Monday, May 28, 2012

Guest Post: IVAN Makes an Impact

I'm so excited to welcome one of my former students to my blog today.

I knew Julie Morgan when she was Julie Peebles and on the yearbook staff at Tianjin International School in Tianjin, China. I was her stressed-out, clueless yearbook adviser. We stayed in touch, thanks to Facebook, and Julie, now a special ed teacher, saw my mention of Katherine Applegate's THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN on this blog. She wrote to me a few weeks later with an amazing story. I begged her to come on the blog and share her experience.

Julie is not only a teacher, but also a talented cook. She blogs about cooking at

Welcome, Julie!
There are moments as a teacher when you are reminded why you do this job. There are a lot of difficult things about teaching these days and unfortunately it's easy to get caught up in them and forget the beauty of watching a kid master a concept or become engrossed in a book. I recently had the opportunity to watch my class of struggling readers, most of whom have significant learning disabilities, fall in love with a book and connect deeply with a character. It was truly refreshing and encouraging, and reminded me why I do what I do. 

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is based on a true story about a gorilla who lived in a small glass cage inside a mall for almost thirty years. After the public became aware of how he was treated he finally was moved to the Atlanta Zoo. The book is written from Ivan's perspective and is a sweet, haunting and emotional tale. Immediately you get sucked in as a reader, rooting for Ivan and the other animals. Applegate writes simply, yet with beautiful imagery and layers of complexity. My class barely skimmed the surface of all the themes she introduced and I still had students weeping at different parts of the story. 

What made this book even more powerful for my students was being able to talk to one of Ivan's former trainers. The science teacher at our school used to work with the gorillas at Zoo Atlanta, and knew Ivan well. My students interviewed her and asked her all sorts of questions about Ivan. Our adventure culminated in taking a field trip to the Zoo and seeing Ivan for ourselves! He is now 49 years old and is one of the oldest gorillas in captivity. Watching my students "meet" the character that we had all grown to love was so powerful and poignant. It was by far one of my all time favorite moments as a teacher.

As a special education teacher, I am always in search of books that are high interest yet easy enough for my struggling readers to handle. This book was challenging at times, but the way it was formatted made it seem less intimidating. One of my students; who reads at a first grade level, has behavior problems, and in general hates school loved this book so much that he would sneak it out of class in order to read more on his own. Success! If you haven't read The One and Only Ivan, add it to your summer reading list (or your child's summer reading list!) You won't be disappointed.

Have you had a profound experience with a book that you'd like to share? I'd love to read about it in the comments! 

Has anyone else read THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN? My son and I read it together and it was wonderful!


  1. I will have to read this! Sounds amazing.

  2. Wow, wow, wow!! What a fantastic post!!

  3. Aww! It's always great to hear about books like this one that have such a positive impact.

  4. Great post!

    I actually stumbled across this book while looking through booklists on Amazon recently and decided to order this book. I bought it for my kids and me to read this summer and can't wait!

  5. Oh fantastic! Another to add to the TBR pile.
    Thanks for the great post xx

  6. I'm totally going out to get this book! I'm looking for books for one of my children and me to enjoy together this summer, and this sounds incredible!

  7. I'm totally going out to get this book! I'm looking for books for one of my children and me to enjoy together this summer, and this sounds incredible!

  8. Wow - I love this story. Thanks for sharing this book. I'm going to pick it up this summer and have it ready for my students next year. Yay!!

  9. Hi, Julie!

    What a great story . . . think I'll have to check out The One and Only Ivan now too.