Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ivan, Katherine Applegate and Mr. Schu

In thirty-four years of being a teacher librarian last year was probably the hardest but in some respects very rewarding.  Two weeks prior to the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year I was informed my regularly scheduled library classes would be seen the first three days of the week.  On Thursdays I would be teaching a fourth, third, second and first grade physical education class along with a kindergarten library class.  On every third Friday I would be seeing either my Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday library students again.

Needless to say having had a library science major in undergraduate school and during my graduate work with a Spanish minor, I spent many an evening and long hours on the weekends all year long searching for the best possible way to teach my physical education classes.  To address this situation further is not the intent of this blog post. What I want to speak about is the huge opportunities this afforded to someone passionate about books, reading and the integration of the Standards for the 21st Century Learner into the services provided within their library media center.

More than a year ago I decided to join the virtual community of Twitter expanding my PLN by leaps and bounds.  Within that community I discovered a 2011 Library Journal Movers & Shakers, John Schumacher, currently the K-5 librarian at Brook Forest Elementary School in Oak Brook, Illinois.  His blog at Watch. Connect. Read continually promotes books and reading through his interviews and book trailers.  Anyone following him on Twitter would have to agree he hardly ever sleeps, loving what he does with complete passion. 

My praise of Mr. Schu (as he is affectionately called) does not come without a great deal of respect for his accomplishments in such a short time.  After all, I began my love of libraries, books and reading, information and all things technology (we used to thread our 16mm projectors by hand) before he was even born.  That being said, I know a hero for the cause when I see one, even if it's virtually.

When Mr. Schu suggested to his followers to read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate I did not hesitate to follow his recommendation. The power of this story based upon the life of a real silverback gorilla was profound.  Having read this book I knew I had to share it with as many students as possible.  I knew that booktalking it would not be enough. (My review is here.)

So for months of Fridays I read aloud The One and Only Ivan to the entire fourth grade student body in my school.  I have to say in all sincerity I was not only changed by this book but also by the discussions it prompted between myself and my students about gorillas and animals in captivity, zoos, by the research we did together and about the writing style of Katherine Applegate.  I saw these young men and women alter their perspectives. 

I heard comments like, "I can hardly wait for the third Friday to read about Ivan." or "I really like Bob; he takes away some of the sadness."  At one particularly moving point in the story I had to pause.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a student stand up.  When he came back, without a word he handed me a box of Kleenex.  Across the miles Ivan, Katherine Applegate and Mr. Schu had made their lives and presence felt.  We were no longer the same; our compassion had grown.

Very early this morning Mr. Schu posted on his blog a video he had made about his summer reading road trip.  This year, by vote, he took a plush Ivan across the southern part of the United States, spreading his love of books and reading wherever he went.  Mr. Schu, along with a colleague, Miss Kouri and author, Laurel Synder went to Zoo Atlanta and actually met the real Ivan.

Late this morning when I checked Twitter again I saw a post by Katherine Applegate.

During a medical procedure Ivan passed away.  I along with many others am deeply saddened by this loss.  But this single gorilla's life portrayed so well in the work of The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate made a huge difference; not just in my life and the lives of my students but in the lives of all who read this book. 

That's the undeniable power of the written word.  That's the legacy of reading which can endure in memory for a time no one can really measure with certainty.  So to Ivan, the mighty silverback, to Katherine Applegate who researched, wrote and loved this book into existence and to Mr. Schu, librarian extraordinaire, I salute you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Here is a link which was recently posted about Ivan in Zoo Atlanta.  Here is another blog post by Mr. Schu about Ivan and Katherine Applegate.  Here are further links about Ivan at an EduClipper board I created about a book study of The One and Only Ivan.


  1. Just found this wonderful post through 7 Impossible Things... I love the image of the the little guy who brought your Kleenex. If that isn't all things Ivan, I'm not sure what is!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Stacey. I will carry memories of the year of Ivan with my students always.