The One and Only Ivan – Book Review

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A ‘Stop Time’ Moment of Seeping Innocence

A copy of the author’s Newbery Medal acceptance speech is at the back of my copy of The One and Only Ivan. In it, the author says,” We live in a world where children are bullied into despair and even suicide; where armed guards in a school hallway are considered desirable; where libraries are padlocked because of budget cuts; where breakfast and backpacks, for too many children are unaffordable luxuries.”

“What makes children better than the rest of us is that they are buoyant, unrepentant optimists.”

When my 11-year-old finished reading this novel, his first statement was, “I LOVED that book!”  With an endorsement like that and because it was the first instance where he ‘stopped time,’ I had to read the book too.

As a writer, reader, and lover of words, I make it a habit to ‘stop time’ whenever I come across sparkling phrases that deserve homage. A ‘stop time’ is where we stop whatever we are doing to read out loud and to listen; we listen to both the author’s words and to what made that phrase so meaningful to the reader.

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Although my son and I read the same book, our reactions to it were as different as a carefree stroll through the park and being caught in a traffic snarl in the city at rush hour. Where my son delighted in the animal conversations, I sobbed.

Pixar uses humor with double meaning brilliantly in their storytelling. Katherine Applegate uses the same technique, but in a more realistic vein.

I sobbed because the adult world my son will live in doesn’t have easy answers. It isn’t colorful, silly, and happy all the time. The innocence of his childhood is beginning to seep away.

fear, doors, boxes, and starting anew
fear, doors, boxes, and starting anew

While Ivan and Ruby soothe each other and tell stories to help them sleep, the author communicates the ache of loneliness, coping skills, feeling boxed in, and the power that is found when helping a friend…or your own child.

The first ‘stop time’ that my son called happened when Ivan makes an impossible promise to Ruby, the baby elephant.elephant-826850_640

I’ve been waiting and watching for this moment. A maturity level that notices deeper concepts. An opportunity to share family ideals and values. An easing into the world of adulthood – or at least into the turbulent teens.

“Children know all about sadness,” comments Applegate in her speech. “We can’t hide it from them. We can only teach them how to cope with its inevitably and to harness their imaginations in search for joy and wonder.”

 

 

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