Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The One and Only Ivan - Teaching Writer's Craft

Over the summer, I read The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate because it was the Newberry Award winner for 2013.  I loved it so much that I decided that it should be one of our class's read-alouds this year and I am recommending it to everyone who reads YA books.

Here is a brief summary from the author's website:

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.

You're probably hooked already, but this book has so much more to offer third graders than a good story.   It's a sweet story (with nuances built in for adults).  It's filled with humor, but also prompts critical thinking.  There is character development.  There is suspense and surprise.  These traits help make The One and Only Ivan an award winner, but these traits can often be found in good books.

What is unusual about this book is the accessibility of the author's craft in writing this book.  The writing is spare.  Each sentence seems to be carefully crafted.  It is very clear that each sentence, each word, is important.  Ivan doesn't waste words, but he thinks humans do.  In fact, he says, "Humans waste words.  They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot."  Sentence formation is important.  There are complex and compound sentences, but there are also lots of short, simple sentences.

The book uses figurative language liberally.  It is almost poetic.  Applegate uses personification, similes and metaphors beautifully.  Here are just a few nuggets:

     "I liked having sips of soda poured into my mouth like a bubbling waterfall."

     "The [cake] frosting peaked and dipped like waves on a tiny pond."

Can't you just taste the sweets?

The One and Only Ivan is not told by a third person narrator, but is told from Ivan's point of view.  This forces the reader to consider how things appear to Ivan and if he agrees with Ivan or not.  It makes the reader think about the author choosing to tell the story as Ivan.

I have read and re-read this book.  I am looking forward to teaching with this book.  I just wish I had the funds for every third grader to have their own copy.

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