Genre: Social Issues

#AtoZchallenge: “V” is for Voices in the Park (2001) by Anthony Browne

#AtoZchallenge: “V” is for Voices in the Park (2001) by Anthony BrowneVoices in the Park by Anthony Browne
on May 22nd 2008
Genres: Nature & the Natural World, New Experience, Picturebooks, Social Issues

Four voices.

Four different perspectives of the same walk in the park.

A mother. A son. A father. A daughter. Two different families from two very different socio-economic backgrounds. Both families are walking their dogs.

The dogs meet and begin to play together. The children meet and begin to play together. What happens between the adults? Do they meet?

This story is a fantastic for showing young readers how we can see the same events and experience the same event, but yet have completely different responses. Our worldview and background shape how we respond to what happens around us, and even how we view other people.

Browne has illustrated and written a wonderful story illuminating the importance of looking beyond the surface, and appreciating a child-like way of viewing the world.

If you aren’t familiar with Browne’s visual style, you simple must get a hold of this book! I have used it with 3rd grade readers, among upper grades as well, and children have so many brilliant things to say about this story.

Are you familiar with Browne’s work? What is your favorite picturebook of his?

What Katie Read

The Impossible Knife of Memory (2014) by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Impossible Knife of Memory (2014) by Laurie Halse AndersonThe Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Published by Penguin on January 7th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Depression & Mental Illness, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 384

For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own. Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

Suggested age range: 13 and up

The Book: Navigating the halls of high school and taking care of a father suffering from PTSD after military time in the Middle East: this is what Haley Kincain is facing at the beginning of Anderson’s new book. Often in detention, Haley is depicted as a typical teenager who doesn’t want to be in school, and is cynical of adults and their attempts to be involved in her life. Can Haley handle the weight of her father’s PTSD and his tendency to drink on her own? When a boy at her school asks for her help with the “newspaper,” she at first refuses, but his persistence eventually results in a new friend. Intense at times, the narrative flashes back to Andy’s experiences in combat, providing a deeper glimpse into the source of his present condition in the story. Though it may seem as if the book is heading down a dark tunnel at first, this story does promise some light at its end.

Spirituality in Impossible Knife: The story highlights the importance of looking beneath the surface of appearances—a person may seem disrespectful, rebellious, and just downright cynical, but sometimes, there is hidden hurt responsible for this. I really didn’t like Haley at first, but she grew on me as the story progressed and I learned reasons why she acted the way she did. Her interactions with some of the adults in the story also reminded me that though we respond with kindness to those who are hurting underneath a façade, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will respond with vulnerability right away. It is persistent kindness and sensitivity that just might be the answer.

Who Should Read This Book: This is an important book, for both young adult and adult readers. Young adults with parents like Andy, might especially appreciate the book. Certainly, it’s an intense read, but it illuminates aspects of a condition that, in many ways, is still misunderstood. Additionally, the book shows how Haley’s dad’s PTSD affects his family and friends. Finally, if you enjoy Anderson’s other books, you should check it out. Whether you like it as much as her other books or not, I know I always enjoy comparing books by my favorite authors.

The Final Word: Though it was difficult for me to connect with Haley at many points in the book, I could still appreciate the way Anderson sensitively treats the issue of PTSD and traces its effects in those around the person suffering from it. I will say that Haley grew on me as the book progressed, and I especially liked the conclusion, but wished some of what transpires in the conclusion had began earlier. I adore Anderson’s work, but I didn’t like this book as much as some of her other work, like Speak, Chains, and Forge.

What Katie Read

A Silverback’s Promise: The One and Only Ivan

A Silverback’s Promise: The One and Only IvanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Published by Harper Collins on January 17th 2012
Genres: Animals, Apes, Monkeys, etc, Fantasy, Friendship, Middle Grade, Social Issues, Zoos
Pages: 336

Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal and a #1 New York Times bestseller, this stirring and unforgettable novel from renowned author Katherine Applegate celebrates the transformative power of unexpected friendships. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated novel is told from the point-of-view of Ivan himself. Having spent 27 years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.The One and Only Ivan was hailed as a best book of the year by Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Amazon, demonstrating it is a true classic in the making. In the tradition of timeless stories like Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan's unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope. An author's note depicts the differences between the fictional story and true events.Supports the Common Core State Standards

Suggested age range: 8 and up

When the Newbery winner was announced for 2012, and I realized I had not read the awarded book, I quickly remedied the situation and settled down to read Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. The story reminded me a little of The Magician’s Elephant, another fantasy novel you would do well to read, if you have not. Currently, we are reading Applegate’s book aloud in my 8th grade English classroom.

First, however, a few words about Ivan.

“I was born in a place humans call central Africa, in a dense rain forest so beautiful, no crayons could ever do it justice.”

Ivan is a gorilla. He is a friend to an elephant and a stray dog, an observer of humans, and an artist. He lives in a mall.

“I have been in my domain for nine thousand eight hundred and fifty-five days. Alone.”

If you haven’t met Ivan, you can expect your life to be changed when you do. This novel about a gorilla who lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video arcade is truly a winner. It’s heartbreaking and hopeful. It’s humorous and moving. It is a work of children’s literature that will engage your heart—it is a story with the potential to nurture the spirit of the reader.

“I know what most humans think. They think gorillas don’t have imaginations. They think we don’t remember our pasts or ponder our futures.”

Ivan is no ordinary gorilla. He watches television, spends time with his dear friends, Stella, an old elephant who also performs at the mall, and Bob, a stray dog. The trio bond as each day illuminates the same routine—show after show, day after day–for the humans who come to view the animals. Stella is an important figure to Ivan as she mentors, encourages, and challenges him.

“Stella says she is sure I will see another real, live gorilla someday, and I believe her because she is even older than I am and has eyes like black stars and knows more than I will ever know.”

Furthermore, Ivan is an artist. He loves to draw, and his drawings catch quite a penny in the mall gift shop. In this first person narrative, Ivan’s thoughts and observations about the world reflect a character we quickly grow to love.

At one point in the story, the animals realize a new arrival is on its way—another friend to join them. When Ruby, a young elephant arrives, Ivan takes it upon himself to be her protector. With Stella’s encouragement, Ivan begins to wonder whether there is another life for Ruby—a life beyond the monotony of performing for humans at the mall in show after show, day after day. Will Ivan’s friendship and his artistic creations be enough to help Ruby?

“ ‘I’ve always been an artist. I love drawing.’ ‘Why do you love it?’ Ruby asks. I pause. I’ve never talked to anyone about this before. ‘When I’m drawing a picture, I feel…quiet inside.’”

How will the different relationships Ivan has cultivated at the mall change as the story unfolds? These are questions for you, dear reader, to ponder as you experience Applegate’s novel. Rather than share my thoughts about the end of the novel, I will refrain, so that you can be surprised.

The One and Only Ivan raises multiple significant themes, including the idea that compassion for others leads to action and intervening on their behalf. The story suggests that expressing our creativity in surprising ways can lead to transformational experiences that bring hope and love to others. The relationships among the characters communicates the idea that our connections with others are vital, life changing and can affect us in ways we do not expect.

You will surely want to meet The One and Only Ivan, winner of this year’s Newbery medal.

What Katie Read
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