Reading with ‘Ivan’

Author of acclaimed children’s book ‘The One and Only Ivan’ sends message to East Elementary students

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Fourth-grade students in Lea Casey's class at East Elementary read “The One and Only Ivan” as part of an ongoing reading project. (Cullman City Schools)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Fourth-graders at East Elementary School recently received a reading time surprise when Katherine Applegate, author of the Newbery Award-winner “The One and Only Ivan,” sent a message to their classes.

Cullman City Schools fourth graders have spent the month reading the New York Times bestseller, about a gorilla who lives among humans and makes friends with a baby elephant who turns his whole world upside down. East Elementary School Principal David Wiggins recently posted a photo of the students reading the book on Twitter, which caught the attention of Applegate, who sent a short message to fourth-grade teachers Kristi Jackson and Lea Casey to pass along to the local students working their way through her book.

The teachers also shared papers the students had written about the book with Applegate via social media.

“Love this,” Applegate said in her messages. “Please tell your compassionate young readers I say hello!”

Casey said the students were elated when they found out Applegate knew they were reading her book and took the time to send them a message.

“Oh, the kids thought they were big time,” she laughed. “They’re all really loving the book, and they were so excited to have the author actually respond to them.”

The bestselling book also recently became an original film on the Disney Plus streaming service, and Casey said the hope is to let the students watch the film in the coming weeks once they’ve finished reading the book.

“We want to watch it with the students so they can see it brought to life,” she said. “It’s even helpful getting into animal studies in science, because it shows the animal habitats and things we study.”

Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Patterson said she was delighted to see teachers and school leaders finding creative ways to keep students engaged in learning.

“We have such great teachers and leaders at all our schools, and it’s always exciting to see students get excited about learning,” she said.

The One and Only Ivan” was written by Katherine Applegate with illustrations by Patricia Castelao. The book won the Newbery Medal in 2013 and was a New York Times bestseller.

Cullman City Schools has more than 3,000 students and encompasses Cullman High School (Grades 9-12), Cullman Middle School (Grades 7-8), East Elementary School (Grades 2-6), West Elementary School (Grades 2-6), and Cullman City Primary School (Grades K-1). Cullman City Schools also hosts the Cullman City Head Start Program. Cullman City Schools consistently ranks as one of the top school systems in College ACT scores in the state of Alabama.