Friday, May 31, 2013

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Summer reading has begun!  I love summer reading with my kids and they love to hear me read to them.  Of course I only pick books that I am also interested in reading, some I've previewed and some are new to all three of us.  The first book this summer was The One and Only Ivan  by Katherine Applegate.  I saw this book reviewed in several places and the reviews were all very positive. 
The One and Only Ivan is a fictional story based on real life events.  Ivan is a real gorilla who was captured as an infant in the Congo.  He lived for nearly thirty years in a circus themed shopping mall in Washington state.  After public outcry brought attention to the far less than ideal living conditions of the animals, Ivan was moved to a real zoo, Zoo Atlanta, where he lived with others of his kind to the ripe old age of 50.  He died just last August 20th.   
The fictional story is told from Ivan's point of view.  Ivan describes the mall, it's visitors, and his friends, both human and animal.  These friends include a small dog who claims to be a homeless wanderer, an elderly female elephant and, new to the mall, a baby female elephant.  As for Ivan's experience with humans, there is Mack, the mall owner, George, the mall janitor, and Julia, George's daughter.  Ivan tells the story of his long journey from Africa, the family he lost there, and how he came to live in the mall. 
One of the things I loved about this book is that Ivan can perfectly understand the humans.  He is disappointed that he cannot make them understand him.  When I was in elementary school, our class went on a field trip to the zoo.  They have since remodeled into a beautiful primate exhibit.  The day of our field trip, however, we were walking through the interior of the exhibit where we could see into the gorillas' inside habitats.  One gorilla was sitting with his back to the glass, ignoring the visitors.  My mother looked at him and said, "Wow.  He looks like he could break right through that glass if he wanted to."  Immediately after she said this, the large gorilla turned toward the glass and gave it a very loud hit.  We all jumped a good two feet in the air.  It's a funny story now, but it does make one wonder if that gorilla had understood her and was just confirming that yes, he could break through if he wanted.
As we have well established here, I am a crier.  This book more than accommodated me in that respect.  Reading aloud to my children, I occasionally had to stop for a tissue or three.  Neither my 6-year-old nor my 9-year-old joined me in my tears, but they both agreed that the situations were sad.  I think this is a wonderful book for teaching children compassion.  It also gives children a view of the outside world they may not have previously experienced.  I had to explain poaching and the grotesque market for the animal's body parts.  They were astonished that someone would want a gorilla hand in their home as a decoration or an ashtray.  I share in that bewilderment.  I also explained to them that even in our own country, animals are not always treated humanely.  I was able to ask them questions such as, "If you were an animal do you think you would like living in a cage?"  "Do you think that animals should be cared for and allowed to live in the most comfortable conditions possible?"  I also explained the difference in a Good Zoo and a Bad Domain (as does Ivan in the book).  This was the perfect book to begin our Summer Reading and I would absolutely recommend you add it to your list. 
We love Ivan.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

The second installment in the All Souls Trilogy is Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness.  What I like most about this series is that it is smart.  The characters are smart and the author assumes that the reader has a somewhat high level of intelligence.  Not all authors do that.  I've read enough to know.
  Shadow of Night  follows Diana Bishop as she continues to pursue her magical education.  Only one problem: there is no one who can safely teach her, not in this time anyway.  Where A Discovery of Witches  is a wonderful magical novel surrounding witches, vampires and demons, Shadow of Night  becomes a historical novel following those same creatures in a time in which they aren't thought of as mythical.  The possibility of walking into a witch hunt becomes a very real and very dangerous possibility. 
While I know many people have become fatigued with stories of vampires, let me assure you this is very different.  I love that Diana Bishop is a very strong female character.  She stands up for herself and seems to know her own strength and worth.  That alone makes this series different.  These books are also fantastically complex.  There are dozens of characters and so many twists and turns that I am surprised I can keep up.  As I said, the Ms. Harkness expects her readers to be intelligent and her books are so much the better for it. 
The final book of the trilogy is not yet out and I am waiting anxiously for it.  There is no release date as of yet and so I must be patient.  I know once I get word that it will be published, I will have to go back and reread the first two installments.  Luckily for me they were so wonderful that won't be a chore at all.  I actually can't wait to read them again!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore

I love it when a book grabs me as a reader and won't let go.  This month's book club selection did just that.  The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat  by Edward Kelsey Moore follows Odette, Barbara Jean and Clarice over four decades of friendship.  They weather all their storms together- cheating husbands, the loss of a child, cancer and crazy fake fortune tellers.  These are friends every woman wishes to have.  "We overlooked each other's flaws and treated each other well, even when we didn't deserve it."

I laughed my way through this book and as usual, I cried a little, too.  This was a very quick read, it took me only four evenings to finish.  I wish I could tell you more, but I'm afraid if I were to start, I wouldn't be able to stop myself!  I can't recommend this book enough.  I will be shocked it we aren't hearing very soon about a film version in production.  It is really wonderful.