Wow. Just wow.
Katherine Applegate was recently awarded the 2013 Newbery Medal for most distinguished contribution to American Literature for Children for her book The One and Only Ivan. I completely agree. This may be one of the best books I've ever read.
Ivan is a silverback gorilla living in a run-down roadside circus mall (I know, I know, but these places really do exist) with Stella, a retired circus elephant, a stray pooch named Bob and a mishmash of other exotic animals. Just the idea of this makes my chest tighten and causes me to take in a deep breath. Then a baby elephant named Ruby arrives to join the group. What follows is one of the best and hardest stories of inter-species friendship I've come across.
There's a lot of tough stuff here. How do you feel about working animals? Do you have any opinions about the circus? What about treating animals as children? Any thoughts on cages? Zoos? Just some stuff to think about. I thought I had my opinions all squared away, but it's not that cut-and-dried for me. I tried to read this book with an open mind, recognizing that it's fiction based on some real events. There was a real Ivan who lived in Tacoma's "The World Famous B&I Circus Store" but this Ivan is his own, unique character and he is remarkable.
The book is written in short, one or two-page stories that often follow a chronological timeline, but not necessarily. I really liked this. It has sort of a "novel in verse" feel, if you're familiar with that genre. The illustrations are perfectly spaced and capture the best moments. And like I said, there's some tough stuff, but I found the ending very satisfying. It's equally as clever, memorable, devastating and life-affirming as any classic children's book. What's on your list? Charlotte's Web? The Wind in the Willows? Winnie the Pooh? The characters in this book have found a permanent home in my heart alongside Wilbur, Mr. Toad, Pooh and Piglet.