WELCOME! Once a month, usually on a Thursday evening, a group of writers, illustrators, teachers and librarians meets in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles to discuss children's books. Usually we talk about one picture book and one middle grade or YA novel. After the meeting, Sandy Schuckett, a retired LAUSD librarian, summarizes our discussion. Here are her reports of our thoughts about the books we have read. We'd love to have your comments too!
Thanks to Nancy Hayashi for our wonderful title art! Our group has been meeting since 2007. It was organized under the auspices of the Children's Literature Council of Southern California (CLCSC).

Thursday, May 9, 2013

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate and BIG MEAN MIKE by Michelle Knudsen

If we were looking for a slam-dunk positive reaction to The One and Only Ivan, it didn’t happen. We all agreed that the spare writing of this book was wonderful, even poetic, and that the transitions from one thought to another in ‘Ivan’s’ mind were perfect. A couple of our members just didn’t think the story rang true. One person thought that ‘Ivan’ was too humanized…he was an ape – how could he think like a human? Perhaps the author hadn’t done sufficient research into the behavior of apes. But others felt that ‘Ivan’s’ thoughts exactly made sense – especially since he had been raised by humans before being brought to the mall, and the idea of ‘suspending disbelief’ made everything quite plausible. We mostly all liked the minimalist little illustrations that were sparsely placed throughout the story, and felt that they were terrific. We also thought this would be a good book for reluctant readers, since the text was quite accessible, and not too dense. We learned that sadly, the real Ivan died, at age 50, at Zoo Atlanta in August, 2012.

Info about the real Ivan is here: http://www.zooatlanta.org/ivan

...and his obituary is here: http://www.zooatlanta.org/home/article_content/zoo_mourns_ivan

As for our picture book, Big Mean Mike, everyone pretty much loved it, although a couple of people thought it presented a bad example for children: a bully being the hero. But others pointed out that ‘Mike’ never actually bullied anyone…he just presented that impression, and because of that everyone was scared of him. It raised the issue of judging someone on their outward appearance rather than their actions, and also the fact that a seemingly ‘rough’ person could easily have a soft spot…like ‘Mike’ did for the little bunnies. We thought the illustrations by Scott Magoon were terrific, and matched up well with the story.

1 comment:

  1. I was one of the author’s who did not fall in love with The One and Only Ivan. I felt Ivan, the silverback gorilla, was portrayed too human. His thoughts sounded like human thoughts as opposed to having the gorilla twist. I felt the book could’ve been made much stronger and more interesting if the author had really tried to get into the head of a gorilla.

    On the other hand, I loved Big Mean Mike. I really enjoyed the moral of not judging a book by its cover and also the juxtaposition of something rough and gruff next to something so cute and fluffy.

    I was queried a couple of times by one of the book club members why I was so accepting that Big Mean Mike didn’t act and think like a dog. I wasn’t able to articulate it at the time – it could’ve been that glass of wine I was drinking – but after thinking about it, I thought I should respond.

    The intention and purpose of the two books are completely different. The One and Only Ivan was truly a portrayal of a real gorilla. The gorilla did not have any clothes on or drive a car. Instead, the gorilla was supposed to just be a gorilla.

    Whereas Big Mean Mike is an anthropomorphism and is meant to be one. This technique is commonly used in picture books. The animals are supposed to be humanlike. Anthropomorphism in children’s books has been going on for years to entertain and teach lessons.