Archive for ‘Middle-Grade Books’

August 16, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

Thank you Mr. Schu, if it were not for your steady flood of #theoneandonlyivan tweets, I would not have read this amazing story. I can see why are you are so passionate about this book, I am too now. Thank You!

Title: The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
Illustrator: Patricia Castelao
Publisher: Harper 2012
Themes: Animals, Animal Treatment, Art, Friendship
Ages: 8 and up
Pages: 320

Ivan is a gorilla in a circus-themed mall. He enjoys his friends, Stella the elephant and Bob the dog, and his human friend Julia, from whom he learns art. He spends his days observing the shoppers, watching TV, and painting. He doesn’t remember his old life in the jungle, this does not bother him. Until, one day when Ruby the baby elephant’s arrival triggers a series of events that opens Ivan’s eyes to their ‘real’ living situation. With this realization, Ivan begins to take on the role of the mighty silverback, the protector.

This is unlike any book I have ever read, breathtakingly simple, humorous, but also poignant. I knew this was going to be an amazing story after reading the following lines on page 2:

 “People call me the Freeway Gorilla. The Ape at Exit 8 … I am just Ivan … Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.

Everyone knows peels are the best part.”

The writing style eloquently matches Ivan’s character. Chapters are structured more like topics or insights that are only one to several pages long. Sentences are short, simple, but with tremendous impact to make the reader cry, rejoice, or simply ponder the impact we humans have on the world. Throughout the book there were many what I call “stop-and-think” lines that would make great discussion points. The combination of the short chapters and easy-to-read sentence structure makes this book accessible for even young readers just transitioning into middle-grade novels.

This is a beautiful, thoughtful story that will sit in your mind long after the last page is turned. I am not sure what is more amazing, the beauty of the author’s writing or knowing the true story that inspired this book.

Thank you Ms. Applegate for writing such an enlightening story for kids just beginning to comprehend the world around them.

Related Resources and Reviews:

Links about Ivan.

  • Learn more about Ivan on the author’s website.
  • Newspaper article about Ivan.
  • Atlanta Zoo’s Ivan Page – timeline, photographs, video clip

Check out the book trailer here.
Discussion guide with questions and activities.

Check out other great reviews of this book at Great Kid Books, Sprouts Bookshelf, and 100 Scope Notes.

Spoiler Alert and Analysis:

Below is a list of some of my favorite parts from the book. (skip through if you don’t want to know more.)

  • Parallel structure of the chapters “Three Visitors” and “My Visitors Return”
  • Ivan coming to terms with his past in “Remembering”, “What They Did”, and “Something Else to Buy”. Be prepared with a hankie and set aside some time for pondering.
  • Ivan watching the gorilla family on TV, and they are right behind his wooden curtain. Excellent use of anticipation, my heart leapt for joy.
  • Julia and Bob coming to visit Ivan in the zoo, it was like good old friends coming to visit.

What were your favorite moments in the book? If you haven’t read the book yet, no worries, please come back after you have read it. I would love to hear your thoughts.

April 5, 2011

When You Reach Me

Miranda is your average sixth-grader latch key kid. She is independent, mature, street smart, likes to read sci-fi, and has a best friend Sal; who one day stops being that. Sal’s unexplained absence from her life leaves her feeling sad and confused, but she accepts it and soon becomes friends with Colin and Annemarie. But then strange mysterious Notes start to appear.

” I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I ask two favors. First you must write me a letter …”

I would say 75% of this book is about the friendship between Miranda and her friends and Miranda’s relationship to her mother. Miranda is growing up and becoming more aware of the world around her and the different social statuses of people, from the laughing man who sleeps under the corner mailbox to her friend, Annemarie, who lives in a building that has a doorman. Miranda also learns that small acts of kindness or meanness can have significant consequences.

The other 25% of the book is sci-fi and is what drives the momentum of the book and the reader constantly guessing. Who is coming? Who’s life needs to be saved? Will the person get here in time? The author does an amazing job in dropping hints about the storyline, that keeps the reader searching for clues to the puzzle. For this reason it took me a longer time to read this middle-grade novel as I was reading every word, and constantly reviewing all the information. It is the type of story where once you figure out the puzzle, you immediately want to read it again!

Winner of the 2010 Newberry Award for most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Author: Rebecca Stead
Recommendation: Add to Home Library

When You Reach Me

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