Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The One and Only Ivan - 2013 Medal

by Katherine Applegate,
read by Adam Grupper

What a fabulous book, and most deserving of the 2013 Newbery Medal!  I was both laughing and crying by its end.

"The One and Only Ivan," as the billboard on the interstate calls him, is a silverback lowland gorilla who's been living in a cage (he calls it his "domain") at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade for 9,855 days (as recorded by Ivan - 27 years).  His best friends are Stella, an aging elephant, and Bob, a stray dog who shares his cage at night.   He also interacts with Mack, his (and the mall's) owner; George the janitor; and George's daughter Julia.  He is an artist, drawing with crayons and paper Julia shoves through a hole in his cage, and later with markers and fingerpaints.

One day, though, a new baby elephant, Ruby, arrives, and everything changes...

Ivan narrates this touching story in very short chapters and sentences.  The print book is easy to read as a result, and is scattered with charming black-and-white illustrations by Patricia Castelao.  Actor Adam Grupper is marvelous on the audiobook as Ivan, with his rich, deep voice, but also creates unique voices for the other characters.

Katherine Applegate, probably best-known for the Animorphs series so popular with kids when my son was young (1990s), based Ivan on a real animal - the infamous "Ivan the Shopping Mall Gorilla," who spent 27 years alone in a small cage in a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington.  I was living in the Seattle area when Ivan was in the news, with a public outcry for a better home for him.  He eventually wound up in Zoo Atlanta and died in August 2012, just a few months after this book was published, at the age of 50 from a chest tumor.  The real Ivan did in fact fingerpaint.

This book was an excellent choice for the 2013 Newbery Medal.  The audiobook is recommended for ages 8-13, grades 3-7.  That's probably about the right age range, as some of the themes of the book might be difficult for younger children to handle.  The short chapters would make it work well for a read-aloud, and yet should not frustrate struggling readers.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook and a print copy were borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Giver - 1994 Medal

by Lois Lowry,
read by Ron Rifkin

This 1994 Medalist has become a classic - one of the most popular Newbery winners, and one that is frequently challenged in schools and libraries, for reasons ranging from “contains graphic themes,” and  “contains blasphemous ideas and content,” to “depicts ideas and actions that are inappropriate for young readers,” and “inappropriate for [elementary] grade level.”

In a nutshell:  Main character Jonas learns his utopian world is really dystopian.

In his community, everyone lives a regimented life.  Birth mothers produce children for other families, which created by matching compatible men and women.  Medication is taken to eliminate sexual desire.  Old people, babies that don't thrive, and other misfits are "released." No one - except Jonas, and he only a little - sees color.  And twelve-year-olds - which is what Jonas is about to be - are given "Assignments," matched to a career or more menial job best suited to their abilities and temperament.

Jonas is selected to be his community's next Receiver of Memory.  All memories of past events and sensations have gone to one person - and he is now the Giver (who can also see color), and will pass these on to Jonas.

In a 2004 interview, author Lois Lowry said she got the idea for The Giver when visiting her parents in a nursing home. Her father was still in good physical health, but his memory was failing. Her mother was physically ill, but her memory was intact.

"I would travel home with that in my mind, and I began to think a lot about the concept of memory. When it was time for me to begin a new book, I began to create in my mind a place and a group of people who had somehow found the capacity to control memory," Lowry said.

Many other life experiences influenced the plot, and Lowry talks about them in her Newbery acceptance speech.  I found interesting that the old man on the cover of my audiobook and print copy is actually a photo Lowry took of artist Carl Nelson when she wrote an article about him in 1979.  She described him as a man whose "capacity for seeing color goes far beyond" others - and he later became blind.

Some people don't like the book's ambiguous ending, but I'm fine with it.  I think it fits perfectly with the whole theme of memory.  For those who don't like it, though, Lowry has since written three companion books, the latest published just last year.

Broadway, movie, and television actor Ron Rifkin was okay as the audiobook narrator, better voicing male characters than female.  The background instrumental music played to emphasize important scenes was often too loud and distracting.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.  A paperback copy for reference was obtained secondhand.  It is signed by the author, "with love to those who read - remember - and GIVE," and dated 1994, so I'll be hanging on to it.  This review also appears on my blog, Bookin' It.]

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Single Shard - 2002 Medal

This seemingly-simple story is full of lovely imagery and characters to care about.

In an interview in a teacher's edition of this book, author Linda Sue Park said "three ideas - the pottery, family, and journey - are the basic threads of the story." Research on Korea for her earlier books showed "that in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Korea had produced the finest pottery in the world, better than even China's, and I decided to set my third novel in that time period," according to her Newbery acceptance speech.*

According to the interview, "the idea of crucial to Korean society: I made Tree-ear an orphan because I wanted to explore what family means to someone who has no blood relations.... I also wanted to write an adventure story because I loved reading them when I was young, and still do! I love traveling...So I knew right at the start that I wanted Tree-ear to go on an exciting journey." (And, according to her Newbery speech, her son, an admirer of Newbery Honor Book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, "wanted me to write an adventure story, a road book.")

In her author’s note at the end of the book, Park writes, “Every piece described in the book actually exists in a museum or private collection somewhere in the world.” Her website has some photos of celadon work and other items and locations that are mentioned in the book (spoiler alert), including the Thousand Cranes vase (also pictured below left).

I thought it was interesting that in her Newbery acceptance speech, Park, who is of Korean heritage but only visited the country as a child, thanks Simon Winchester, author of the bestseller The Professor and the Madman, about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, for his descriptions in his earlier book Korea: A Walk through the Land of Miracles, as his 1987 walk went on the route from Puyo almost all the way to Songdo.

She also credits 1966 Newbery Medalist I, Juan de Pareja, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. "In that book, the orphaned black slave Juan de Pareja becomes an assistant to the painter Velazquez and is eventually freed by his master, which enables him to pursue his own painting career. The ending speculates on how a certain Velazquez work came to be painted, just as [A Single] Shard speculates about that [Thousand Cranes] vase."

This is a quiet book that might take more than one reading to be fully appreciated (it did for me).  Kids probably won't pick it up on their own (the cover pictured above or at right don't help; a newer cover pictured below right is at least more attractive).  However, it would be a good addition to a study of Korea or Asia or pottery.

Graeme Malcolm is alright as the audiobook narrator, but I found his British accent - especially his pronunciation of "ate" as "et" - distracting.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

 [The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library. I also referred to a teacher edition print copy I own. A version of this review also appears in Bookin' It.  

*Park, Linda, "Newbery Medal Acceptance," Horn Book Magazine, July/August 2002, Vol. 78, Issue 4, pages 377-384.]
Thousand Cranes Vase  / CC BY-SA 3.0
Latest cover of A Single Shard

Monday, January 28, 2013

2013 Newbery Goes To...

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate.

Honor books are Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz, Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin, and Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage.

Bomb also won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, and the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal.