripped clean.

Tossing the screwdriver onto the table, Cinder gripped her heel and yanked the foot from its socket. A spark singed her fingertips and she jerked away, leaving the foot to dangle from a tangle of red and yellow wires.

She slumped back with a relieved groan. A sense of release hovered at the end of those wires— freedom. Having loathed the too- small foot for four years, she swore to never put the piece of junk back on again. She just hoped Iko would be back soon with its replacement. (Meyer, p. 3)

Cinder isn’t your modern day Cinderella tale—in fact, Cinder has a secret that only a few people in her community of New Beijing know: She’s a cyborg. But being a cyborg has afforded Cinder with a job. She is the best mechanic in all of New Beijing at the age of 17 years old. Adopted by a scientist and inventor from Europe, Cinder is left to fend for herself after her father’s death, stuck with her stepmother, Adri, and two sisters, Peony and Pearl.

If you follow my tweets at all, you would know that I was initially ANNOYED to the max with this book. Like, maxed out in my annoyance. The book starts too quicky into it’s futuristic jargon. Dates are labeled “T.E”, terms like “cyborg”, “netscreen”, “portscreen”, “android”, etc. are used within the first chapter. In my opinon, it was a little stereotypically science fiction. Meyer did little to clarify many things. We don’t even get a description of Cinder’s appearance, which I need when I read a book. The only background we get is that it’s in the future and in China.

Cinder meets the prince, Kaito aka. Kai, when he comes to her booth at the market to get his android fixed. Kai jokes that there is some top secret information on the android, but Cinder, who has a computer interface implanted in her brain, can tell that he is lying and there actually IS top secret information on the android. We are also introduced to the Plague aka. letumosis aka. The Blue Plague in this chapter. Prince Kai is nice and I think it was cool of Meyer to have Cinder meet him early, but througout the whole novel, the dialogue with him is terrible. She gave him a terrible, sarcastic sense of humor that is so far from royal it’s not funny. It read a little bit like, “I want to inject some humor in my novel, but I am not sure how to do it, so I’ll do bad sarcasm.” I guess, for a teen novel, it might be funny because their sense of humor is developing, but as an adult reading it, I wasn’t too keen.

After meeting the prince and seeing a neighboring stall be burned down to avoid the plague, Cinder goes home and we meet her family for the first time. Typical to Cinderella, Adri the stepmother, is awful. Pearl, the eldest step sister is also a piece of work and rather underdeveloped. Peony, the youngest at 14, is actually friends of Cinder. She is prince crazy and follows Cinder to the junk yard the night after the run in with the prince to talk about the experience. It is here Peony contracts the blue plague. In an act of malice, Adri banishes Cinder to the palace’s research facility to look for a cure for the plague where Cinder is sure to die. She blames Cinder for infecting Peony, even though we learn Cinder has never been or will never be infected due to either her cyborness or something else—her mysterious past.

But she doesn’t die. At this point in the book, perspectives shift. We get Dr. Erland’s perspective. Apparently, he’s been accused of only wanting young women as his research subjects. I thought he was a creep, but it actually makes a lot of sense when the book ends. We also get Kai’s perspective as he deals with the death of his father and become emperor. I am not crazy about the name Kai…..it reminded me of Matched, I guess? I just feel that Ky/Kai/Ki is an easy fall back for a futuristic name. Oh well. Kai is also dealing with a peace agreement with the Lunar colony on the Moon. They are made out to have some biological magic control something and are really cruel and trick you into thinking they are prettier than they are.

The story then starts to develop a little more. Queen Levana comes to earth to propose a peace treaty to Kai in exchange for him marrying her. Cinder learns of her heritage and is warned NOT to be around the castle. Kai and Cinder develop a weird little thing. Cinder figures out what the android is hiding…..and it is information that made me go, “Holy crap! I think she might be a princess!” That’s when I wanted to keep reading. I cannot confirm or deny the accuracy of my assumption, but the rest of the book was a really easy point once I was hooked in on that story element. I would say if you are selling this to someone or a student, capitalize on the fact that there is a big mystery that needs to be solved. It’s also interesting to see the Cyborgness of Cinder and how she hides that from Kai and deals with being an outcast.

Overall, the ending was really disappointing. It was a total cliff hanger. I’m also almost positive that there isn’t a second book. I think the second book, Scarlet, is a companion novel, but it does not feature Cinder as the main character. Scarlet has to do with little red riding hood and the newest book, Cress, deals with Rapunzel. I am actually sure you meet Cress in Cinder because they discuss a girl with impossibly long hair and she is trapped in a satellite. I will finish reading this series simply to see what becomes of Levana and Cinder and Kai, but it wasn’t my best read of the year. Actually, I guess it was the best and worst because it’s the only book I have read. This probably isn’t a book I’d readily volunteer to people to read, but if a kid needs a book suggestion, I would suggest it to them.

