Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan was written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by Patricia Castelao. It was published in 2012 by HarperCollins.

I think I need to preface this post with the fact that I did not like this book.  A lot of what I write will make it seem as though I liked it, but it was not the book for me. Although it has a great message that kids would appreciate, I don't feel as though it is something that a child would choose to read on their own.  Also, I just couldn’t get into reading from a gorilla’s perspective.  That being said…

The One and Only Ivan is the newest book on the Newberry Award Winner List (2013). It is based on the true story of a gorilla that endured the life that Ivan’s tells us about.  Ivan, a silverback gorilla, is one of the attractions at Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  Ivan is the narrator throughout the book and tells the tale of his life at the mall (he has been there for 27 years) as well as the lives of his friends, Bob (a stray dog not wanting a permanent home)  Stella (an adult elephant who was sold to the owner, Mack, after her leg was hurt in the circus), and Rachel (the human artist who shares her supplies with Ivan when he wants to draw).

From the beginning of the book, I pictured Ray Ramono as Ivan.  I thought, if Ivan was a human, I feel as though he would be similar to Ray Ramono’s character in the show Parenthood.  I read him with a very dry humor voice and I loved the short, funny, sarcastic phrases he uses, starting from the very first page: “I am Ivan. I am a gorilla.  It’s not as easy as it looks.” Throughout the book, I think he was continuously sarcastic in his comments. 

            “Chimps, there’s no excuse for them.” (page 5)

            “Once however, I was able to enjoy a book left in my domain by humans.” (page 8)

            “I draw another banana.  And then I draw eight more.” (page 39)

These are just some of the many quotes that made me laugh as I read. I don’t know if they were supposed to be thought of as sarcastic, but like I said, in Ray Ramono’s voice, they were.

Although he is a gorilla, Ivan had quite a way with words.  He was able to describe things in such a simple yet moving way.  He had you wanting to help him and his friends through this experience and made you feel the pain they were going through.

            “I have a gorilla’s gaze, a gorilla’s shy smile. I wear a snowy saddle of fur, the uniform of a silverback. When the sun warms my back, I cast a gorilla’s majestic shadow.” (page 4)
            “ Not long ago, a little boy stood before my glass, tears streaming down his smooth red cheeks. ‘He must be the loneliest gorilla in the world,’ he said” (page 21)

            “Stella is a mountain.  Next to her I am a rock, and Bob is a grain of sand.” (page 27)

            “ With enough time, you can get use to anything.” (page 22)

These are four examples that made me stop and think about how powerful his words were, and that was only through page 27.  I could give a hundred more examples! I feel as though the last example was the most powerful statement in the book.  I believe this is the reason people give up.  They get use to the situation they are in and believe that their new normal has to be their forever normal.  They forget what a good life could be, as Ivan did in this book.  

At its heart, The One and Only Ivan is a story about love and resiliency.   Ivan loved his friends, Bob and Stella, and only wanted the best for them.  He had no real problems with being at the mall until a new animal joined him.  Ruby, a baby elephant, was acquired by Mack to help bring in profits.  Up until this point, Ivan couldn’t remember any of his past.  He didn’t know how he ended up at the mall, going on display for Mack.  When Ruby joined them, Stella started acting as her protective mother.  Stella didn’t agree with the animals being there and made Ivan promise to take care of Ruby and get her out of there.  She knew she was going to die soon and needed someone else to help Ruby.  It was because of this that Ivan started to remember his past.  Ruby wanted stories, so Ivan had to think back about his life. He came to realize that he started his life with Mack as a baby.  He was raised as a human child; eating, playing and dressing like a young boy.  It was all fun and games until he got too big and the ‘parents’ realized he could not be kept in the house. When he began to remember, he realized that he needed to help Ruby because the ‘domain’ that they lived in was not where the animals should live. 

Over time, Ivan was able to create a picture puzzle, showing the life that Ruby should have.  He wanted humans to rally for her and get her to a zoo.  Rachel found the pictures and was able to identify them as a call for help from Ivan.  She convinced her father to make the pictures public, so that others could help free Ruby. Ultimately, this worked, and all of the animals were relocated to a huge zoo with animals of their kind.

It was his kindness toward another that allowed him to free himself as well, which is a lesson that many need to learn. Putting forth effort in something or someone you believe in helps you as well, which is what Ivan learned.  He had the unintended effect of helping himself when this all played out as well. 

If you are someone who enjoyed this book, you can find a ton of information at the official One and Only Ivan website.  There are other reviews, information about the real Ivan, as well as the book and the author. Find the site interesting?  Read the book after finding it here. 


  1. I'm just curious- why didn't you like the book? I agree with you that it's not something most kids would naturally want to pick up and read, and I personally found it a bit boring (although there were some truly powerful phrases, as you said!)

  2. I read it to my kiddos last year and this year. They loved it. It was our second read-aloud of the year, and it is still the one that sticks with them and that they talk about. I think it is a great read-aloud for upper elementary!

  3. Savannah - I've heard from several people that kids have loved it, so maybe I just couldn't get into the head of a child for this one. I think I'm going to have my son read it or read it to him and see what he thinks.

    Kristen - I also just found it a bit boring as well. I think it had a great message but I couldn't get into it.

  4. Did you have Ivan last year? He was waiting for it to come back to the library. He's going to come discuss it with me when he finishes. I told him to check out Zoo Atlanta web page.