March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Ivan, Clara, and the Freedom Tree: History in Picture Books │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go

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Held close to the hearts of Tacoma and Atlanta residents, Ivan, the shopping mall gorilla, is now known across the country. Clara Barton is synonymous with the American Red Cross. Ben Franklin and kite experiments equal scientist.

What happened to turn these ordinary characters into historical superstars? Find out the backstory, as well as unfamiliar tales about events of time past, selected by the editors at Junior Library Guild.

APPLEGATE, Katherine. Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla. illus. by G. Brian Karas. 40p. Clarion. 2014. ISBN 9780544252301. JLG Level: NEK : Nonfiction Early Elementary (Grades K–2).


Every shopping center has stores and restaurants. Only one had a gorilla. Ivan lived at the B & I Circus Store in Tacoma, Washington. “Sometimes Ivan watched TV. Sometimes he played with an old tire. Sometimes he finger-painted, signing the papers with his thumbprint.” As the years passed, he became lonely. Those he watched from his cage became angry. Petitions were signed. Letters were written. After twenty-seven years, he was sent to a new location. Ivan would finally have a chance to live among other gorillas in Zoo Atlanta.

Based on the true story, and companion to the Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan, Applegate recounts the events that preceded his life at the shopping mall. The book’s website includes a book trailer, interview with the author, and a discussion guide. For more on the novel, visit Applegate’s website. You can also follow her on Twitter. The book is beautifully illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Readers may be interested in seeing more of his work on his website, which features an interview and a clever presentation of the covers of the books he’s illustrated.

DAVIS, Kathryn Gibbs. Mr. Ferris and His Wheel. illus. by Gilbert Ford. 40p. Houghton Harcourt. 2014. ISBN 9780547959221. JLG Level: NE : Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2–6).


In 1892, Americans were impressed with the Eiffel Tower, the star attraction of the World’s Fair. Who would top that in Chicago the following year? George Ferris was an engineer with an idea. His structure would be made of steel, a new material. Strong yet delicate-looking, Ferris’s wheel was a risk that fair officials weren’t willing to fund. Undefeated, the young engineer used his own savings and broke ground in January 1893. The earth was frozen three feet deep. Beneath that was quicksand. How would he ever be able to complete his dream?

Read more about the author and her other books on her website. Want to know more about the process of book illustrator Gilbert Ford? Read the blog on his website and follow him on Twitter. The Children’s Bookshelf featured the picture book in their podcasts. Use the educator guide produced by the publisher which incorporates second grade Common Core standards for informational text. The book tab in JLG’s Fall 2014 BTG LiveBinder also provides support resources such as links to Hyde Park, Ferris’s obituary, and a history of theme park inventions.

JOHNSON, Angela. All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom. illus. by E. B. Lewis. 40p. Simon & Schuster. 2014. ISBN 9780689873768. JLG Level: E : Easy Reading (Grades 1–3).


Things would be all different now―now that they were free. Word came to them in the Texas fields on a day in June. People cried. They whispered. They gathered for a picnic by the water. And stories were told by the people―people who were finally free.

Juneteenth, now widely celebrated, is captured in the powerful pairing of Johnson and Lewis. Read their notes in the back matter and visit their websites for additional information. For more on the celebration, visit, America’s Library, and PBS. HotChalk Lesson Plans features a unit of study with videos, additional reading suggestions, and additional resources that extend the lesson to middle school students.

POLACCO, Patricia. Clara and Davie: The True Story of Young Clara Barton. illus. by author. 40p. Scholastic. 2-14. ISBN 9780545354776. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).


As a young girl, Clara Barton struggled in school. She couldn’t pronounce words without a lisp. She grew shy and afraid. Rather than give up her education, the young girl became homeschooled. In her spare time Clara worked with the animals. Healing them was her gift. An accident that broke both of her favorite brother’s legs gave Clara the opportunity to use her medical talents on people. It would, however, take more than a knowledge of bones to help Davie walk once again. Did Clara have what it would take?

Related to Clara by marriage, Polacco weaves a poignant story that tugs at your heart and encourages readers to have hope. Visit her website for more on her prolific work and like her on Facebook. Check out the informational text at Wonderopolis, “Who Was Clara Barton,” to complete your unit of inquiry or storytime.

ROSENSTOCK, Barb. Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention.  illus. by S. D. Schindler. 32p. Calkins Creek. ISBN 9781620914465. JLG Level: P+ : Primary (Grades K–1).


What inventions do you think of when someone says Ben Franklin? Glasses? The lightning rod? How about swim sandals? In Rosenstock’s latest story, Ben loved the water and wondered why he couldn’t swim like fish. So, he invented wooden paddles to act like fins. When he wasn’t satisfied with them, he designed sandals, but they slipped off his feet. Did he give up? Not even close, for 178 years later, he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Today we also know Franklin as a great inventor, historical figure, and writer. Rosenstock’s website includes a book trailer and will soon post an educator’s guide. You can follow her on Twitter. Learn more about illustrator Schindler on his website and like him on Facebook. For more about the scientist, visit Ben Franklin Tercentenary, read The Papers of Ben Franklin, and other sources mentioned in the text, all of which are posted in JLG’s Fall 2014 BTG LiveBinder.

VANHECKE, Susan. Under the Freedom Tree. illus. by London Ladd. 32p. Charlesbridge. 2014. ISBN 9781580895507. JLG Level: I+ : Independent Readers (Grades 2–4).


Trees can shelter squirrels in nests of old leaves. Some protect baby birds before they learn to fly. In 1861, contrabands, runaway slaves from seceded states, found refuge under the Emancipation Oak while they learned to read. Now enemies of the state, the former slaves worked for the Union forces, much as they had before, yet they came to Fort Monroe by the thousands. Surely, being a paid contraband was better than being a slave. Nights were their own in a town near an old oak tree that showed them the way to freedom.

Author VanHecke includes links to research sites as well as a book trailer on her website. Follow her on Twitter. London Ladd went to Virginia to prepare for work on his captivating illustrations. Find out more about him on his website and follow him on Twitter. Teaching resources abound for the free verse picture book, including an educator’s guide and a reader’s theater script, published by Charlesbridge.


Additional Resources

The resources for the above titles have been organized in a new JLG Booktalks to Go: Fall 2014 LiveBinder. Titles are sorted by interest level, PreK-3, 3-6, 5-8, and YA. Check out our award-winning Spring 2014 LiveBinder which organizes resources for spring releases. All websites are posted within each LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources are added. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Booktalks and resources are also included on JLG’s BTG Pinterest board.

For library resources, tips, and ideas, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild (JLG) is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at (NOTE: JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)





Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.