Rating: 3.5 Owls
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Why I liked it:
Once I got to the “Is Cinder the hidden Princess?” revelation, I had to keep reading!

Why my kids like it:
The updated Cinderella tale in conjunction with the trendy science fiction/dystopian feel make it a hot hit.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Retell of Cinderella in the future. Little exposition and a lot of sci-fi jargon. Once is I had my “OMG” moment, I had to finish reading.

Image from barnesandnoble.com

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Happy Reading in the New Year!

–Miss Wyoming

Book Review: In the After by Demitria Lunetta

Have you ever been really curious as to what would happen if aliens invaded Earth? I can’t say I was until I read this book. It was recommended to me by a co-worker that I trust in her book taste and then again by my school’s librarian. Set in the not-so-far-off future of the United States, Lunetta’s debut novel, In the After, is a strong introduction into life after the apocalypse.

The main character, Amy, splits her life into two separate parts–The Before and The After. The book jumps pretty quickly into the After portion. We get a glimpse into her life before–Mom has a max-security clearance job with the government and Dad is an environmentalist hippie. Amy is just your run of the mill everyday, average teen. Until They show up one day while she’s watching the news.

As I was reading the beginning of this book, I kept thinking “There is no way this is going to be like, 400 and some pages. All the action is happening now!” Within the first 50 pages, we meet Them (the pea green, human flesh craving aliens that have come to Earth), Amy finds a baby she names Baby in a supermarket, and there are some pretty near death experiences. Initially, this instant set up with jarring to me—I felt like the climax of the story happened every couple of pages, but as I neared the end of section 1, it made more sense.

Commence section two–Amy and Baby have been living for three years together in the dark, in silence. It was pretty convenient, in terms of alien attacks, that Amy’s dad had built a rooftop garden, installed solar panels, and constructed a rainwater shed water system so the girls had power, food, and running water the whole time. This is the only major detail I disliked in the book. Amy and Baby are forced to leave their home (I cannot tell you why, but it does contribute to a major twist ending) and are picked up by black clad figures that initially seem to be more aliens. The girls learn that they are not and are taken to a place called New Hope, a university that survived the alien attacks formerly known as Husten-Prime.

In my humble opinion, this is where things got a wee bit hairy for me. Things start to pick up at bit in this section. Amy meets a strapping young lad that, despite any major romantic gestures or relationship development on Lunetta’s part, is taken by Amy within 50 pages of meeting her even though she has an ugly hair cut. There are also a set of doctor’s that are out to protect the community at any cost and there is a weird group of teenagers that are allowed to sit all day and think about ways to make New Hope better.

Then…..in my opinion, it happens. The story magically shifts to italic fonts. It’s clearly Amy speaking, but readers do not know where she is or what she is doing. Then it switches back. It does this for a lot of the section. It gets pretty old after a while, I will admit. At first it’s intriguing–Amy is going on about doctors testing her brain, she is drugged, etc. After a while though, I got to the point where I’m like JUST FREAKING TELL ME ALREADY WHERE SHE IS! It does tell you (in section 3).

The book goes on to follow Amy in her discovery of the mysteries of New Hope and her decision to become a guardian, which ultimately separates her from Baby. I haven’t spent much time on the relationship between Amy and Baby, but it’s really important to both this book and the next book. Amy would die to save Baby or kill anyone to save her. As her only companion for 3 years in silence during the apocalypse, I understand the attachment complete. Lunetta really established this and you come to love Baby. She’s innocent and sweet, but smart and has really uncanny hearing. Amy is painstakingly pulled away from Baby as she becomes a Guardian, a position that allows her to fight Floraes and avoid the law that states all women are to have babies every three years until they are 40—ew, gross, I know.

I can’t reveal too many details about section three, but this is where the weird narration and the regular story meet back up. You really are going to hate Doctor Reynolds here. There are also three pretty major twists in this section and some guests to New Hope. Despite how annoying the whole Ward situation is, this section was really awesome. I was reading during class and I kept gasping as each twist happened. They are so stinking major it hurts! I think that is what got all my kids wanting to read it. I pose the question as I leave you—Is it really an alien novel?

Rating: 4 Owls

Why I liked it:
It’s a good book for the simple fact that it is different from anything I have read before. Some how though, it pulled back around to YA lit’s dystopian trend and that really worked for me. I’m also impressed that this was Lunetta’s debut book. It was a really strong entry into the world of author-ness(?). It was a can’t-put-down novel in a lot of respects.

Why my kids liked it:
Well, they are still reading it, so I can’t tell you right now. But I’m sure it will be for same reasons I did.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Great debut from Lunetta. Book is interesting and packed with lots of twists. With 3 sections and instant action, it keeps you sucked in!

Image from Barnes & Noble

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Happy Reading!

-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.


image from barnesandnoble.com

image from barnesandnoble.com

Happy reading!

-Miss Wyoming