The One and Only Ivan – 2013 Newbery Medal Winner

9780061992254_p0_v4_s260x420With dignity and sensitivity, Ivan, the captured silverback gorilla, narrates in his own voice in Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan.  Based on the life of a real gorilla who was captured as an infant in the Congo, raised in a home until he became too large to manage, and then sent to a circus-themed mall in Washington state, Ivan’s story reveals hope and strength.

In Applegate’s fictional adaptation of Ivan’s life, she creates loyal friendships with Stella, an aging elephant, and Bob, a stray dog who acts as sidekick and conscience.  The janitor’s daughter supplies Ivan with paper and paints,  inspiring him to practice his artistic talent; his pictures of banana peels sell in the mall’s gift shop.   Although Ivan and Stella have endured years of confinement in a concrete and metal box in a shopping mall near a highway – mostly in denial of their appalling conditions, their apathetic existence changes when a new baby elephant, Ruby,  initially resists and subsequently surrenders to the trainer’s claw prod.

Applegate  sprinkles her narrative with phrases that you might find useful to quote:

“Humans waste words. they toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.”

“They think I’m too old to cause trouble…Old age is a powerful disguise.”

“I always tell the truth…although I sometimes confuse the facts.”

Determined to save young Ruby from the life of humiliation and loneliness that he has endured,  Ivan uses his artistic talent to attract media attention that eventually leads to a new life in a zoo.   The real Ivan found a new home and celebrity with a large group of fellow gorillas at Zoo Atlanta, until he died last year.

Although Applegate mentions only a few of the horrors, she does not soft-peddle her views on the capture of wild animals or their isolation from their home turf in captivity. An articulate Ivan, with the soul of an artist, challenges both children and adults to consider the treatment of wild animals.

I always look forward to the Newbery Medal Award.  This year’s winner, as usual, is just as much for adults as for children.

Reviews on Other Newbery Winners:

The Great Unexpected

I needed a light easy read, with a little intrigue, and a happy ending.  Children’s book author and Newbery winner Sharon Creech delivered in her newest book for middle school readers – The Great Unexpected.  Like Naomi, Creech’s main character, I wondered:

“…if we find the people {or books} we need when we need them…”

In this coming of age tale about two forlorn Irish American orphans, Creech connects the friendship of two young girls to a mysterious benefactor “across the ocean” and a cast of eccentric townspeople, who all seem related.  The delightful girls are complements for each other: Naomi, curious but cautiously quiet, is suspicious of dogs since one mauled her as a baby and killed her father; Lizzie, an outgoing chatterbox, longs for her foster parents to adopt her.  The action is stirred by mysterious characters: Finn, an attractive yet strange Irish boy who drops out of a tree, and the Dingle Dangle man, an outsider who seems to be investigating the girls.  Creech sustains the mystery with props that later explain the resolution – a crooked bridge, trunks full of old treasures, and a pair of rooks.

Thankfully, this is a children’s book, so the Agatha Christie ending – complete with dead bodies – is fully explained.  All live happily ever after, Naomi learns to love dogs, and the story will leave you with satisfied impressions of familial love and friendship – and some choice phrasing to ponder:

“…all the while, I felt relieved that Joe had not left a trunk.  I didn’t need dead trunk things.  If I closed my eyes, I would see {him}…and hear {him}…”

“You get up and then you go on.”

“I wondered if things that seem frightening could lose their hold over you.”

“I would tell myself, ‘I’m not in the story’…but it didn’t help because a story was only interesting if I was in the story.”

What Do Little Boys Read?

When a good friend asked me for recommendations for summer reading for her eight year old grandson, who likes baseball and drums, I thought about those “I” and “R” labels that publishers sometimes tag onto books – Interest Level (I) and Reading Level (R) – a magic formula to find the right book.  Of course, labels and grade level lists can be deceiving; what a well-meaning librarian or parent thinks a third grader should read doesn’t always connect to the boy inside the head.

So what do active little boys read?  Could you scatter a pile of likely books on a table and hope one would catch his eye?  Here are some suggestions that I still enjoy reading – from easy reads to books that you can read aloud together.

What can you add to the list?

