Sunday, April 21, 2013

Parent/Student Book Club at the Cincinnati Zoo

    The One and Only Ivan

 When I set out to read the 2013 Newbery Award winner The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate to my 4th graders, I knew I wanted the experience to be something special.  I invited my students' parents to read along with us, gathering about ten copies from the Cincinnati Public Library, which is great about getting teacher collections together.  They were snapped up by parents right away, and I kept them circulating as I read the book aloud to my classes.  They loved my voices for each character, and I loved their reactions to the funny AND sad parts of the book, trying to keep it together during the sad parts.  I admit I choked up a few times, even when it was my 3rd or 4th time reading those scenes.  As I neared the end of the book, I started planning a Parent/Student Book Club meeting, just like the one we had for Wonder earlier in the year (click on Parent/Student Book Club to see my blog post about that meeting).  One of my students started talking to me about Gladys, our local zoo's baby gorilla, and it dawned on me - we would have our Parent/Student book club at The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden!

     The day dawned bright and sunny, albeit chilly.  We all met at the beautiful entrance of the zoo, which was adorned with tulips of all colors.  Our zoo is one of the best in country, and that day it felt every bit as wonderful as it is touted to be.  I hadn't been there in years, and it was fun to see all the changes and updates it had made.  We started with about 30-35 people - students, their parents, siblings, and even a cousin.  I took a picture of each family at the entrance.  Here are a few:

To celebrate Stella and Ruby, our first stop was the Elephant Encounter, where we met two Asian Elephants:

Even though there are no giraffes or cheetahs in The One and Only Ivan, we still wanted to feed the giraffes and catch the Cheetah Encounter:

Confession:  Giraffes are my favorite wild animal!    It was so fun watching the kids feed him crackers and their faces when that long purple tongue reached out to their hands!  There is even a baby this year:

Next, the cheetahs ran for us:

We found a great place for all of us to eat lunch.  Lunch was our book discussion time.  I printed out copies of The Harper Collins Children's Discussion Guide, which is excellent, and groups talked about the book:

The finale was the Gorilla Encounter, where we paid homage to Ivan.  The silverback featured at the encounter was cooperating beautifully and hung out regally the whole time the zookeeper was talking.

Me-balls anyone?

This reminds me of when Julia and Ivan press their hands together on the glass of his cage - one of my favorite moments in the book.

Doesn't he look like Ivan?

Gladys, the baby gorilla at the zoo, isn't able to be shown to the public yet, but here is an adorable picture of her:

We took group pictures of the people who were left - unfortunately we didn't get everyone since some people had to leave early.

On my way out, a peacock graced me with a goodbye show in the tulips that was spectacular!

What a wonderful day!  It makes the day even better knowing I will be moving up with this group to the intermediate 5th/6th grade building in our district next year!  I'm so excited to be spending three years altogether with these kids and their families!  How lucky am I?!

I loved the silverback and elephant stuffed animals one student bought at the zoo gift store, that I bought my own to put in the classroom to remind us of this terrific day!

Thank you, Ivan, Stella, Ruby, Julia, and Bob for inspiring us to be kind and devoted friends!


  1. You sound like an amazing teacher! I already left a comment on your classroom blog before I found this one.

    I am listening to Ivan right now on audio - was planning to pitch it as a review for a family magazine I write for, but I got to one of the sadder moments today (when a main character dies) and was worried this book might be too upsetting for sensitive kids. I was just picturing my niece (who cried every one of the dozens of times she saw Spirit, even though she knew it ended OK!). So, I am curious how your 4th graders responded - were any of them overly upset by the sadder events in the book or by the animals' being in cages instead of in the wild?

    Your zoo outing sounds like a lot of fun!


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    1. Lisa Lehr (Lauren's mom)April 24, 2013 at 12:17 AM

      Sue, My daughter Lauren is so VERY fortunate to have Mrs. Mueller in her life (so am I) . When a copy came home for me to read I realized it is written to be a great read aloud so each night before bed I read Ivan to my twin 6 year olds. They loved the story and even though I did skip over the parts about the gorilla hands being used as ash trays and about how Ivan remembers his parents being murdered the twins never got upset. If anything there are many great lessons such proper animal care (related it to their pets) and about keeping promises and being a true friend. I however did not just read the book to them I discussed events and feelngs as I read. I as a parent believe it is NEVER to early to begin teaching such values to my children.

  2. Thank you, Sue and Lisa, for commenting and for your nice compliments! It was a wonderful day! Lisa, I couldn't put it better myself as to why this book is deserving of readership and the Newbery! Sue, I hope you will write it up for the family magazine you write for because Ivan is full of hope and love! Yes, there is loss, but Stella leaves behind a legacy of loyalty, family ties, faith, and friendship that all of us can aspire to! In the very best children's stories we see the same kind of message - Charlotte's Web, Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, etc. I make a case for those kinds of stories in my post, Death and Loss in Middle Grade Novels (the link is under "Popular Posts" on the right side of the blog). I do like Lisa's encouragement to discuss and experience books with children so they don't have to process them on their own, but like she said, it is never too early to being teaching such values! Yes, kids may cry when they read it (I do every time!), but there is nothing wrong with feeling sorrow - you will also laugh and feel happy while you read it! I hope you enjoy Ivan and will pay it forward!

  3. Wow, thanks for such great feedback! My concern was that the reviews in this magazine are now only about 50 words, so there's not much room for, for instance, warning that it might be upsetting to very sensitive kids. Certainly no room to encourage parents to discuss the book with their kids! lol

    But you both make some excellent points. I will finish the audio and pitch it to my editor and see what she says. I wasn't sure what to make of it at first, but the story had me hooked within a couple of chapters!

    Thanks so much for the quick and thoughtful answers to my question!


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  4. I just found you blog following the tweets of #nErDcampBC. I enjoyed reading your post and JUST love this idea! I will be bookmarking (pinning) this so i can come back to "borrow" your wonderful idea!