The One and Only Ivan


The One and Only Ivan (hardcover)

by Katherine Applegate

AR Level 3.6, 4 points

*I have to admit that when I finished this book, I completely forgot to blog about it, so I am predating this entry to reflect when i took my AR test.  I also have to say that my recollection of this story might be a little fuzzy since it was nearly a month ago.

The One and Only Ivan is the story of a male silverback who lives in a mall with an elephant and a stray dog.  He has memories of his life as a wild gorilla in Africa, as well as his parents’ murder and his sister’s kidnapping and death.  He has become a lazy sort of gorilla, and completely misunderstood.  However, he values his friendships, particularly with an elephant in the pen next to him.  Ivan experiences love and loss, and has memories and emotions not unlike humans’ experiences.

What I liked about this book was the realness of living in captivity from the perspective of the animals actually experiencing it.  I love zoos and basically anywhere I can see animals up close.  I realize these animals have been taken from their natural habitats, but I rarely consider whether they had families they left behind, or if they are happy, or if they actually love and respect their keepers.  I see a cute animal and want to observe it.  Now, obviously, this story was written by a human and not a gorilla, but it put captive animals’ possible thoughts into perspective.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it makes me not want to go to zoos anymore, even though in the end, the zoo was the happy medium.  I would hate it if the animals I enjoy looking at had to experience what Ivan experienced.  Deep, I know.  I apologize for the cheesiness of this post, but while it was a good book, it didn’t grab me like others have.

Book 29 of 30




Smile (paperback)

by Raina Telgemeier

AR Level 2.6, 1 point


This book comes at the request of one of my students.  When I set my basket on the table and asked them to choose “must reads” for me over the summer, he put Smile into the basket, and then chose Drama by the same author.  I didn’t ask him why he chose these two books, but because of this particular student, I accepted the request.  I also had seen the books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble (aka Mecca), and the woman who works there said it was a good book.

So this is the story of a girl named Raina Telgemeier.  I have to assume that since the author shares her name, it is autobiographical.  It is set during the late eighties in San Francisco.  Raina is a seventh grader and falls after a girl scouts meeting and knocks her two front teeth out.  It is obviously very painful, but also mortifying as a junior high student to be missing teeth.  The story follows her for several years through her many procedures to fix her teeth.  We also witness her struggle with the pains of puberty, her first crushes, and viciously mean girls.  The story has a happy ending when her teeth are fixed.

What I liked about this book was that it was all written as a comic book!  Is that what brought it down to a 2.6 reading level?  Because I really don’t see a second grader reading about zits, crushes, and broken, bloody teeth.  In the story, Raina wants to become an animator and shows interest in art.  It would make sense that she achieved her dream and is now a graphic novelist.  Another thing I liked was that Raina struggled with her self-image and had mean, mean friends.  As a reader, we look at her and know that she should be happy with who she is, and we want her to see that her friends are awful and she deserves better.  As a tween?  It’s not so easy to think the same when in her situation.  I appreciate books with a strong, relatable moral.

As a bonus, the website comes with a comic designer so you can continue the story with Raina.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was a 2.6 level.  I’ve said before that it’s hard for me to get through easy books, and this was one of them.  I think there are ways it could have been more challenging, but I also see that the author was writing it from Raina’s perspective, so of course she’s not going to use 50-cent vocabulary words.

Book 21 of 52




by Cynthia Lord

AR Level 3.9, 4 points

Newbery Honor


I was in search of a book to teach tolerance for my class at the beginning of the year.  Sixth grade is a mysterious year.  They seem to grow a foot over the summer, some boys’ voices start to change, girls suddenly care about what they look like, and the room smells… not the fifth grade “I needed to start using deodorant 3 months ago” smell, but Axe and fruity Dollar Tree body spray start being applied by the gallon.  What isn’t so mysterious is that kids start noticing each other, and they start to see differences.  So, I thought that a book about being tolerant of others and secure with ourselves would be a good way to start the year, and since Rules has gotten such great reviews, what better way to start?

This is a story about a girl named Catherine.  Her younger brother, David, has autism, and she longs to have a “normal” brother and a “normal” family.  To help her brother, she makes a list of rules and social cues for him to follow, but these rules seem to help her as much as they help him.  Catherine is excited to make friends with her new neighbor, a girl her own age who appears to be in a higher social category, due to her hair, make up, and relationship with Ryan, the cool boy and David’s bully.  One day at David’s OT, Catherine befriends Jason, a boy in a wheelchair who relies on PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System).  The author never specifically mentions what disability Jason has, but he is in a motorized wheelchair and cannot speak, although he can hear what is going on as well as a non-disabled teenager would.

