"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

"People call me the Freeway Gorilla. The Ape at Exit 8. The One and Only Ivan. Mighty Silverback. 
The names are mine, but they are not me. I am Ivan, just Ivan, only Ivan."
The One and Only Ivan is...amazing.

Like Ivan, I enjoy "colorful tales with black beginnings and stormy middles and cloudless blue-sky endings," and Katherine Applegate has delivered just this.

Based upon the life of a real gorilla, The One and Only Ivan is a story of hope and resilience, love and friendshipApplegate has surrounded Ivan with a family of fictional characters to love -- Stella, Ruby and Bob -- and Julia -- whose character reminds me that children often see what adults cannot.

Applegate's writing is crisp and her powerful and spare choice of words
are evidenced in the entry headings -- mud, protector, knowing, names, patience, the promise --this is life as seen and interpreted by The One and Only Ivan. When Ivan refers to his cage as a "domain" it is not only what he understands, but it also speaks to his desire to hold onto that which was good, and we, the readers, can empathize with him. 

Oh, did I mention that Ivan is an artist?
  Applegate deftly brings the reader into Ivan's world, where he uses his art to capture the life he knew and to change the life he has.

Read the book.
Be inspired.
Want more information?
Visit the HarperCollins Webpage.

Ivan was not just an artist in the book, he was an artist in real life and he was not just a character in a book.
  Sadly, Ivan, the gorilla that inspired Katherine Applegate to write The One and Only Ivan, died this past week.
~Check out the blog post from Mr. Schu Reads where he writes about visiting Ivan and traveling with a plush Ivan this past summer.
~Read this article about Ivan.
~Watch this video:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Splendors and Glooms

This just in!

Splendor and Glooms 
"Splendors and Glooms is a thrilling adventure about fantoccini, or puppets, and magic.  Three unusual characters develop an unlikely friendship that is more important than any of them would ever predict.   Lizzie Rose, a proper young girl of 11, forgives easily and is very kind to many people.  Adopted by Grissini (a magician and master of fantoccini) from a workhouse when he was young, Parsefall isn’t exactly the nicest person, however he does have a streak of kindness. Clara, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Wintermute, has grown up in a house of mourning.  She had four brothers and sisters, however they died of cholera (before the story takes place). I would highly recommend this twisting tale of three children to anyone who likes adventure stories and magic."
~Clary, 5th Grader


The time: Sunday afternoon
The place: A transatlantic flight

Returning from two Internet-free, media-free weeks in France, I thought it would be fun to watch a movie.  I pulled out my headphones, plugged them into the jack, and presto! Out came... a sound akin to Ubbi Dubbi (which I learned from Zoom) spoken as in an episode from Star Trek where everything was in slow motion.  After trying a few things (we call that *troubleshooting* in the LMS world), I gave up.

LUCKILY, I always carry a few books. I happily settled into Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz.

Candlewick aptly refers to this book as a "Victorian Gothic thriller -- an enthralling, darkly comic tale that would do Dickens proud.

I find this story hard to write about without feeling the need to write *spoiler alert* everywhere so I will just say that I really enjoyed this book and that the next few hours flew by...no pun intended!

Here's what I can tell you:

I love the names.  It is a treat for the mouth and the mind to roll around interesting names while reading. Schlitz has chosen well. 

Clara Wintermute, whose lonely life is defined by the death of her siblings.
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, the half-starved and hard-working wards of Grissini.
Grissini, the master puppeteer, whose evil knows no bounds.

Cassandra, the witch, whose own magic is destroying her.

Without giving too much away, let me just say that these Names capture the essence of the characters and their stories while also helping set the story in 1860's Victorian London.
I love how the characters become fuller and how their stories came together.  Each character finds his or her strengths and comes to accept who he or she is.  The reader is slowly brought deeper and deeper into the secrets each characters holds and can therefore feel the joy when they are released from the burden of carrying these secrets.

I love the plot.
This is not a story for the faint of heart.  It is a Gothic thriller and a dark tale. 
Grissni's evil is real, but the fact that it is set in 1860's London will give young readers a distance from the story that will make it less scary. I did not want to stop reading the book to ensure that all would turn out well.

Silly, I know, but I love how the story is told in two parts, how these parts are named for the elements, and how they foretell the story.

I love when an author takes a title from a line of verse and introduces the book with it.  It helps me start making connections to the title, and who does not love a little Shelley to get one thinking? 
Want to know more?  Here's how Candlewick describes the book:

"The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack -- adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late."

I already have a few students in mind for this book.  Stay tuned for their reactions.

Reflections on a summer well spent

Each summer, I retreat to the mountains.
I spend it nestled in a valley of a extinct volcano...

In my parents' old farm house...
By a mountain stream.
I spend my summers reading and writing, but also:
Finding old toys...(no comments about hoarders here, please)
 Having fun with family members...

Doing puzzles... 
 Hiking mountains...
Cooking meals...
Listening to old albums...
And taking photographs...
of animals


and flowers
 those planted by the wind
And those planted by my mother

I love my summers
 In the mountains
Where I am
Surrounded by trees
Which frame my visual and physical world
And sing a melancholy song 
On windy days 
When their tall thin trunks to scrape together.

I love my summers
 In the mountains
Where I am 
Surrounded by skies
Which dance each night
in technicolor and perform a nightly ritual 
the undulating sea of mountains 
in purple.

I love my summers
 In the mountains
Where I am 
Surrounded by the river
Which an ice age
and 23,000 years of erosion

Has left exposed
A post-volcanic stew

of granitic magma and basalt.

I love my summers
For when I am in the mountains
it is always enough.

Inspired by Cynthia Rylant's book, When I was young in the mountains.