It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

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“It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. It’s a great way to keep track of what you’re reading and see what others are reading!

Right after the Newbery Awards were announced, and I mean the day after, my good friend and colleague Audrey (whose intelligent and fabulous blog is here) handed me two books: the book that won the Newbery medal for 2013, and a book that apparently surprised a lot of people by not winning a recognition.  I came late to this party and read neither book until after the awards. But I’m glad I that took the time to do so.

First, I read the winner:  The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Based on a true story of a gorilla who was kept in a cage in a shopping mall “zoo” for 27 years, Ivan can be an emotionally challenging read.  My friends and I have discussed that this might be a better choice for a whole class novel or a read-aloud than for independent reading for young students.  Any child with a sensitive heart will most likely struggle with the descriptions of animal cruelty. The subject matter is moving and important, however; some great conversations could begin around this story. Although no scenes in the book are graphic, Applegate’s ability to cut directly to the emotional essence of a situation kept Ivan’s story in my head long after I closed the book.

The style of this chapter book is poetic; there are no wasted words. Even though the target audience is upper elementary or intermediate school, any writer can appreciate the simplicity and beauty of Applegate’s prose.  Carefully placed illustrations add to what the narrator, a silverback gorilla, can’t explain to the reader.

The book is about friendship and courage and communication and art.  Ivan’s artistic talent, quite lucrative for the shopping mall, is also his means of encouraging his friends, preserving his story, and effecting much-needed change.

Stories, whether in words or finger-paint, hold great power. Let us, like Ivan, use our stories to hope.

Next I read the book that must have been recommended to me at the TCTELA at least 16 times:  Wonder by RJ Palacio

August, the protagonist of this novel, is about to start 5th grade. He has never attended a “regular” school before due to a severe facial deformity caused by a genetic condition.  The book chronicles Auggie’s first year in school as he faces his own insecurities, the fears of his classmates, and the unexpected love and courage of friends.

One of the aspects of this book that I especially loved is the manipulation of point of view.  The book is a multiple narrator novel; so, although the protagonist is in 5th grade, three other narrators (including Auggie’s older sister Olivia) are in high school and allow us to view Auggie’s situation from multiple angles. We learn not just how the main character feels, but the far-reaching effects of his life and his condition. The reader not only feels empathy for Auggie but also for the people who surround him and love him and who are all dealing with insecurities of their own.

We are considering using this book for an all-school read at my high school. This should start some powerful conversations about kindness, courage, and perspective.

The best quote (in my opinion) from the book:

“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”

What are your reading plans for this week?

Ivan and Wonder

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