The One And Only Ivan

Me: Look how cute this cover is! I am so excited to read this book.

LS: Oh, that is adorable.

Me: I see two cute animals there is no way I am getting through this one with dry eyes, huh?

LS: (appraises cover) No way…hysterical crying may be involved.

The above is the excerpt from my conversation with a coworker about The One and Only Ivan . We were both correct- tears were definitely involved. Patricia Castelao’s black and white  illustrations give faces to a lovable cast of characters. I make very unattractive snorking noises when I cry so to those of you who may read this in public or to a class and are also easy criers- be warned.

My copy of this books smells like freshly painted office spaces.

Katherine Applegate’s  The One and Only Ivan is a fresh release (2012) and a deeply moving story.    

It is based loosely on the real life of a gorilla who lived alone in a shopping mall exhibit for the first twenty seven years of it’s life without ever seeing another member of it’s species. The real Ivan is now a beloved member of the Zoo Atlanta family after the pubic protested Ivan’s conditions at the shopping mall.

The book is narrated from Ivan’s perspective and through his eyes we meet: Stella the aging elephant, George the janitor and his artistic daughter Julia, Bob the stray dog, Mack the mall and circus owner, and Ruby the baby elephant. Ivan is a simple and straight forward narrator whose objective observations of humans switch between painful and heartwarming. 

The animals have background stories that will leave you aching.  Applegate deftly weaves each one into the present tense of the story.  Ivan is the son of a great silverback gorilla and in the beginning of the story Ivan seems to feel disconnected from this genetic legacy. He is reluctant to remember the time before he was at the mall exhibit.

This story is Ivan’s coming into his own and discovering his true purpose and ability to guard and care for those around him.  He is the one and only Ivan, silverback, protector of his family.

For Ivan the day  baby Ruby arrives is the day his journey to self realization begins. Ruby is still crying for her mother when she is brought to the mall to share Stella’s cage. Stella cares for Ruby the best she can, but the day comes when circumstances force her to ask Ivan for help:

“”Ivan ,I want you to promise me something,’ Stella says.

‘Anything,’ I say.

‘I’ve never asked a promise before, because promises are forever, and forever is an unusually long time. Especially when you’re in  a cage.’

When I say the words, they surprise me. ‘You want me to take care of Ruby.’

Stella nods, a small gesture that makes her wince. ‘If she could have a life that’s….different from mine. She needs a safe place, Ivan. Not-‘

‘Not here,’ I say

It would be easier to promise to stop eating, to stop breathing, to stop being a gorilla.

“I promise,Stella, ‘I say.”I promise on my word as a silverback.'”

Ivan finds  purpose in this promise.It is an opportunity to hone and use his unusual talents.This book would make a great, albeit emotional class read aloud. Also a treat for yourself or animal lovers you know. Follow Ivan on his journey to save his loved ones and to  find his destiny. It will not be a journey you regret taking.


Pig Kahuna

A small fact about me: I am sort of obsessed with tiny, adorable pigs. I want one for a pet. I want to walk it on a leash and give it baths and dress it up as something ridiculous for Halloween. Now of course you can imagine the “squeeing” noise I made when I saw that one of my student’s had purchased me my very own copy of Pig Kahuna by Jennifer Sattler from the school book fair. My copy of the book smells like glossy magazine pages.

Pig Kahuna is a simple story of two bovine brothers. Fergus and his baby brother Dink are having a great day collecting things on the beach when an old surf board washes up. When no one claims the board the boys name it “Dave.”  They do not take the board into the water because of the “lurking, murky,ickiness factor of the water.” Instead they spend their day playing imagination games on the beach. Sattler’s illustrations are a key highlight to the simple and sweet story. Every page that features Fergus and Dink is a delight (this is every page)!

The story takes a thrilling turn when baby Dink decides to release “Dave”  back into sea. Fergus is horrified and bravely goes to retrieve his new playmate “Dave.” In the rescue process  Fergus inadvertently surfs his first wave! Suddenly both boys have a changed attitude about the ocean and we leave our beloved brothers just beginning to discover the thrills provided by the ocean!

As a pig and ocean lover I can say this book has found a special place in my heart. However, I feel confident that land lovers will be just as enamored with the book!  This book is  also a great read for a child who may be a bit hesitant about playing in the ocean.  The boys go from land locked to big wave surfers in one afternoon- one hopes their courage would inspire any little swimmers who are intimidated by the surf.

I hope that Sattler finds new settings and adventures for Fergus and Dink!  Check out more work from Jennifer Sattler here.

One Million Books in Ten Days! You can help!!!

