A dense but absorbing adventure packed with overt literary references and layers of meaning.

GENERAL JACK AND THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE KINGDOMS

Animals, guided by a mysterious boy, seek to defeat their brutal feline overlords in this multilayered fantasy intended for middle school readers.

In the Five Kingdoms, all animals live on a single landmass bordered by ice and a desert wasteland. It’s a dark time for those at the mercy of the brutal Felines (lions and tigers) and King Roar, the most brutal of all. In an adventure with overtones of Orwell’s Animal Farm and C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series (two influences the author cites in his copious aftermatter), the Felines’ rule is challenged by the near-mystical appearance of a 10-year-old human, General Jack. He inspires Miaow, the diffident chief of the small cats and the book’s primary narrator, to find the resolve to unite the disparate, fearful, and suspicious animal species in an attempt to oust the Feline overlords. The author weaves Miaow’s self-doubts through thickets of detail about this animal-centric world, its inhabitants, and the social hierarchy that controls them. The battle plan and its “farcical” execution due to missed signals, panic, and impatience, are exhaustively described and detailed in black-and-white charts. (The book’s effective illustrations, uncredited, are mostly small, black silhouettes of objects, settings, and characters.) What happens after the battle encompasses Jack’s eventual departure for a land unknown, the profound changes that occur in the animals’ world, and how the truth of what happened is eventually manipulated and obscured by ambitious propagandists. According to the notes that follow, this is the second book of a planned trilogy. General Jack is the older version of the 5-year-old protagonist in Bush’s debut chapter book (The Joyous Adventures of Whizzojack, 2015). (The readership for each book may be intended to reflect Jack’s age, but the complex layers here skew to teens, not preteens.) Although General Jack’s inspirational counsel to Miaow thuds at times with such platitudes as “where there’s a will there’s a way,” and “don’t judge by appearances,” his surprising return and his gentle, Aslan-like treatment of Miaow are genuinely moving, lending intrigue to who Jack will be in the third book of the trilogy.

A dense but absorbing adventure packed with overt literary references and layers of meaning. (author bio)

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 979-8-66-722641-3

Page Count: 189

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 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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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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With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded.

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THE ONE AND ONLY BOB

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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