Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

One of my favorite books of 2012, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, is freshly relevant, after the death of the real Ivan in August.  After reading Applegate’s verse novel, you may also enjoy following the adventures of a toy Ivan with Mr. Schu, author of the excellent book blog Mr. Schu Reads.  (Grade level 4+)

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In addition to being an overall wonderful book, there are several specific elements which will make it useful in the classroom. First, it is fiction inspired by a true story, and that combination of research and invention is a valuable skill that is rarely emphasized in traditional curricula. Second, the author has found a form that is halfway between prose and poetry which perfectly suits the narrating character’s personality, and she occasionally varies that form to great dramatic effect. Third, although the bad guy is clearly doing the wrong thing, the book also shows that there may be complicated reasons leading to such mistakes. Finally, like Charlotte’s Web, this is a story that deploys animals to teach humans how to care for others; in Ivan, however, the human characters participate in the animals’ big plan a little more actively (including facing a situation just as complex and difficult as the bad guy’s, but this time making a sacrifice and doing the right thing), suggesting that it is essential for people to take responsibility to translate the lesson of a book into real-life change. Definitely a Newbery 2013 contender.

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