To the Shelter of Compassion: A Review of ‘The One and Only Ivan’

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”—St. Francis of Assissi

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grades 4-6

Review and Thoughts

The One and Only Ivan is a story of loneliness and redemption that is uniquely told through the thoughts of a silverback gorilla named Ivan.  Having been raised by people in an urban setting his entire life, he remembers little of his childhood in the jungle of Africa. Now, Ivan is in a circus-themed mall where he is kept in his very small domain for visitors to come and witness his boring life. He has his friends around him (a small stray dog, a female elephant, the custodian and his daughter),  yet still Ivan is lonely. As a silverback gorilla, he should be the head of a family, and since he has seen no other gorillas, he wonders if he is the last one on earth. Continue reading To the Shelter of Compassion: A Review of ‘The One and Only Ivan’

The Beginning of a Friendship: A Review of ‘Hi! Fly Guy’

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Suggested Reading Level:

Grades K-1

Review and Thoughts:

Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold is the first book in a continuing series, and what an enjoyable beginning it is!  The story introduces the two main characters, Buzz and Fly Guy, on a quest to find different things.  Buzz, the boy, is searching for an amazing pet to enter into a pet show while Fly Guy is searching for amazing food.  Their lives change when they literally bump into each other.  Circumstances aren’t perfect for Fly Guy at the start, but those change rather quickly.  Buzz has one purpose for Fly Guy and that is to confine him and make him a pet.  At first Fly Guy is mad, but after he makes it known he can say “Buzz,” everything changes.  Buzz thinks he is the smartest most wonderful pet because he can say his name.  The fact he can say “Buzz” also convinces Buzz’s parents that he is truly a pet – an amazing one.  Fly Guy is happy and comfortable because of the care Buzz gives him, but the food doesn’t hurt with his settling in either.  The final challenge is to convince the judges at that contest that Fly Guy is truly a real pet.  Persuading the judges however is more difficult.  Fly Guy is rejected as a contestant because a fly cannot possibly be a pet!  Buzz tearfully decides to let Fly Guy free when he doesn’t measure up to the standards of the show.  Fly Guy is a faithful friend and does not abandon Buzz but does tricks and again says Buzz’s name to try to convince the judges. He performs his final trick and is accepted as a pet.  He even wins a prize in the contest.  Buzz and Fly Guy are now a team and great friends. Continue reading The Beginning of a Friendship: A Review of ‘Hi! Fly Guy’

Of the Golden Future Time: A Review of ‘Animal Farm’

“The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency.”—Saint Pope John Paul II

“Unless the Lord build the house, in vain do the builders labour.”—Psalm 127:1

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grade 7-9

Review and Thoughts

Animal Farm by George Orwell is one of those novels that every student will most likely read in their lives.  One of the books in the current literary canon, it has helped demonstrate the evils of communism through an allegorical depiction of the Russian Revolution.  By using a seemingly innocent setting, Orwell tells the horrific story of a group of animals as they attempt to overthrow human rule.

The novel begins with an alcoholic farmer who has long neglected his farm.  The great boar, Old Major, starts teaching his new philosophy to the animals.  His philosophy points out the uselessness of humans.  The animals on the farm begin to feel a sense of pride and one day, when the farmer has forgotten to take care of the animals for too long, they fight Farmer Jones and take over the farm. Continue reading Of the Golden Future Time: A Review of ‘Animal Farm’

Inside the Imagination of an Eight-year-old: A Review of ‘Ramona Quimby, Age 8’

“The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”  St. Thomas More

Suggested Grade Level

Grades 2-3

Review and Thoughts

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary is a realistic fiction story about a girl named Ramona, her sister Beezus, and her parents. We are allowed a close up look at this family as they handle the pressures of everyday life, adjustments to new schools for the girls and the dad, money issues, and family responsibilities.  All of this is seen through the eyes and imagination of Ramona.

Ramona is a lively and dramatic character.  Throughout the story the reader gets an intimate glimpse into her thoughts and interpretations about the events in her life. Many times these thoughts are humorous and may sound familiar and at other times they are not very nice, like those of an upset eight- year-old.  What’s fair and not fair is always an issue with children, and Ramona is no different.  She just desperately wants to be “the clever young daughter who is doing her part to help the family,” but life and her perception of things seem to get in the way, and she struggles to uphold that promise to herself. Continue reading Inside the Imagination of an Eight-year-old: A Review of ‘Ramona Quimby, Age 8’

The Price of Disobedience: A Review of ‘Strega Nona’

“Never bother about people’s opinions.  Be obedient to truth.  For with humble obedience, you will never be disturbed.”–Blessed  Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grades 2-3

Review and Thoughts:

The story of Strega Nona may sound familiar because it is a retelling of a familiar folktale.  It can be compared to such stories as “The Porridge Pot”, a German folktale, or even The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  In this version Tomie dePaola retells the story with an Italian setting and flavor.

The people of Calabria frequently visit Strega Nona , Grandma Witch, because she helps them with problems using her very special potions.  She conjures remedies for their difficulties , and  everyone is happy and satisfied with the results of their visits to her.

At this time in her life however, Strega Nona feels she is getting old and needs help with household chores.   A citizen of Calabria named Big Anthony applies for and gets the job even though he is known as someone who doesn’t pay attention.  Strega Nona explains the list of chores he will have to do.  She also tells him that the one thing he must not touch is her pasta pot. Continue reading The Price of Disobedience: A Review of ‘Strega Nona’