The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

March 24, 2013

Jeana Gockley: Newbery winner deserving of prize

JOPLIN, Mo. — In my January review, I talked about the soon-to-be-announced Newbery Medal and how I was hoping that the book I was reviewing -- "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio -- would win.

Alas, it did not. But honestly, after reading this year's winner -- "The One and Only Ivan" by Katherine Applegate -- I am OK with that.

The two books are vastly different, so instead of comparing apples to oranges, I will simply tell you why you should read this wonderfully engaging book, that also happened to win a big national award.

Ivan is a silverback gorilla. He has lived in his metal, glass and cement domain at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade for 27 years. He rarely misses the jungle where he was born. Most days he does not even think about it.

He is surrounded by friends: Stella, a wise and kind elephant; Bob, an energetic stray dog; and Julia, a human friend, whom he loves. Julia opens Ivan's eyes to the world through art.

Ivan is usually content with the things that are part of his everyday life. Mall patrons stare at him through his glass enclosure while he eats, watches TV and draws pictures of everyday objects such as bananas and bugs. He listens to Stella's stories and watches Julia draw pictures outside of his domain while her dad cleans the mall. Bob fall asleep on his chest most nights.

That is until one day when a sweet, baby elephant named Ruby is brought to live at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. It is with the help of her young elephant eyes that Ivan begins to see his world differently and seeks to change it.

A true story inspired Applegate to write this seemingly simple tale. Told through free verse, with multiple lines between sentences and paragraphs, it would be easy to mistake this book for something only an early elementary reader might enjoy.

But after delving into the subject matter, it is clear that this heartfelt, character-driven story was meant for older elementary and early middle-school readers. Applegate tackles tough issues such as captivity, cruelty and death with a sensitive hand, and her pacing is spot on.

While at times the story is tragic and sad, mostly it is inspirational, thought-provoking and gentle. This would be an excellent title to use to elicit discussion about human relationships with animals and why it is of the utmost importance to treat animals with love and respect.

The 2013 Newbery Medal Committee did a good job selecting "The One and Only Ivan" as the winner. I thank them for their hard work, and I highly recommend reading it.

Jeana Gockley is the children's librarian at Joplin Public Library.

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