Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #7)
Author: Katherine Applegate
Illustrator: Patricia Castelao
Age Range: 8-12
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: *****
First Sentence: I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks.
Ivan lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Living with Mack, the owner, for most of his life, Ivan has come to accept his circumstances and make the most of them by forgetting what little he remembers of his family and life in the jungle. His friends (Stella the elephant, Bob ‘a dog of uncertain heritage’, Julia the custodian’s daughter) are a comfort to him and all is well until a baby elephant arrives to help boost the failing circus’ revenue. Ruby is inquisitive, constantly pestering Ivan and the others for stories and answers to all of her questions. She inadvertently helps Ivan remember what his life was like before and the animals decide they must do what they can to make sure that Ruby has a better life than the one she’ll get in her small cage at the mall. Ivan has always been an artist, creating images out of mud when he was tiny and crayons and paint once Mack discovered that people would pay for a gorilla original. Ivan uses his talent (with a little help from Julia’s interpretations and understanding) to start a campaign to get them homes in zoos where they will have room to roam and grow.
Told in first person verse-like narrative, we see life through Ivan’s eyes and thoughts. We feel his pain as he is taken from his family and his longing for gorilla companionship and the taste of the wild again.
"Some animals live privately, unwatched, but that is not my life.
My life is flashing lights and pointing fingers and uninvited visitors. Inches away, humans flatten their little hands against the wall of glass that separates us.
The glass says you are this and we are that and that is how it will always be."**
“You could try remembering a good day, “ Stella suggest. ‘“That’s what I do when I can’t sleep.”
Stella remembers every moment since she was born: every scent, every sunset, every slight, every victory.
“You know I can’t remember much,” I say.
“There’s a difference,” Stella says gently, “between ’can’t remember’ and ‘won’t remember.’”
“That’s true,” I admit. Not remembering can be difficult, but I’ve had a lot of time to work on it.
The harsh realities of life are not glossed over. Humans are shown in light of their cruelty to animals. Death, neglect, ignorance; all are touched upon and a young sensitive reader might find it a bit too much. But it’s not graphic and opens the doors for great discussion and most will have their eyes opened to a reality they may not have otherwise imagined. And all is not dismal. There is much hope in the friendships and outlooks of the animals and many humans who seek to do right by them. The wise Stella even states:
“A good zoo is how humans make amends.”
Applegate uses Ivan’s memories to shed light on some of the gorilla’s habits and natural tendencies, particularly in family groupings, food, nurturing, displays of emotion, habitats etc. These are balanced nicely in the narrative giving readers some facts about the animals she’s humanized.
I loved Ivan’s story. While animals are definitely wild and not to be treated as anything but, that doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings and even personalities (anyone with a pet can attest to that fact.) By remembering they aren’t that different from us we might seek to treat them better than we do…there’s a fine line between giving them the respect they deserve and seeking to make them human. This is a simple yet powerful story of the rights of all creatures.
And I loved this quote by George Eliot found in the front:
~It's never too late to be what you might have been.
I think that might have to be my new mantra!
I hope everyone has a wonderful 4th of July tomorrow. For those of us here in the States it means a day off in the middle of the week full of cookouts and fireworks and basking in the sun (and by that I mean trying not to die of heat exhaustion!) But I will be enjoying it all from the comfort of my now air-conditioned house! That's right, the power is finally back on. Hooray for little miracles!!
I'll just warn you right now that there may be no book post tomorrow, but I'll give you two on Thursday to make up for it!
**apologies for the lack of page numbers here...I will remedy that as soon as have a copy in my hands again but I am way down at the bottom of a long hold list!