Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
By Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao
Published 2012 by HarperCollins

Come to the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade and meet The One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback! Ivan has lived his life at the mall, watching TV, befriending Stella the elephant and Bob the dog. But Ivan is also an artist, spending lots of his time drawing and trying to capture what he sees around him. When Ruby, a new baby elephant, comes to Exit 8, Ivan begins to see things differently, and everything beings to change.

I wish I had more time to read. This is probably my most common complaint. And it probably sounds ridiculous to most people - this year, I've read over 500 books (including picture books, novels, and non-fiction). And yes, I agree - that's a lot of books, much more than the average person has time for in a year. But, when I think about the number of books published every year that I want to read, compared to the number of books I actually get to read in a given year, I'm struck by how I will always be at a deficit. I've had an ARC of this book for a long time - I think I received at Midwinter in January - and it really sounded like something I'd enjoy. Early reviews were all exceedingly positive and, as we get closer to awards season, many people are talking about its Newbery potential. I knew it would be a quick read and finally decided I needed to pick this book up now. I'm so sad I didn't get around to it sooner.

This is a beautiful book and I am thrilled that it's getting Newbery buzz and also that it's been selected as a Bluebonnet book for next year (the Texas state book award). The story is told by Ivan, in his distinct and wonderfully captured voice. This is a book that really makes me wonder. In recent discussions at work, it has come about that my boss is creeped out by monkeys - and I've been surprised to discover that she is not alone. The people I've talked to about this say that monkeys are so unsettling because they are so similar to us - too similar in their opinions. A book like this is not going to assuage their fears. But, for me - a person who finds the many similarities between our species fascinating rather than unsettling - this book is incredibly thought-provoking. Is this what a great ape's thoughts would sound like, if we had the ability to understand them? Are their desires and hopes different from ours? Or do they dream of the same things we do? The eloquence of Ivan's voice elevates this book, making it one of the most outstanding I've read this year. Applegate does a stunning job, using language to its fullest in her elucidation of Ivan's thoughts and hopes. It's sparse but complex, painting a vivid picture of the friendships that Ivan has developed and the love he feels for his companions. This is an emotional book, bringing laughter and tears, all with a satisfying conclusion. I completely loved this book, and I look forward to kids discovering it while reading next year's Bluebonnet titles. And I would not be surprised to see this book get some love from the Newbery committee. If you haven't read it yet, please do! I look forward to re-reading it many times.

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