I try to read the Newbery Award winner each year, and this morning, I finished reading Katherine Applegate's beautiful story, The One and Only Ivan.
I knew very little about the story going into it, but a few of my colleagues had been raving about it, so I had high expectations. The story did not disappoint. The One and Only Ivan tells the tale of a western lowland gorilla who lives in a shopping mall as part of a circus-themed display. While he's close friends with a stray dog named Bob who has made his way into the mall and an elephant who is also part of the circus act, his life is largely characterized by loneliness. He's never really had the chance to live among other gorillas, and he realizes that he and his elephant friend, Ruby, deserve a better life than what's available in the shopping mall. It's a touching tale of love and understanding and the sometimes misguided ways we express that.
While most of the events in the story are completely fictitious, there was a real Ivan who lived in the B & I Department Store in Tacoma, WA for nearly thirty years before eventually being relocated to the Atlanta Zoo. I live in Atlanta, so I've seen Ivan a couple times, but he passed away last fall. You can learn more about the real Ivan at Zoo Atlanta's website. They also have this amazing YouTube video of Ivan at the Zoo.
I would highly recommend this book to teachers and students, but I have to give a warning if you're considering this as a read-aloud. I cried off-and-on for the last third of the story and went in to full-on sobbing mode when I finished the book. It was so touching and beautiful! Even though I know what's coming, I doubt I could hold it together in front of my students in a read-aloud. I'll probably introduce this in a book talk, but the students will have to read it independently from there. I should also point out that it's a very quick read. I'm a slow reader, but I was able to finish this in 2-3 hours.
If you haven't yet read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, you should definitely give it a read. I promise you won't regret it.
What children's books have you been reading lately? I'd love some recommendations for next reads in the comments!