Throughout the story, Catherine struggles:  she feels burdened by having to watch David, because he is a handful and embarrasses her.  However, she also struggles with people bullying or not understanding him.  She finds a special friendship with Jason, but she doesn’t want her friends to make fun of him, or her for their relationship.  In the end, Catherine has to realize that she is the one who needs to change her point of view.

What I liked about this book was the insight into the life of someone living with someone with autism.  Was that a confusing sentence?  I am starting my 13th year teaching.  I taught a special day class for a few years in there.  I have had many, many students with autism in general and special education, but it wasn’t until this past year that I had a student with a sibling with autism.  Depending on the needs of the child, it can be especially hard on the siblings and other family members.  Catherine struggled, and I like that her friends were more understanding than she was, and they helped her to be more accepting.  I think this would be a good book for students to read, and I plan to discuss it in detail.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it could have been longer or more detailed.  I thought Ryan needed another lesson in being respectful.  Kristi was able to show her tolerance and acceptance, but Ryan wasn’t really given a chance to redeem himself.

Here’s what I’m starting to realize… I love children’s books, but I don’t love all of them.  I am really disappointed when the theme is good but the content isn’t challenging, or when it leaves me wishing it was better.  I kind of felt that way with this book.  It had the well-developed main character, I appreciated the message, but it didn’t leave me wanting more.  I stayed up a little past my bedtime to finish it, but I didn’t wake up wishing I hadn’t.  I’m also currently reading How To Train Your Dragon and The Life of Billy Miller and, I’m getting that same feeling about both, which is why I had to put those down and pick up something different.  I think I’m becoming an even pickier reader than I already am!

Book 18 of 52

File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents


File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents (hardcover)

by Lemony Snicket

(Too new for an AR quiz!)

This is an addition to the All the Wrong Questions Series, not one of the series of 4.  It is a set of “incidents” Lemony Snicket investigated while in Stain’d By the Sea.  Some of the characters are familiar (because they were in the first book), and some I’d never heard of.  You didn’t have to read the other books of the series to understand this book, but I’m sure it would have helped.  I have read “Who Could That Be At This Hour,” and I plan to pick up “When Did You See Her Last” as soon as summer vacation begins.  His third installment is supposed to be out this September, if I remember correctly.

What I liked about this book was, of course, Snicket’s humor.  I cannot get past his sarcasm and play on words.  His puns keep me rolling, and I’m constantly reading bits and pieces aloud to my husband, who either rolls his eyes or suppresses a chuckle (as not to give me the satisfaction of humoring him).  The fact that there is a company named Ink Inc. and a rocking chair store named Cozy’s (who is is suggested, should sell items like bubble bath, blankets, and pictures of kittens) makes me want more.  I will be the first to admit that I have a fifth grader’s sense of humor.

What I didn’t like about this book was the lack of connectedness.  The only book of short stories I can recall reading is by Edgar Allan Poe, and he didn’t really leave me wanting more.  13 Suspicious Incidents is a series of mysterious events requiring Snicket’s expertise in asking only a question or two to solve the mystery.  It was good, of course, but again, not A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Book 6 of 52

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane


The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (paperback)

by Kate DiCamillo

AR Level 4.4, 2 points

A friend recommended that I read this book.  She said she’d read it to her class in the past, and her students were able to predict the ending, but she thought something different would have happened.  That caught my attention- there must be something about the way kids related to the story compared to how we as adults do.  It follows the journey of a vain “toy” bunny (don’t let him catch me calling him a toy) as he grows and changes emotionally when his world is turned upside down.  He starts off in the home of Abilene, a little girl who loves and treasures him.  He was given to her by her mysterious grandmother, Pellegrina.  When they are separated, he goes from hand to hand and learns the value of LOVE.  He has several heartbreaking losses (some more heartbreaking than others), and you feel his pain each time because of DiCamillo’s awesome ability to personify this bunny.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say that the happiness or sadness of it is all about your perspective and emotional ties to the characters.  However, the theme is powerful, and summed up by the quote, “If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless.”