Miss Nelson Is Missing by Harry Allard

Clever Miss Nelson finds a way to tame her rowdy class – lots of pictures.

The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey- laugh out loud funny adventures and pictures.

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell – what a boy will do to save face – and win a bet – funny

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Crowell – the Disney movie was based on this book.  Horrendous Haddock III must pass a Viking initiation test – first of a series.

Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective by Donal Sobel – Leroy Brown helps the local police solve crimes; the reader gets clues to help as he reads.

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman – A Newbery Medal award winner – a bratty prince and his poor whipping boy find adventure and learn about themselves.

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor – a Newbery Medal winner – a poor boy finds a dog that’s been mistreated and is determined to keep him despite his parents who cannot afford the dog and the owner who wants him back.

The High King by Lloyd Alexander – a Newbery winner – good vs evil in the fantasy land of Prydain.

Any of Roald Dahl’s books – my favorite is The BFG – the big, friendly giant

And, finally, one of my all-time favorites that can be enjoyed reading aloud or quietly alone, especially for someone whose grandmother has an affinity for New York City…

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

Dead End in Norvelt – 2012 Newbery Award Winner

Looks like it’s going to be a long 1962 summer after Jackie is grounded for shooting his father’s World War II rifle at the drive-in movie screen (he didn’t know it was loaded). His only reprieve is helping elderly Miss Volker write obituaries for this small Pennsylvania town newspaper, and helping his father dig a bomb shelter and a runway in the corn field behind their house.  Jack Gantos mixes history with humor in his award-winning young adult book – Dead End in Norvelt.

As each elder citizen dies, Miss Volker, a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, records their unique contribution to the town as well as adding a few kernels of historic significance to the obituaries, citing significant happenings all over the world occurring on the same day.  Gantos delivers the laughs along with a history lesson.

The action shifts when a group of Hells Angels burns down a house in the town and the town’s little old ladies start dying daily. The town undertaker buys the land of his dead customers, and pay Jackie’s father to tow the houses to a town in West Virginia.  Suddenly, a murder plot is suspected and an autopsy confirms that mushrooms, casseroles, chocolates, or Girl Scout cookies are all the possible murder weapons.

Gantos cannot resist one last laugh with a morality lesson in the end, but leaves with a nostalgic nod to history and the ever-changing times.

The Flint Heart

In the style of a Hans Christian Anderson tale, Katherine Paterson, winner of the Newbery Medal for The Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, and her husband, John Paterson, edited the 1910 British fantasy The Flint Heart by Eden Phillpotts into a humorous abridged revival that may have a serious message for adults.  Read it aloud to your favorite child – or anyone thinking of running for political office, if you can.

The heart-shaped stone, with a hole in the middle, changes the attitude of its owner, and wreaks havoc on the lives of everyone around as the flint heart nurtures dictatorial power and greed, changing good into evil.  The story begins with the stone’s inception – in the Stone Age, of course – created by the mighty magician Fum for a jealous warrior, anxious to be chief.  The flint heart gives the owner might, greed, corruption, and general disregard and contempt for anyone in the path to ultimate power.

The stone is buried for a while, pulsing and anxious to return to its devastating path, when it is rediscovered in the nineteenth century by Billy, a complacent Dartmoor villager who quickly turns from a family loving father to a dog-kicking ogre.  Charles, his twelve-year-old son, and Unity, his five-year old daughter, seek out the fairies to help cure their father.  So starts a series of lively adventures as Charles, with the help of a hot water bottle, goes on a quest to stop the flint heart.

In rewriting the fairy tale, Paterson includes Phillpotts’ ruler of the fairies – Zagabog – a Yoda-like creature who tells stories with lessons.  If you thought you understood the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare, Zagabog’s version may change your “point of view.”  Zagabog explains that the Hare intentionally lost to boost the Tortoise’s self-esteem.  Paterson zings a few other modern theories that will amuse adults – especially the hilarious final exam administered to the poor badger.

With appealing full-page color illustrations by John Rocco, the book has simple language with fantastical stories and adventures, but don’t be fooled.  The major lesson may be for adults.

The flint heart is crumbled into the sea, land, and air at the end – but watch out for those hard-hearted power-hungry bullies who may have found it again.