READING: “The One And Only Ivan” and “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane”


Two book reviews at once? There is a reason for my madness. I read two books to my ten year old son (who turns eleven on the eleventh) in July. He really enjoyed one of them and he was not enthused about the other one. As an adult, I liked both of them. As a mother, I will recommend one of them for children.

Since I found the two books both similar and dissimilar and I read them within one week of each other, I decided to review them together. Both books are supposedly geared towards children. Both books deal with mature themes. And both books are told from the point of view of a non-human narrator.

However, the two books are vastly different, as well. Let’s get to that:


Now, first I need to say that I love Kate DiCamillo. After reading and raving about “The Magician’s Elephant”, I happily devoured more of her work. It was good. “The Magician’s Elephant” is still my favorite. So, when I picked up her book, “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane”, I excitedly began reading it out loud to my child without reading it myself first.

I trusted her.

On the night of my birthday, I finished reading my son that book.

It involved many tears and sobs.

Without wanting to spoil anything, but also needing to discuss an important part of my review, I must say there is a spoiler in this paragraph. Please skip it if that bothers you. This book is about a pampered porcelain rabbit who goes on a journey not of his choosing to learn compassion. If you took “Pinocchio” and combined it with the “Velveteen Rabbit” and then cut out three quarters of the happy ending, you would get this book. It has a part in it where a child dies and I found the situation involving the body definitely not appropriate for the age group it is intended for. Then something else tragic happens to a child and you get no closure from it. That part was the most difficult scene in the book for my family. Not just the dying child but the extreme cruelty to another child by three different men in a row. And I get it. I do. That is the real world.

But I read children’s books as an escape from the real world. The conclusion was predictable and it did not satisfy the ache that was left in my heart from the unresolved ending with one of Edward’s owners.

In fact, almost all of Edward’s companions’ stories are tragic. They all took possession of this porcelain rabbit and are left with a sadness that is never resolved.

According to the Amazon description, this book is supposedly for children ages seven to ten. I do not find that to be true. If I had read this book as an adult short story knowing in advance that it would be melancholy, I would have enjoyed it more. So, if you are an adult who enjoys reading children’s books like I do, then I highly recommend this one to you. It was gut-wrenching but gorgeous. My good friend informed me last week that her twelve year old son loved this book. Each child is different. If your child wants to read this book, I would recommend you reading it first to see if it is appropriate for your child.

Now let’s get to a book I highly recommend for children.


Before it is said in defense of the book review above that children need to deal with death and life and different hard-knock scenarios through reading books, I am going to agree. I am also going to write that “The One and Only Ivan” has those things. It has death. And in the same vein as “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” it even has an unfortunate occurrence with a body, although this one is not human. However, it is handled with finesse. It teaches children that there will be hard times and that people can be cruel but that there is always hope.


That is what I feel was missing from the book in the previous review.

It emphasizes that just one of us can make a huge difference. We cannot wait for someone else to change our circumstances, we have to do that ourselves.

My son and I both loved “The One And Only Ivan.” It won The John Newberry Award. It is recommended on Amazon for ages 8-12 and I would lean towards it being for ages 10-12 (although I happily devoured its pages, too). The writing is short and choppy at first. I had a difficult time settling into it. But it is being told from the point of view of a silverback gorilla, so it is to be expected. And once you recognize that, then it is a very easy and enjoyable book. While reading this story, I had strong reminiscent flashes of reading “Charlotte’s Web” as a child.

Ivan, a silverback gorilla, lives at a mall with other exotic animals. He is the main attraction and the star of a small show. His claim to fame is his likeness on a large billboard that he can see from his tiny enclosure. He paints pictures that are misunderstood. Ivan is content with his life in a compact little cage until a baby elephant arrives one day and makes him take a hard look at the life he has been living. We go on an emotional journey with Ivan as he finally remembers his tragic past and proceeds to try to change the future.

There were several lines in the book that I enjoyed. It was interesting how Ivan saw situations and described things. I enjoyed Katherine Applegate’s writing.

One line from the book that I whispered to myself more than once was, “It is the most beautiful mad I have ever heard.”

Isn’t that lovely? It is Ivan’s way of describing an elephant’s trumpet sound when it is upset. I think it is perfect.

This book brought many tears as well, but I got my happy ending.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think of them? Would you recommend them to children?

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Reading: “The Magician’s Elephant”


I love reading children’s books. There is something comforting and familiar about them. They almost never have a bad ending. They just make me happier. “The Magician’s Elephant” is no exception.

For the last two weeks, I have read a bit of this children’s book at night to my son. And to my husband (he says he likes to listen to me read). I realized recently that the last book I had read out loud to my son was when we read a Harry Potter book together almost two years ago. Two years! I could not believe it had been that long. I made a lazy conclusion in my head that insisted that if my children could read chapter books by themselves, they no longer needed me to read to them. And that is a shame. And a pity.

I started this children’s book by myself. But the writing was so marvelous, I had to share it. So, I began reading a bit to my son and husband every night. My daughter would have none of it. But she and I read the same teen fantasy books and discuss them, so I was okay with it. A little sad, but okay.

“The Magician’s Elephant” is the tale is a story about a magician who brings an elephant crashing down through the roof of an opera house and cripples a noble woman in the process. He did not mean to. He only wanted to provide her with lillies. But he also longed to do real magic.

In a different part of the city, little Peter has sought out a fortuneteller whose prediction to him was that he must follow an elephant to find the sister he believed to be dead.

And so it began. The intersecting lines of many lives all interwoven around and through and to the elephant.

The words in this book are gorgeous. It is only 201 pages long. Or two hundred and a half pages long, as my son would say.


The book is illustrated by Yoko Tanaka. The illustrations are a bit dark. But because Kate DiCamillo’s words are so descriptive and beautiful, I liked that the drawings were murky and dreamlike. The illustrations did not mess with the pictures that Ms. DiCamillo had all ready painted in my head.

I would be reading aloud and a sentence would catch me off-guard with its eloquent beauty. I would find my voice cracking and my vision blurred not by sadness but with the great emotion that her words brought forth.

Now this. This is a beautiful writer. And this. This is a beautiful book.

It is a book that will become a classic. I am sure of it.

The true magic in this book are in the sentences. She put words that I never thought to pull together and made them harmonize and sing. It was the music my soul did not know it longed to hear.

You cannot rush through this book, even though it is an easy read (actually there were surprisingly large words used for a children’s book). To rush through this book would be to miss the magic resting on each page.

My son turned to me when it was over moved beyond words. When I prodded him, he responded, “that was the best book I have ever read.”

I am glad he enjoyed it as much as I did.

I also have ordered “Flora and Ulysses.” It is a book also by Kate DiCamillo and I plan on beginning to read it to my whole family (my daughter is not getting out of a great book again) later in the week. I am making it a goal to read out loud to my children more. I had forgotten how enjoyable it was. Just because their ages are now in the double digits, doesn’t mean they are too old for it.


Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you have any other marvelous children’s books for me to read?