What I liked about this book:  I haven’t read a Kate DiCamillo book before, but I enjoy her style of writing.  She is incredibly descriptive, and you have as much disgust for Edward as distrust for Pellegrina as the author meant for you to have.  You can see the flecks of gold in the little girl’s eyes and smell the dump or taste the salty ocean water.  I also enjoyed the way DiCamillo used short, precise sentences and phrases to make her point.  Something about the writing made me want to keep reading, even over the character description and desire to see what became of Edward.

What I didn’t like about this book:  There was something that happened in this book that didn’t sit right with me.  Everyone has their thing that makes them uncomfortable or upset or distressed and prevents them from enjoying the book or movie, whether it’s cruelty to animals, foul language, etc.  Suicide is one for me (although not the case in this book).  The particular event in this story made me cry big fat tears, and while I finished the book, it really took away from the meaning behind it, because I was so distressed about what happened.  For most, it would probably be no big deal, though.  I’d say that overall, the message of the book is powerful, and worth the read.

Thank you for recommending and lending me this book, Megan!

Book 4 of 52




by Sharon Creech (paperback)

AR Level 5.0, 2 points

Heartbeat follows a girl named Annie, about 12 years old, over a time period of about 9 or so months.  Annie has many worries that plague her, but she is a thoughtful, determined (sometimes stubborn) young girl who keeps a lot to herself.  She has a best friend named Max, and they share a passion for running, but have very different views of their places in life.  Annie is given several assignments, and she demonstrates a maturity beyond her years when completing them, while learning more about herself.

What I loved about this book was the way it was written.


Whole story

Was written as

a series of


Instead of chapter titles, there are poem titles.  This teaches the reader about a different form of writing.  You don’t have to write a story in paragraph or comic form, and there was so much figurative language, especially metaphor and onomatopoeia.  Poetry is a new genre to many of my students, and hopefully it is seen as an option when completing writing assignments.  (Note to self: assign more writing assignments using poetry.)

I also loved that Annie was such a real character with real problems and real joys.  She was able to reflect on her experiences and seemed to know herself pretty well.  While some might see her as not fitting in, she showed maturity, and did not let anyone push her around.  She is a generous, giving young woman, as well, and was not afraid to speak her mind.

And I loved the apple art lesson!  It made me want to buy a Costco bag of apples for school tomorrow.

While there isn’t much I didn’t like about this book, it didn’t hook me as much as other books have.  It was good.  I have no complaints.  It just isn’t in my top 10.  I would recommend reading it for the reasons listed above, especially for the experience with an entire book written in poetry!

BOOK 2 OF 52

All the Wrong Questions “Who Could That Be at This Hour?”

All the Wrong Questions: “Who Could That Be at This Hour?”

by Lemony Snicket (hardcover)

AR Level 5.5, 6 points

I am a huge fan of Lemony Snicket.  If I had to compare, he would be my Johnny Depp of authors.  Meaning, I’m a fangirl and would probably squeal like a sixth grader at a One Direction concert if I ever actually got to meet him.  Hopefully, if I ever do get the pleasure, I’ll show some restraint as not to embarrass myself TOO much.

I have been recommending A Series of Unfortunate Events to my students for many years.  I usually read “The Bad Beginning” to my class and then let the awesome writing take over, and I don’t see any of my books until the end of the year when they have to turn them in (begrudgingly).  So when I found out (from a former student, no less) that he was coming out with a prequel, I was, of course, excited.

“Who Could That Be at This Hour?”  is book one, and the main character is an adolescent Lemony Snicket.  We follow him as he starts out his apprenticeship solving the case of the Bombinating Beast in a town called Stain’d by the Sea.  He proves, of course, to be smarter than his chaperone.  Just like ASOUE, we are left hanging at the end of the novel.  The problem is somewhat resolved, but the villain is still out for the capture, and we look forward to his next chance.

What I loved about this book: Besides Snicket’s wit (the cab drivers work for tips, but instead of money, he gives them book recommendations and bits of advice), his strong adolescent characters (himself, being one of them), and his vocabulary mini-lessons, his use of figurative language makes me want to reread paragraphs over and over to my students just to say, “This is how you use figurative language!”

What I didn’t love about this book: It made me feel a little lonely.  Maybe I’m used to ASOUE where there are 3 orphans to keep each other company.  I felt like his characters are always so well-developed, maybe they just weren’t as “meaty” in this one.  However, that will not deter me from picking up the next book!  I look forward to reading the next book, if I can hold off until this weekend.

BOOK 1 OF 52