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Monday, April 23
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Courier & Press Article by Carol Cariens
Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Secrets", "Ivan" Among Best of Early Reads

A recent e-mail from the AISLE (Association of Indiana School Library  Educators) listserv encouraged members to write about the best book they had read so far this year.  That got me to thinking, what's the best book I've read in 2012?   And, like a true librarian, I could not limit myself to just one book!  Hope you'll like these, too.

By far the best book I've read so far in 2012 is The One and Only Ivanby Katherine Applegate.  With these beginning words, "I am Ivan.  I am a gorilla.  It's not as easy as it looks", I was hooked.  Ivan is a silverback gorilla.  Gentle, caring, and a good friend.  He's one of the many animals living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, right off I-95.  There's Ivan, Stella the elderly elephant, Bob, a scraggly stray pup, sunbears, parrots, and other assorted animals—they're all there, performing three shows a day, 365 days a year at the rag-tag establishment.  Dismal surroundings, the relentless sound of the carousel, the smell of cotton candy, and the taste of hopelessness.  Those elements are all there, too.  Even with that Ivan, Stella, and Bob are great friends.  Stella is wise and full of stories, Bob provides comic relief, and Ivan amazes all with his art.  That's right, art.  He's a genius at it.  Give him a crayon and he becomes a primate Picasso!  Mack, the proprietor of the Big Top Mall, knows a commercial windfall when he sees one and exploits Ivan's artwork for sale at the gift shop.  Ivan's pictures go for twenty dollars each—twenty-five if it has been framed.  Ivan wonders if his art could ever have a higher purpose.  And it does when Ruby, a very young elephant, comes to live and perform at the Big Top Mall.  She's a joy to the animal friends—full of questions like any young one—and Ivan wants more for Ruby—a better life than the Big Top Mall.  And so, he plans and he draws.  And with the help of two human friends, (the Big Top's custodian George and his daughter Julia) his plan—no, not fair, you have to find out yourself what happens.  You won't be sorry.  I promise.

For non-stop action, my choice (so far) this year is The Surge, the second book in the Roland Smith trilogy, Storm Runners.  Twelve-year-old Chase Masters and his dad, John, are the Storm Runners, traveling from natural disaster to natural disaster to help those in need.  In the first book, Chase and his new school friends Rashawn and Nicole were in the middle of a Florida hurricane—THE storm of the century.   In twelve hours time they have lived through the sinking of their school bus, and Chase himself survived an attack by a thirteen-foot alligator.  Now, in The Surge, it is almost four o'clock the next morning and we find that the trio has taken shelter at the Rossi Brothers' Circus winter home, a farm belonging to Nicole's grandmother.  Hurricane winds are still blowing, the electricity is out, Pet the Elephant is about to give birth, and there are lions and a leopard on the loose.  Oh, my!  Told in the span of 5 hours, The Surge starts with a bang and never stops.  Will Chase's dad be able to reach him soon?  Can Chase and his friends survive until then?  If they do survive, what adventures await in book three?    

If you've enjoyed "Downton Abbey" as much as our household, don't miss Secrets at Sea by Newbery Medalist Richard Peck.  It is 1887 and the "upstairs" Cranstons are sailing to England to find a husband for their elder daughter, Olive.  (The poor dear has not caught the eye of any of the eligible swains in New York, so before the bloom fades from her rosy cheeks…)  Not to be left behind, the "downstairs" Cranstons are going along, too, unbeknownst to their humans.  Did I mention that the "downstairs" Cranstons are mice?  Very, very resourceful mice.  Four of them: sisters Helena, Beatrice, and Louise, and brother Lamont.  Taking care of their humans is serious business, so the mice, terrified of so much water, (due to an unfortunate incident involving a rain barrel and their late mother and sisters Vicky and Alice) stow away in various Cranston family trunks, and begin the grandest adventure of their lives.  Set during the time of Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee, Peck's deft hand has brought to life a by-gone era with all the wonderful clothes, the courtly manners, the pomp and the pageantry—not to mention romance on the high seas.  Pure confection.