The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Here is the author’s website which includes an enthralling video book trailer and information about the real Ivan. There are other fan-made trailers available on YouTube.

Discussion guide is available for download on the Harper Collins publisher website.

Summary: (from Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope


Personal Reaction: I loved it. It was extremely moving. (I did hope for more illustrations, they were so well done. Reminded me again of Flawed Dogs by Breathed or The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by DiCamillo). Very simple chapter breaks so you can read as much or as little as you want each day. Try knuckle walking for five minutes!

Any Cautions: Reading aloud to kids younger than 4th grade might cause distress for the death involved and brief discussion & display of cruelty to circus animals, so use your judgment as to age sensitivity.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Animal rights/welfare; responsibility for caring for your pets; here’s an interesting article about animal artists / art – this is a good time to showcase your drawing instruction books (like Draw 50 Animals  by Ames); discussion of elements of a story – how the simplest of illustrations move stories along.

Connections to other books: Saving Lilly by Peg Kehret, Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby (this one contains fearful scenes of animal testing); Jackie’s Wild Seattle by Hobbs; nonfiction about zoos – I don’t know of anything for kids grades 4-6, but there might be some, short nonfiction on topics like zoo enclosures, zoo doctors, etc.; books like Amazing Gorillas and Elephants.

Items to display with book: Crayons, markers, paints and paper; stuffed gorilla, small dog and elephant; photos of the real Ivan or a silverback gorilla, reproductions of Ivan billboard signs

Food items connected to story: Bananas, carrots, Pepsi, apples, oranges, cake with chocolate frosting, yogurt raisins (animal fare);  soft pretzels, popcorn, hotdogs, pink cotton candy, lemonade, ice cream cones (circus fare) *You could be gross and serve me-ball meatballs!


Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story by Adam Rex

Here’s the author’s website  which includes three videos (2 “Vampire Hunters” shorts and one infomercial for “Re-Vamp”). I did not find any book trailers online, but this video is a Skype interview with the author about writing the book.

Summary: Doug is turned into a vampire by another newbie vampire crazed with bloodlust. That vampire is hot, Doug is not and is now worried about spending all eternity as a dweeb. While trying to find a balance to his new life without hurting anyone, his best friend Jay tries to help him sift through the myths. Meanwhile, Sejal is a new guest student from India who is trying to forget an incident from her previous addiction to the Internet and make a new, “good” life for herself in the States. Doug becomes obsessed with Sejal. Doug is tracked by the production crew of a reality tv show “Vampire Hunters.” Things go wrong.

Personal Reaction: The good – I had no idea that the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” was still captivating the teen set after all these years. There’s typical adolescent obsession with who-likes-whom and it is not much of an issue whether the couples are hetero- or homosexual. There are dead and undead with various orientations. The bad – I thought maybe I might be able to like Doug’s character… but then I never really did, so it’s hard for me to praise the story. I was practically wanting to reach into the book and beat him with a stick for being so slow in the bloodmobile. He has constant foot-in-mouth disease when it comes to treating Jay with true friendship. I actually liked Sejal’s storyline more than Doug’s.

Any Cautions: The f-word is used (not often, but enough), a few instances of underage drinking.

Curriculum or discussion topics: online & offline bullying, LGBT lit, internet addiction

Items to display with book: vampire fangs, Rocky Horror poster, vlog/blog example, civil war soldier photo, stuffed bat or wolf, fake tv commercial or print ad for “Vampire Hunters,” and theater bulletin for “West Side Story”

Food items connected to story: pizza, any red liquid beverage will do (V-8, dark punch, etc.)

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

Here’s the author’s website  which includes a professional book trailer.

Here’s an additional link to the “Meet the Author” video on

Summary: Frannie is a worrier. When her teacher presents a poem with the line “Hope is the thing with feathers,” the line sticks with her. Her mom and brother seem to know exactly what it means. As she puzzles out the process of growing up within a community divided by a highway into black neighborhoods & schools and white neighborhoods & schools, a new white boy arrives in her class. His long brown hair sparks the nickname “Jesus Boy” and Frannie and her best friend Samantha discuss what it would mean if he really was Jesus and why Jesus would want to come to their neighborhood anyway. Jesus Boy becomes a bully’s target but Frannie is hesitant to intervene.

