A basic but enjoyable STEM-centered novel for young readers.


From the Marlin Raj series , Vol. 1

In this middle-grade novel, a service dog and his human learn about algorithms in daily life.

Author Priya (who writes for adults as Priya Ardis) introduces readers to Merlin Raj, a sock-loving golden retriever who goes to class with his 10-year-old owner, Matthew, who misses “Mom Raj,” who’s traveling for work. Miss Babbage teaches Matthew’s class about algorithms and assigns the kids to create their own, and Merlin eagerly joins in—devising algorithms for everything from locating a missing recipe to keeping the local bully from snagging the best Christmas tree. Matthew uses the Christmas tree experience for his algorithm assignment, and Merlin realizes that what the boy wants most is to have his mother home for Christmas. So the dog implements a series of his own algorithms to make it happen, leading to a happy holiday for everyone. The book presents a lighthearted approach to introductory STEM lessons, explaining the fundamental concept of an algorithm outside the context of computer programming. However, the examples presented seem insufficiently granular to present the concept effectively. For instance, Merlin’s algorithm for getting Matthew a forbidden box of sugary cereal at the grocery store involves hiding the box in the cart and making puppy-dog eyes at the checkout. However, the more conceptual discussion of algorithms is well done, and the story is satisfying and emotionally resonant overall. Merlin’s narrative voice is child-friendly and distinctive (“Research sounded like a pile of socks fresh out of the laundry,” he notes approvingly at one point). Merlin is described as being a service animal for Matthew, who has some difficulties with walking, and the dog’s description of his role (“I’d been taking care of my best friend for a whole year now”) includes enough detail to make it easy to picture the two making their way through school. A glossary defines scientific terms in the narrative, and Miss Babbage’s pronouncements on algorithms are in bold text, making them stand out. Hampe’s black-and-white illustrations add depth to the story, giving readers another window into Merlin’s determination and creativity.

A basic but enjoyable STEM-centered novel for young readers.

Pub Date: March 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-951767-00-6

Page Count: 108

Publisher: Vulcan Ink Media

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Newbery Medal Winner


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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With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded.

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Tiny, sassy Bob the dog, friend of The One and Only Ivan (2012), returns to tell his tale.

Wisecracking Bob, who is a little bit Chihuahua among other things, now lives with his girl, Julia, and her parents. Happily, her father works at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary, the zoo where Bob’s two best friends, Ivan the gorilla and Ruby the elephant, live, so Bob gets to visit and catch up with them regularly. Due to an early betrayal, Bob doesn’t trust humans (most humans are good only for their thumbs); he fears he’s going soft living with Julia, and he’s certain he is a Bad Dog—as in “not a good representative of my species.” On a visit to the zoo with a storm threatening, Bob accidentally falls into the gorilla enclosure just as a tornado strikes. So that’s what it’s like to fly. In the storm’s aftermath, Bob proves to everyone (and finally himself) that there is a big heart in that tiny chest…and a brave one too. With this companion, Applegate picks up where her Newbery Medal winner left off, and fans will be overjoyed to ride along in the head of lovable, self-deprecating Bob on his storm-tossed adventure. His wry doggy observations and attitude are pitch perfect (augmented by the canine glossary and Castelao’s picture dictionary of dog postures found in the frontmatter). Gorilla Ivan described Julia as having straight, black hair in the previous title, and Castelao's illustrations in that volume showed her as pale-skinned. (Finished art not available for review.)

With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded. (afterword) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299131-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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