Sunday, April 29, 2012

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

I had been hearing about The One and Only Ivan for a while and planned to buy the book sooner than later, when one Monday morning it simply walked into my classroom. "Mr. Wilhorn, I want to show you this book. It is, like, the best book I have ever read," said Claire, the student holding Ivan out to me. "You need to read it." I'm not sure how I responded, but I know I was excited to finally have the book. Then Claire said, "Oh, by the way. Since you always have us write journal entries about the books we read, YOU have to write a journal entry to me."

So I did. And Claire and her mom graciously allowed me to use our journal conversation as a review of The One and Only Ivan.

Dear Miss Claire,

Thank you for loaning me The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I had been wanting to read it ever since seeing people on Twitter recommend it, so I was pleasantly surprised when it suddenly appeared in the classroom.

Ivan is a silverback gorilla. That means he a grown-up gorilla, and the silver or grey on his back makes him a leader in his family. The problem is that he’s the only gorilla living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. His family includes his dearest friends, Stella, an elephant, Bob, a stray dog who claims to be homeless by choice, and Ruby, a baby elephant recently added to the Big Top Mall.

Ivan is quiet, calm, and peaceful. He says that the picture of him on the billboard that shows him angry is wrong. “Anger is precious,” he says. Anger is used by a silverback to maintain order and protect his troop, but Ivan says, “Here in my domain, there is no one to protect.”

Deep down you can see that Ivan is still a noble and protective silverback gorilla, but I think being in the cage for so long - 27 years! - has made him forget. He says he has a bad memory, but when he tells Ruby a goodnight story, he shows that he can remember things from his past. He tells about his sister, Tag, and others in his family.

Ivan is a man (or gorilla) of his word. He promises to take care of Ruby, to protect her even though he thought he had no one to protect, and without giving too much away, Ivan is able to protect her, even though he is stuck in his cage.

Finally, Ivan is a talented artist. When he lived in the jungle he painted with mud, but now he uses crayons, markers, and paints to make pictures that Mack sells in the mall. Most of the time people don’t understand what he has drawn, but they like that he draws anyway. But his greatest creation, a giant painting, makes a huuuuge difference in the lives of Stella, Ruby, Bob, and others.

Thanks for loaning me the book, and I look forward to your reply.

Mr. Wilhorn

Dear Mr.W,

I am glad you have been noticing the little things about Ivan. And I’m glad you are enjoying the book. But what is Ruby feeling at this point? Does she feel scared or sad? If yes, what happened and why? Oh, and make sure to watch what happens with Stella in the book.

Sincerely, Your Dear Student,

Dear Miss Claire,

I think Ruby is one of the smartest characters in the book. When she tells about how she got captured, she realizes that just because bad humans captured her, not all humans are bad. She even said that before a bunch of humans try to help them. It's like she knew there were good people who might help them. She is sad and misses her family, but she is happy that she has Ivan, Stella, and Bob - her new family.

I was not too surprised at what happened with Stella. There were some clues along the way. But I was very impressed - incredibly impressed - with how Ivan takes care of things.

Thank you for your response.

Mr. Wilhorn

Monday, April 16, 2012

Defeating Dad

Now that the weather is swinging towards summer, we're not in the basement quite as much as in winter. But the games are ongoing, and the lesson I'm quickly learning (or the lesson the boy is teaching me) is changing: Get used to it, Dad.

Here's my latest column on defeating Dad which appeared today's local newspaper

Last night, the boy beat me.


Now I'm not saying I enjoyed losing, but my streak was approaching rare company -- Wooden's UCLA Bruins, the '72 Dolphins, DiMaggio's 56 -- and frankly, the pressure was building.

To be sure, I have registered an official protest with the commissioner's office, but so far the boss (aka Mom) has refused to issue a ruling on the contentious contest. So as of now the boy's table tennis victory stands, and his full-out, arms raised celebratory sprint throughout the entire house was not in vain.

Let's recap. The score stood 20-17 with the old man in the lead when my return clipped the top of the net but luckily trickled over to the boy's side. Game over.

"Nope!" he yelled, waving his arms and paddle. "That's my point 'cause it hit the net."

"What? You know that only applies on a serve."

"Whatever. My serve. 18-20." And he promptly skipped his next serve past my unprepared, weak side.

"Hold on. This game is already over," I insisted. "Why are we continuing?"

His only response? "19-20," and another quick serve that I returned straight into the net.

"20-20. Your serve." Smug. Real smug.

"This game is over! I already won, and you know it," I argued.

"Dad, please." He looked at me as if I'd just suggested tofu at a tailgate. "Serve."

Two serves later -- one short into the net, one long onto the floor -- and the boy was off and running. Up the stairs, down the hall, circle in the bedroom, back down the hall, around the kitchen table, and down the stairs back to where he found me waiting.

"I already won," I reminded him. "Why are you making a scene?"

"Dad, admit it. I. Beat. You."

"OK. Rematch?"

"Nah, I think you've had enough for today." And he turned and floated out of the room.

Defeating Dad ranks with game seven victories, the 12 seed beating the five, walk-off home runs, and knocking the defending champs out of the playoffs. The stakes might not be as high, but then again, hit a walk-off home run and the pitcher doesn't have to tuck you in bed later. When a boy beats Dad, the vanquished still has to live with the victor.

This quest to give Pops a paddling encourages creative strategies. Rules change. "I get five extra armies this turn," a boy might say mid-game in Risk. Do-overs are called. "That's not an out even though you caught it because I wasn't ready. Do-over." How can the boy see the pitch, swing the bat, hit the ball and not be ready? Doesn't make sense.

Doesn't matter.

What boy doesn't arm wrestle his dad? And what boy doesn't end up standing, two-handed, elbows aloft, and jumping to put his full weight on Dad's arm?

As I watched the boy disappear, I remembered a recent game of darts in Grandpa's basement. My father, my son and me. And I had the lead. A big lead. A don't-hand-me-three-darts-'cause-I'll-only-need-one sort of lead, when ... well, you know what happened.

I folded and Grandpa beat us both.

You know what? Maybe I'll withdraw my official protest with the league commissioner.

Just this once.