Personal Reaction: Audiobook narrator, Sisi Aisha Johnson, was excellent. I just love Woodson, this book doesn’t disappoint.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Music – “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel is featured in the story with discussion of bridging the gap between the black and white worlds on either side of the highway; bullying; poetry – “Hope is the thing with…” have students select an ending to that thought and describe why or write a poem on a theme of hope

Connections to other books: Books on The 1970s era, Black Panthers, music, etc.; books on Sign Language; poetry by Emily Dickinson and a selection of black poets or teen poets would be good too, like Quiet Storm: Voices of Young Black Poets; other books by JWoodson, especially the Maizon series. Go through your library and pull any book with hope in the title and spread them around!

Items to display with book: Large feather, baby diapers or stork delivery figurine, afro pick with black power fist

Food items connected to story: Rice, Hamburgers, Fried chicken, goulash

Welcome Home by Billi Tiner

Welcome Home

author’s blog includes video trailer, but it’s easier to find on YouTube

Summary: Jake has a puppyhood dream of the kindest man in the world being his owner. However, he is given away to a cruel man who beats him instead. He escapes the abuse only to be temporarily loved by a homeless woman, set upon by a gang of dogs, makes a few animal friends, and is hit by a car.

Personal Reaction: Simple story for young children who can tackle a chapter a day (167 page book) – I don’t know if I can recommend it as a bedtime story given some of the imagery. It’s going to be fine for 1st to 3rd graders, as long as they’re not oversensitive to the fact that people aren’t always nice to their pets (you can be assured it will turn out well because of the title). Another self-published book that could use editorial eyes, though as a read aloud/along it shouldn’t be an issue. For older kids, grades 4 and up, I much prefer the depth and richness of Flawed Dogs by B. Breathed. Both involve dogs talking about death, neglectful owners, and both even involve shootings.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Possible use as an elementary read for a class that’s taking a field trip to the pound or having an animal control officer or animal charity rep come to speak, or maybe taking up items/collections for a local animal group need.

Connections to other books: There are lots of good pet stories out there… Animal Ark Series series by Baglio, Runt by Bauer, One Small Dog by Hurwitz, Love That Dog (poetry) by Creech, Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog’s Tale by Myers

Items to display with book: Dog stuff – collar, squeaky toys, bowl; cast iron toy truck; stuffed dogs (and a cat)

Food items connected to story: I doubt you’d be serving dog food, but there are plenty of stews you could try to make your kids laugh and cookies you could bake into dog biscuit shapes. The dog and his homeless companion visit 3 restaurants (pizzaria, bar-b-que and bar&grill) for food, but no special dishes are mentioned.

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

Original date reviewed: 4/8/03

Award: Newbery Honor book, ALA Notable Book

Author’s Website

Here’s a curiously non-descriptive book trailer from the author; this one’s cuter but makes the book’s audience seems a bit young…

Summary: Primrose is having her own Series of Unfortunate Events. Her parents are lost at sea, her guidance counselor thinks she’s trying to kill herself (and small animals), and her babysitter is losing her mind. Her Uncle Jack loves her in a real-estate agent kind of way (very charming), but she firmly believes that this is all temporary because her parents aren’t dead – just marooned. Her best advocate is a chain smoking cook/owner of The Girl on the Red Swing, the only place that Primrose can speak plainly and remain connected to the memory of her mother’s cooking.

Personal Reaction: I liked the language tone and form that Primrose uses – precious or precocious? Either way, it’s logical and straightforward. I don’t know if this will appeal to many unless they can keep the right tone playing in their minds as they read. However, I busted a gut (seriously) laughing when Primrose accidentally sets her new guinea pig on fire. It was the matter-of-fact tone of the statement that did it to me.

Any Cautions:  Be sensitive to orphaned or foster children & victims of storm damage

Suitable for Read Aloud? Yes

Points for discussion with children:  orphans, foster children, cooking/recipes, real estate sales, guidance counselors

Possible classroom uses: Just an entertainment read – no curriculum tie-in – unless you want to include it in books where a main character BELIEVES in something no one else does.

Connections to other books? Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events books – though I think this is funnier! Any of the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery would be successful with lovers of this book!

Realia: stuffed Guinea Pig, yellow rain slicker, cookbook, knit sweater, fake hand with tip of pinky missing, fake foot with small toe missing, photographs of beach front businesses or townhouses

Food items connected to story: (this story is full of recipes) waffles, boiled potatoes, carrots in an apricot glaze, asparagus, lemon sugar cookies, tea biscuits, caramel apples, cinnamon rolls, chocolate covered nuts, pear soup, tuna noodle casserole, shepherd’s pie, butterscotch chow mein noodle cookies, cherry pie pork chops, Polynesian skewers