Falling in love (again) with anthropomorphism

One of the things I like best about the One and Only Ivan  was the animal perspective, as I’ve expressed in a previous blog. Each and every one of us grew up with children’s books that connected us to animals, either through anthropomorphism (quick vocab lesson: animals with human feelings) or through a child’s relationship with a pet or farm animal. Having worked with veterinarians and vet techs over the last couple years in the publishing biz, I realize that this connection never changes for them, and that for some of us, our humanity is connected and clarified through our relationships with animals and our conception of their feelings. Disney is one of the best purveyors of anthropomorphism. Movies like Bambi made certain I’ll never go hunting. Dumbo made me suspicious of circus animal treatment. Dozens of Disney sidekicks (Flounder, Abu, Pascal, Mushu, etc.) have me pondering what talking-animal sidekick might work best for my life. But of course, children’s literature is where it all started. Three favorite classics utilizing anthropomorphism include The Jungle Book, Charlotte’s Web, and Stuart Little. You’ve probably heard of them all (or at least watched the movies), but when you really start digging, anthropomorphism in kid lit isn’t quite as extensive as you might think beyond picture books. I think that’s why I really enjoyed Katherine Applegate’s One and Only Ivan, because it took me back to a place that included the “Bare Necessities” and “Zukerman’s Famous Pig.” It made me remember falling in love with a sweet, curious mouse named Stuart, one of my first encounters with magical realism. So, quiz-lover that I am, that only begged the question…which anthropomorphic character am I most like? Well, now we can all find out in the exclusive WWAT quiz on Buzzfeed! Good... read more

The Newbery Medal

  In the same month I read the 2017 Newbery Medal recipient: The Girl Who Drank the Moon along with the 2013 Newbery Medal winner: The One and Only Ivan. And I couldn’t wait to share these great books.   Newbery Medal winners are considered the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. That means that kids have to actually enjoy these books and they do. I was a fourth grader who fell in love with Katherine Patterson’s The Bridge to Terabithia.  I believe young readers enjoy them because the powerful messages these books have are not preached. The authors tend to present difficult issues, but never talk down (The Bridge to Terabithia deals with death). Readers are allowed to think their own big questions as they escape into the words of the pages. Katherine Applegate captures her readers’ imaginations with Ivan’s unique gorilla voice.  She shows differences in the way he thinks and how humans think. His thoughts come at their own pace. She uses appropriate descriptions and verse to allow the reader to imagine a gorilla’s world view. This allows kids a chance to think about the way they look at animals and reflect inward. It gives them experience in a world unfamiliar to them. As for The Girl Who Drank the Moon, readers are drawn in by the magic, the promise of story, and a dragon that fits inside a pocket. Barnhill said she wrote the story for herself and didn’t expect many to like it because she thought it was a bit weird. Instead, she found that kids related deeply to the themes. The idea that even when we are genuine and true, sometimes we still make mistakes. And the notions of rumors and getting the wrong idea about a person are issues kids deal with. The seeds of wonder are planted on the back covers in simple phrases. “I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks…” And, “There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. Moonlight, however. That is a different story. Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like.” But the stories themselves are not simple and are filled with thought-provoking insight. Both novels are quite different, yet both include similar themes of sorrow, hope, humor, and friendship. I have fallen for many Newberry Medals and honors. Kelly Barnhill’s is definitely my newest favorite. If I hadn’t read it, I would’ve said The Graveyard Book.... read more

What Hooked Me? —The One And Only Ivan (Author Katherine Applegate)

  This month WWAT looks at Katherin Applegate’s wonderful The One and Only Ivan. Jess: I was hooked by the John Newbery Medal on the front cover. My childhood favorite, The Bridge to Terabithia was awarded The Newbery Medal in 1978. Because of my favorite book and many others, it is hard for me to walk past a Newbery Medal or Newbery Honor without flipping through. Some of my recent favorite Newbery Award winners are Wolf Hollow, Roller Girl, Echo, Doll Bones, Three Times Lucky, The Wednesday Wars, The Graveyard Book, and this year’s winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.   The Newbery is given by the Association For Library Service to Children (ALSC). The recipient is considered the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children from the previous year.  In 2013, when The One and Only Ivan won, the committee chair, Steven Engelfried said, “Katherine Applegate gives readers a unique and unforgettable gorilla’s-eye-view of the world that challenges the way we look at animals and at ourselves.” John: What hooked me was the poetry of language. Now, of course, The One and Only Ivan is not a novel in verse. But the beauty in the prose truly does border on poetry. What Katherine Applegate really impressed me with is the way she not only wrote such an artistic perspective, but did so through the mind/eyes of a gorilla and made it feel authentic–if such a thing is possible. At the very least, she gave Ivan such a tremendous voice–one that embodied isolation, wisdom, and insight while conveying the naïveté of one who has very little experience outside the four walls of Ivan’s domain/cage. Examples such as:  “Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.” Both beautiful and insightful. Or “Her eyes hold the pale moon in them, the way a still pond holds stars.” So, so, so visually concrete. “Now I draw every day. … If I get tired and need a break, I eat my crayons.” Touching and yet wonderfully funny and so very gorilla. Poetry–pure poetry. Other books that master the beauty of the written word in prose are middle-grade PAX by Sara Pennypacker and young adults The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater and Small Damages by Beth Kephart. Megan: What can I say? I was hooked by the animal angle! Back in the day, I lived with my family on eight acres... read more