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WHITTINGTON

Into Bernie’s barn, filled with castoff animals he has either actively collected or hasn’t the heart to refuse, wanders Whittington the cat, an ugly bruiser of a tom who seeks community. Abby and Ben, Bernie’s grandchildren, also seek refuge in the barn; they live with him because their mother is dead and they don’t know where their father is. Over the course of seasons, from winter till fall, Whittington tells the story of his namesake, Dick Whittington, and his famous cat. Entwined with Whittington’s storytelling is Ben’s struggle to learn to read, and the commitment of both humans and animals to his success. The magic that allows Abby and Ben and the animals to talk to each other is understated and assumed, unremarkable. What is remarkable is the compelling quality of both characterization and story. Even as the youthful exploits of the long-dead Lord Mayor of London bring together friend and foe in the barn, the finely drawn characters and the small-scale but no less monumental struggle of Ben to read keep the pages turning. It’s a lovely paean to the power of story and the words that carry it along. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: July 26, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-82864-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2005

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Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new...

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THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.

Living in a "domain" of glass, metal and cement at the Big Top Mall, Ivan sometimes forgets whether to act like a gorilla or a human—except Ivan does not think much of humans. He describes their behavior as frantic, whereas he is a peaceful artist. Fittingly, Ivan narrates his tale in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous, observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery. His sorrow is palpable, but he stoically endures the cruelty of humans until Ruby the baby elephant is abused. In a pivotal scene, Ivan finally admits his domain is a cage, and rather than let Ruby live and die in grim circumstances, he promises to save her. In order to express his plea in a painting, Ivan must bravely face buried memories of the lush jungle, his family and their brutal murder, which is recounted in a brief, powerful chapter sure to arouse readers’ passions. In a compelling ending, the more challenging question Applegate poses is whether or not Ivan will remember what it was like to be a gorilla. Spot art captures poignant moments throughout.

Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-199225-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE

A 10-year old girl learns to adjust to a strange town, makes some fascinating friends, and fills the empty space in her heart thanks to a big old stray dog in this lyrical, moving, and enchanting book by a fresh new voice. India Opal’s mama left when she was only three, and her father, “the preacher,” is absorbed in his own loss and in the work of his new ministry at the Open-Arms Baptist Church of Naomi [Florida]. Enter Winn-Dixie, a dog who “looked like a big piece of old brown carpet that had been left out in the rain.” But, this dog had a grin “so big that it made him sneeze.” And, as Opal says, “It’s hard not to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good sense of humor.” Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal meets Miss Franny Block, an elderly lady whose papa built her a library of her own when she was just a little girl and she’s been the librarian ever since. Then, there’s nearly blind Gloria Dump, who hangs the empty bottle wreckage of her past from the mistake tree in her back yard. And, Otis, oh yes, Otis, whose music charms the gerbils, rabbits, snakes and lizards he’s let out of their cages in the pet store. Brush strokes of magical realism elevate this beyond a simple story of friendship to a well-crafted tale of community and fellowship, of sweetness, sorrow and hope. And, it’s funny, too. A real gem. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7636-0776-2

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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