Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Friday, February 14, 2014

Plot Summary:
Ivan has been at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade for most of his life. Things were a lot more exciting when Mack and Helen would treat him as their human child, but Ivan is older and yearning for the life he had before the Mall. Although he dreams of being with other gorillas, Ivan has a few friends who keep him company: Bob (the sarcastic, stray dog who sleeps on Ivan's Belly at night) and Stella (the wise and caring elephant and storyteller). The best part of Ivan's nights are when Julia, and her father, George, come to clean the Mall; George is the janitor and Julia helps when she can. Julia is an artist and Ivan loves art. Ever since he was a baby, Ivan always loved looking at colors, shapes, and even using mud to make his own drawings. Life for Ivan, before Mack, was perfect until he and his sister were taken from his troop and sold off. Although Ivan used to be the star of the Exit 8 Big Top, business has been slow and Mack has become more and frustrated. What's even harder is that Stella's past injuries are taking it's toll, but real problem is: Mack has bought a baby elephant and is bringing her to the Mall. Stella, furious and sad, takes the baby, named Ruby, in her care and acts as her surrogate mother. However, when Stella was unable to recover form her injuries, she made Ivan promise that he will care for Ruby. Ivan knows absolutely nothing about raising babies, but he knows everything about being a protector: silver back Gorillas have it imprinted in their DNA. In this story, a disillusioned Gorilla does the impossible to not only save an innocent elephant, but to convey that animals, just like humans, know what it's like to love and care for one another. 

Critical Evaluation:
Katherine Applegate has given a voice to one of the Earth's mightiest creatures and did it very well. The One and Only Ivan is actually based on a true story about a silver back gorilla, named Ivan, who was held captive for 37 years in a mall in Washington. After National Geographic aired a special on "The Urban Gorilla," the public was outraged and even young children wrote letters to have Ivan removed from the Mall. Eventually, the Mall went bankrupt and Ivan was moved to Zoo Atlanta where he lived out the rest of his lifedin harmony with his own kind until his death in 2012. Ivan was 50 years old and he continues to paint until his last breath. I absolutely loved what Applegate said about writing this book
"When I started to write about the grim facts of Ivan's solitary existence, a new tale slowly began to take shape. At least on the page, where anything is possible, I wanted to give Ivan (even while captive behind the walls of his tiny cage) a voice of his own and a story to tell. I wanted to give him someone to protect, and the chance to be the mighty silverback he was always meant to be." 
What we human tend to forget is that animals have their own consciousnesses, their own identities, and their very unique abilities. When I hear about animals, like Ivan, it is incredibly upsetting because these animals were not made to be pets nor side show attractions; wild animals are a part of this world for a specific person and we, humans, have only one purpose: observe and learn. As readers find out what happens to Ivan's families, they will be in for a shock at the current reality that all of the world's gorillas face. As Ivan re-lives these awful remembers, he becomes determined to not let Ruby waste away in the mall like he has. Unlike the Ivan, the story's Ivan is given the opportunity to be just like his father and protect little Ruby. In fact, Ivan and Ruby have so much in common, it was inevitable that he would predict Stella's wish for him to protect Ruby. The ending is absolutely beautiful so be sure to have the tissues handy. 

Information about the Author:
According to her website:

I've written many books for children and young adults, including The Buffalo Storm (a picture book), Roscoe Riley Rules (a chapter book series), and Animorphs (which I wrote with my husband, Michael Grant.) My novel Home of the Brave was awarded the 2008 Golden Kite Award for Best Fiction, the Bank Street 2008 Josette Frank Award for children's fiction, and was a Judy Lopez Memorial Award honor book.

I live in California with my husband, two children, and assorted pets.

Tween Fiction

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 4-7

Books Similar to The One and Only Ivan:

Awards & Recognition:
School Library Journal Best of Children's Books 2012

Kirkus Reviews Best of Children's Books 2012

Amazon 2012 Best Books of the Year, Middle Grade

Chicago Public Library Best of the Best 2012

New York Public Library 100 Books for Reading and Sharing, 2012

Cybils shortlist, 2012 middle grade fantasy (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards)

Texas Bluebonnet Award, 2013-14 Master List

2012 Nerdies Book Award, middle grade fiction

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews:
"How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.”

Starred Review, School Library Journal: 
“The characters will capture readers’ hearts and never let go.  A must-have.”

Starred Review, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: 

{ 1 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. This is a great book. I plan on reading it to my third graders. It's a story of friendship and determination.


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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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