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Animal Character, Early/Young Readers, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Teacher & Parent Recommendations

THE ONE AND ONLY BOB by Katherine Applegate

Bob (the dog that is Ivan the Gorilla’s best friend) now lives with Julia and her parents. He is able to visit Ivan and Ruby at the Zoological Park where they now reside. Bob and Julia go to the Park for a visit and a tornado hits–a precursor to Hurricane Gus. This sets the stage for both mortal danger and rescue attempts.

Much more predictable and traditional in structure that The One and Only Ivan, Bob’s story is sweet and (deceptively) simple. The plot is straightforward: multiple cycles of danger + rescue attempt = outcome (I don’t want to give anything away) interspersed with Bob’s backstory and insights arising from the danger/rescue attempt cycles.

Bob has been deeply hurt in the past and he is understandably leery of being hurt again:

Why should I forgive the humans who tossed me and my siblings out into the night? When you forgive, you lose your anger, and when you lose your anger, you get weak.

And when you’re weak, you can get hurt all over again.

Bob articulates feelings we all experience, which is why his journey to risk vulnerability has the potential to resonate on a deep level with middle-grade readers. Trust and forgiveness are hard things to embrace especially when you’ve been hurt. Rather than simply deciding to change his outlook completely and immediately, Applegate allows Bob to consider an alternative to his current attitude. New perspectives and behaviors are hard. Bob is able to take in the idea of ‘what if I did this instead…’ It’s kind of like a gradual move from the shallow to the deep end of a pool instead of a plunge that has the water going over your head immediately, or in Bob’s words:

I’m trying hard to find the forgiveness that seems to come so naturally to other dogs….

I’m working on it. It’s like a bone. Sometimes you have to chew for a long time before you make any progress.

The One and Only Bob succeeds, as only the best children’s literature can, in telling an adventure story that will be engaging for young readers while simultaneously exploring ideas of hurt and forgiveness and the far-reaching effects both can have in our lives, touching on the deeper levels of how we want to engage with the world around us. The beauty of Bob’s story is that it is equally enjoyable regardless of the level in which you choose to engage it.

A word of caution to lovers (like me) of The One and Only Ivan: Be careful and aware of your expectations. (I tried to be.) The One and Only Bob has a different tone than Ivan. It’s nice to see Ivan and Ruby and Julia make appearances from a nostalgic point of view, but Ivan and Ruby just aren’t necessary in this part of Bob’s story. In fact, the only place where The One and Only Bob faltered for me was when Ivan and Ruby intersect with Bob at a pivotal moment of forward motion in the plot. It’s probably impossible not to compare them when you love Ivan as much as I (and so many others) do, but I think The One and Only Bob stands much better on its own than in connection with Ivan.

This was a 4+ star read for me and I will happily recommend it as both an independent and read-aloud choice at home and in classrooms whenever I can!

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