The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

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I’m kicking myself for not reading The One and Only Ivan before completing Inly’s Summer Reading List. It’s moving and bittersweet and definitely one of those books that I’m going to press into kid’s hands at every opportunity.  Ivan, the novel’s narrator, is a silverback gorilla who lives in a mini-circus at the Big Top Mall. His friends are Stella, an elephant; Bob, a stray dog; and Julia, the custodian’s daughter.  They are joined by Ruby, a young elephant that was taken from her family – and endures mistreatment by the humans in charge of her care. Ivan, much like Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web, vows to save Ruby’s life.  It’s kind of amazing actually. There are so many elements in Applegate’s story that remind me of E.B. White’s classic book, especially the human characters. The young girl Julia could be Fern’s granddaughter.

The novel, based on the true story of a gorilla who lived in a mall for 27 years, is told in free verse poetry, something I thought might get tiresome (like movie subtitles), but after a while, I didn’t even notice. In fact, the short passages made Ivan’s situation seem more urgent.  I would recommend this book to readers ages 9 and over.  The issue of animal cruelty is handled sensitively, and reminds readers how important it is to treat animals with respect.

If you want to know more about the “real” Ivan, who now lives at Zoo Atlanta, here’s a link to his picture on Applegate’s web site:


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