Materials We Have

The One and Only Ivan

"I am Ivan. I am a gorilla.
It's not as easy as it looks."

This is the beginning of Ivan's story. Ivan is a silverback gorilla that lives in his domain at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. His friends are a dog named Bob, an elephant named Stella, and a young girl named Julia who smuggles art supplies to Ivan. Ivan enjoys making his drawings, which are sold in the gift shop at the Big Top Mall ($20 apiece - $25 with a frame). It is with the arrival of Ruby, a young elephant, that Ivan has to make the decision as to where he will live the rest of his life - at the Big Top Mall? Or find a new home at a zoo?

The One and Only Ivan has been on my "to read" list since it's publication in 2012. Katherine Applegate has told the story from Ivan's point of view and it's interesting to think of the possibility of a gorilla attempting to communicate with the outside world: through words, through pictures, through actions. While this book is written in a simple style, the message of freedom and the promise of care implied by animal caretakers seeps through the pages of this book. Between Applegate's words and the illustrations of Patricia Castelao the reader is fully immersed in Ivan's world, sitting on the edge of their seat, waiting to see what happens next. This is a quick but very worthwhile read.

Check out this title in print, book on CD, or eBook.


Have you ever heard of Snow White? Of the Three Little Pigs? Of Little Boy Blue? What if you found out that they actually lived in New York and were actually alive? These questions are the basis for Bill Willingham's graphic novel series, Fables. Currently there are twenty volumes in publication and the current rumors are that there will be two more published to wrap up the adventures of the residents of Fabletown.

Once upon a time, all the storybook characters we know and love - or hate - lived in the Homelands. The Adversary declared war on the Homelands and many of the fables were able to sneak out of the Homelands and establish their own communities on Earth. One settlement is in New York City - surrounded by enchantments so that the Mundys ("mundane" non-fable humans) will not realize the fables are there - and the other is in Upstate New York - where those fables who cannot pass as human live. This community is led in theory by Old King Cole but in reality the real work is done by Snow White, Biggby "Big Bad" Wolf, and Rose Red. This series follows our favorites as they attempt to reclaim the Homelands and follows their attempts to live in the mundane world.

The author takes the reader's basic knowledge of classic stories and adds in extra facts to give a full life to characters known as a child. The illustrations add another dimension to the story being told of people wanting to return home after a war. It adds to the idea of defining what makes a home a home. Is it where you are? Or who you are with that makes a home?

Atlantia - Living Under Water

I started reading Atlantia because I had read and enjoyed Ally Condie's dystopian series Matched, and wanted to see where she went next. While she continues writing about alternate societies with a strong female lead character, that's where the shared themes split.

Atlantia was established as an underground community when the air became too polluted to support life on land. This is the story of Rio and her twin sister Bay. At the annual ceremony celebrating the Divide - the time where people sacrificed to stay Above to support those who lived Below - teens are allowed to choose whether they will stay Below in Atlantia or make the choice to go work in the Above. Rio has always dreamed of feeling the sun on her skin, of having a life Above. Through a series of promises to her a sister, Rio agrees to stay Below - to continue the work of their mother, the former Minister Oceana. She does this believing that her sister Bay will also remain in the Below with her. What happens when Bay announces at the ceremony that she chooses Above?

Condie does a great job of incorporating history, religion, engineering, faith, and family relations in just this one book. There are many themes brought forward to make a reader think about what why things are done. Would you make the choice that would be best for you? Or are you willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others?

Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

First published in 1942 at the height of her popularity, Dust Tracks on a Road is Zora Neale Hurston's candid, funny, bold, and poignant autobiography, an imaginative and exuberant account of her rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. As compelling as her acclaimed fiction, Hurston's very personal literary self-portrait offers a revealing, often audacious glimpse into the life -- public and private -- of an extraordinary artist, anthropologist, chronicler, and champion of the black experience in America. Full of the wit and wisdom of a proud, spirited woman who started of low and climbed high, Dust Tracks on a Road is a rare treasure from one of literature's most cherished voices.

(review from

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

When the Ku Klux Klan's unwelcome reappearance rattles Stella's segregated southern town, bravery battles prejudice in this Depression-era tour de force from Sharon Draper, the New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind.

Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can't. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn't bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they're never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella's community - her world - is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don't necessarily signify an end. 

(review from

Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

A major debut from an award-winning writer -- an epic family saga set against the magic and the rhythms of the Virgin Islands.

In the early 1900s, the Virgin Islands are transferred from Danish to American rule, and an important ship sinks into the Caribbean Sea. Orphaned by the shipwreck are two sisters and their half brother, now faced with an uncertain identity and future. Each of them is unusually beautiful, and each is in possession of a particular magic that will either sink or save them.

Chronicling three generations of an island family from 1916 to the 1970s, Land of Love and Drowning is a novel of love and magic, set against the emergence of Saint Thomas into the modern world. Uniquely imagined with echoes of Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the author's own Caribbean family history, the story is told in a language and rhythm that evoke an entire world and way of life and love. Following the Bradshaw family through sity years of fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, love affairs, curses, magical gifts, loyalties, births, deaths, and triumphs, Land of Love and Drowning is a gorgeous, vibrant debut by an exciting, prizewinning young writer. 

(review from

Driving the King by Ravi Howard

A daring and brilliant new novel that explores race and class in 1950s America, witnessed through the experiences of Nat King Cole and his driver, Nat Weary.

The war is over, the soldiers are returning, and Nat King cole is back in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, for a rare performance. His childhood friend, Nat Weary, plans to propose to his sweetheart, and the singer will honor their moment with a special song. But while the world has changed, segregated Jim Crow Montgomery remains the same. When a white man attacks Cole with a pipe, Weary leaps from the audience to defend him -- an act that will lead to a 10-year prison sentence.

But the singer will not forget his friend and the sacrifice he made. Six months before Weary is released, he receives a remarkable offer: will he be Nat King Cole's driver and bodyguard in L.A. It is the promise of a new life removed from the terror, violence, and degradation of Jim Crow Alabama.

An indelible portrait of prejudice and promise, friendship and loyalty, Driving the King is a daring look at race and class in pre-Civil Rights America, played out in the lives of two remarkable men.

(review from

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child's soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson's eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

(review from