ONE AMAZING ELEPHANT

A middle-grade friendship and family story plays out against a circus backdrop.

Twelve-year-old Lily Pruitt’s mother left her and her father to rejoin the circus as a trapeze artist, and the white girl’s beloved grandfather performs with an elephant, Gracie. Grandpa Bill and Gracie’s close relationship is broken when Grandpa Bill dies suddenly. Lily, who lives with her father and is terrified of the elephant, travels alone to Florida to attend the funeral and lend comfort to her grandmother. Upon arriving, Lily quickly learns that elephants experience grief and begins to feel sympathy for the creature. The only person who doesn’t seem affected is Lily’s emotionally distant mother, who has a creepy new boyfriend. When Gracie the elephant begins to act out, the other circus folks think that Gracie should be sent away for good, including the boyfriend, a cardboard cutout of a villain (he even smokes to prove it). With Gracie’s fate up in the air, Lily and her new pal Henry Jack, a young circus boy with the skin disease ichthyosis, plot to save Gracie from exile. Lily and Gracie narrate in alternating chapters, offering the elephant’s perspective on the unfolding drama. This sentimental, comfortingly predictable story stands out due to its spotlight on the plight of circus elephants. Given the subject matter, it shouldn’t be surprising that scenes of abuse erupt, but they make the overall narrative feel off balance.

Interesting but uneven. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245583-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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