The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate


The One and Only Ivan was just awarded this year’s Newberry Award for its notable contribution to children’s literature.  I had been hearing about it all over the place and was finally able to get my own copy, which I read this morning in one sitting.  It is sparse and simple and quietly inspiring.

This was a perfect little book about a gorilla who has spent most of his life living in captivity in a sad miniature circus inside a mall.  This is inspired by a true story; the original Ivan was on display in a mall in Washington for 27 years until he was moved to Zoo Atlanta in 1994.  In the book, Ivan is friends with Stella, the elephant, and Bob, a small dog who sleeps in Ivan’s enclosure.  Stella is poorly treated and forced to put on three shows every day to a dwindling audience.  She remembers life before the mall, and she tells Ivan stories about living in the jungle because he can only recall flashes of his previous life.  Their owner decides to bring in a new baby elephant to boost ticket sales and Ivan promises to take care of her.  Ivan also has a human friend, a girl named Julia, who visits while her father works at his custodian job.  She likes to draw, and Ivan does, too.  With Julia’s help, Ivan sets a plan in motion to change their lives.  This book is heartwarming and sad and uplifting, all at the same time.  Applegate gives Ivan a thoughtful voice and a heart.  Ivan teaches about more than animal issues; he teaches readers how to take care of each other and how to stick up for what is right, and reminds us that everyone wants a chance to be belong to a group.  You, the reader, have a choice to build your own family, just as Ivan did.  Sadly, the real Ivan passed away last summer at the age of 50, so this book winning the Newberry was a fitting tribute to him.  I can’t wait to see what my students will think about this story!

This book has an AR level of 3.6 and is worth 4 points.  Read this if…. just read this.  Trust me.


Matched trilogy by Allie Condie

Matched trilogyThis 3 part series has finally wrapped itself up, after the first book came out in 2010.  I waited for what felt like a long time for the ending, and despite its strong start, I wound up disappointed in the end.

Matched takes place in a dystopian future.  The government, or Society, controls every aspect of your life from family size, to your job, to how you spend your free time, to when you die.  The title comes from the rite of passage ceremony, the Match banquet, where teens find out who they are assigned to marry.  Cassia attends her Match and is pleased to find out that she has been matched with one of her very best guy friends, Xander, someone she already knows and loves.  Most of those matched end up paired with someone they have never met and end up leaving their families to move to a new city, so she is quite lucky.  When she gets home with the information microchip that came in her banquet package, she plugs it into her computer to view.  For a split second, someone else’s picture pops up on the screen, and again it is someone else that she knows, Ky.  Ky shouldn’t be in the Match at all, but then the picture quickly switches back to Xander.  How has this happened?  The Society doesn’t make mistakes.  Chaos ensues, and everyone is split up.  I liked this book very much, even though the love triangle situation reminded me of The Hunger Games.

Book 2 is called Crossed.  Our main characters are still apart from each other, and as a result, the narrator switches from chapter to chapter between Ky and Cassia.  For me, this was distracting, especially since Ky and Cassia are reunited pretty early on in the book.  They are trying to find the people who are part of the Rising, the people who have been trying to live off the grid and away from the Society.  Xander is missing, or at least somewhere in the background.  Ky and Cassia do find a weird stash of Society stuff and a treasure trove of things smuggled out by the Rising people, but not much happens in this story.  (I know people complained about the part in HP7: The Deathly Hallows where it felt like Harry, Ron, and Hermione were camping for 6 months and sitting around in the woods trying to figure out what to do.  It was kind of that feeling, except we know and LOVE Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and at least they are on a clear quest.  I didn’t feel like I knew Cassia, Ky, and Xander enough to root for them a whole lot here.)

Book 3, Reached,  is the one I struggled with the most.  It’s hefty at just over 500 pages.  Now we have 3-way alternating chapters and everyone is separated again…until they aren’t.  This was confusing because the whole book is written in the same voice and I kept getting confused between the two boys.  Here is where the book takes an unexpected turn for me, and the plot becomes about a virus, immunizations, a plague, a mutation virus, and a cure.  This book was slow.  It took a long time, hundreds of pages, to get interesting for me.  I read this while my students did their silent reading and it led to some good discussions on what to do when you don’t really like a book. What kept me going was the fact that the book was divided into parts and I kept hoping that the next part would be the one that was suddenly better.  Even in the end, you still don’t have all of your questions answered.  My final verdict: meh.

So, I say this.  Read these books (at least the first one) if you liked The Hunger Games, The Giver, Uglies, or any other dystopian-futuristic-rebellion-type stories.  Also read these if you are an aspiring writer, not so much for the story, but because Allie Condie does have a particularly beautiful way of writing about nature and colors.  There were some really nice passages in these books, but her elaborate writing slowed down the action instead of serving to move the plot along.