Please check out this site and consider posting about it or liking it on one of your social media outlets. The company First Books wants to give away one million books in the next ten days to underprivileged children. All children should be given early and open access to books. It can start a life long love of education- and education is how we can change the world! There is a lot of debate about education all over the place- but no one needs to debate the fact that getting books into the hands of eager children is a wonderful thing!

Teachers Love the Smell of Books!!!

Today my awesome coworkers got in on the action to celebrate our school’s book fair and National Library Week! Everyone smell a book! ;0)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated FairyLand in a Ship of Her Own Making

My copy of this book smells like leather and smooth electronic pages, which is a rather poetic way of saying it smells like my kindle case. I think I am going to buy this book in it’s hard copy as well because I loved it in a way I have not loved a book in a very long time.


I have a long running love of Alice in Wonderland but I have to say that Catherynne Valente’s heroine September has completely eclipsed my beloved Alice in complexity and spunk. September is a 12 year old girl this 30 year old woman found herself inspired by as she journeyed through an exceptional landscape trying to find out where and how she belonged in it. 


September’s incredible journey begins when she is washing dishes and the Green Wind, astride his leopard, arrives at her kitchen window. With this unique invitation September begins her  adventure:


“You seem an ill-tempered and irascible child,” said the Green Wind. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the great sea, which borders Fairyland?…”


September does not need to be asked twice to be whisked away from her dreary midwestern life. Once she arrives in Fairyland incredible and complex characters and loyal friends populate her journey. Valente imbues her whimsical characters with familiar traits  without robbing them of their fantastic qualities. It gave me the feeling that I could run into a changeling at my local grocery store or  find a Wyvern in a local bookstore.


 There are dark twists as September begins to understand soon after her arrival that there is a dark force at work in the form of the ruler of Fairyland, a young girl known asThe Marquess.September is soon occupied with helping the creatures of Fairyland with the troubles the Marquess has brought into their lives. 



September’s story is not only the physical quest to save Fairyland and her new friends, it is the emotional awakening of a girl discovering her capacity to love and endure.


Valente has the enviable ability to write true and powerful prose in the midst of a fantasy. I will let her work speak for itself. Here are some of my favorite pieces of prose  from the book (no spoilers!):


It will be hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it’s wonders that I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.”


When you were born,” the golem said softly, “your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough fro anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you are half-grown your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living.”


Oh September. Such lonely, lost things you find on your way. It would be easier, if you were the only one lost. But lost children always find each other, in the dark, in the cold. It is as thought they are magnetized and can only attract their like.”



Valente should be praised for her lexicon like usage of fairytale creatures from all parts of the world. I had to pause at several points in the story to look up what creatures such as “Marids” were. I loved increasing my knowledge of fairytale folk!


This book did what I ask of all of my favorite books: completely transported me. Catherynne M. Valente has an avid new fan in yours truly. I would recommend this book for older children (fifth grade and up) due to a few graphic scenes. I would REALLY recommend you read it first and decide if you want to share it with your favorite child!

Moominpappa at Sea

I came across this book at one of my favorite bookstores in Philadelphia, or anywhere for that matter, The Spiral Bookcase. I strongly encourage all of you to like them on Facebook and to take time to go vist them in person if you are ever in Philly.

My copy of this book smells of old, used, and damp vanilla air freshener. The pages are over dry and the binding is falling apart so I was careful while I read it.

I have been meaning to dig into the Moomin series for a while now and when I found this book in the dollar bin at The Spiral Bookcase I knew it was the perfect time. Moominpappa at Sea is one of the more philosophical books of the internationally best selling Tove Jansson (We have the same birthday!!!) series. I would compare it to reading The Little Prince byAntoine de Saint-Exupéry. You know you are technically reading children’s literature but the book is rife with deep emotional family issues and interesting characters who each seem to represent some part of the human psyche. There is more than a simple tale of a troll family struggling to build a new life on an odd and desolate island. 

In the beginning of the story Moominpappa decides to move his entire family to an island far out at sea so that he can take care of them and protect them. It seems Moominpappa is not feeling very useful and necessary so he creates this adventure for his family. One of the more striking quotes from the book comes from Moominmamma just as the family is about to set off and leave behind their cozy home. “It’s strange,’ Moominmamma thought. ‘Strange that people can be sad, and even angry because life is to easy. But that’s the way it is, I suppose. The only thing to do is to start life fresh.'” 

There are comic moments, a mystery, and a few surprisingly chilling turns in this story. A quick read and a journey I do not believe you will  regret taking. A little digging tells me that the rest of the Moomin series is not so philosophical- but you better believe I will be checking them out soon!

I would recommend this book for adults who want some reading that will inspire some deep thinking with lovely black and white illustrations of adorable trolls as a palette cleanser.