Matched is AR level 4.8 and is worth 13 points.

Crossed is AR level 4.2 and is worth 12 points.

Reached is AR level 4.6 and is worth 16 points.

These AR levels seem low for the story content, especially for Reached, where the information about The Plague gets very clinical.  The romance is very sterile though, just like The Society wants it. Ha ha!

Ivy and Bean series, by Annie Barrows

I almost forgot these two little cuties!  These books are geared toward younger readers at the third grade level.  Even though I teach sixth grade, I always end up with a few students who are behind in reading.  I want to make sure everyone has access to reading material in our class library, so when I saw Ivy and Bean being recommended in various places online, I knew I needed to check them out for some of my kiddos.  I went right out and bought the first two books and delivered them directly to one of my students.  She read them both and then headed to our school library to look for more!

The story is told from Bean’s point of view.  She’s a tomboyish girl who likes a little adventure, getting dirty, and pestering her older sister, Nancy.  Ivy has just moved in across the street, but Bean is not interested in getting to know her.  Ivy has curly hair and is more of a girly-girl, and Bean is not convinced they would even get along at all.  Besides, Bean’s mother keeps suggesting that she go meet Ivy, but Bean is a little on the stubborn side anyway (as you might have guessed.)  However, one day when Bean needs to escape after playing a prank on Nancy, Ivy turns out to be a valuable friend. As luck would have it, she’s up for a little mischief as well!

So far there are 9 Ivy and Bean books in the series.  I haven’t read them all, but I really like that they are beginning chapter books that don’t talk down to kids.  They remind me of Ramona Quimby (Beverly Clearly) books because they relay a realistic kid’s point of view, but without the baby talk of Junie B. Jones (which I enjoy and DO think are quite funny, but I feel that a reader has to be able to recognize the word play that makes them funny in the first place.  Older readers are better able to understand Junie B’s mistakes.)  They are a nice transition or bridge into longer chapter books, and hooking up a new reader with a good series can keep them on track and reading constantly because the next book is already waiting for them!

The Ivy and Bean books range in the AR level 3s and are worth about 1 point each.

Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

It’s lemony, and very Snickety!  This is the first book in a new series called “All the Wrong Questions.”  Lemony Snicket stars as himself for the main character, as some sort of apprentice investigator or secret agent for the V.F.D.  The book starts with him climbing out of a bathroom window during the middle of tea and being picked up by his new chaperone, S. Theodora Markson.  She is not a very good chaperone (or mentor, or investigator, or whatever she actually is), nor will she divulge what the “S” in her name stands for and is constantly changing the subject when asked.  She believes herself to be the #2 ranked chaperone in the organization, when really she is #52 out of 52.  Thank goodness Snicket can see right through her ineptitude, a word here which means a refusal to think things through properly.

They set off to a town that has been practically deserted, called Stain’d-by-the-Sea, in the middle of nowhere, with no sea in sight.  It is the home of a crummy hotel, a defunct newspaper, and the legendary Bombinating Beast.  A statue of this beast has been stolen, so Lemony and Theodora are hired to track it down.  Who has hired them?  Who has stolen it?  Who is the rightful owner?  Most importantly, why does everyone want this strange little knickknack in the first place?  All the while, Lemony hints at the idea that this isn’t even his primary assignment.  He sends messages to another female agent, who appears to be his sister, Kit, who is mentioned in A Series of Unfortunate Events.  If his first wrong question is “Who could that be at this hour?” in this book, what else is about to go wrong?  This whole storyline of the Bombinating Beast may be a giant red herring, or something that is intentionally misleading from the true mystery at hand.  S. Theodora Markson reminds Snicket that “the map is not the territory.”  Hmmm. We shall see!

This book is written in typical Snicket style, letting us get inside the head of our narrator as he thinks through all of his decisions and observations.  There are several entertaining characters aside from his chaperone, including a punked-out librarian, a girl reporter who is constantly taking notes on her typewriter, two young brothers who run the only taxi service in town (my favorites), another girl in a tree, and a pair of bumbling police officers.  I can’t wait to see how this becomes the backstory for the ASOUE books, which I love.  If you’ve read those books, then you already know how Snicket can take up several pages to explain something in his round-about way and how a limited point of view can affect the rest of the bigger plot.  If you like the writing style of ASOUE, definitely read this, but know that you will end up with more questions that when you started.  It’s a mystery, after all!  Also, the graphic artwork included in the book is pretty nifty as well.   The only reason to NOT read this book (yet) is that the next one has no publishing date at this point.  I enjoy the suspense of waiting and it always gives me a reason to re-read as each new book is released, but if you prefer to have all four books available at once, you’ll have to give these a chance to come out first.

Who Could That Be at This Hour? is an AR book, with a level of 5.5 and a point value of 6.