The One and Only Ivan

Book Reviews

Applegate, Katherine The One and Only Ivan; illus. by Patricia Castelao. Harper/HarperCollins, 2012 [320p]
ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4 $16.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 4-6

Ivan, a silverback gorilla, is one of several animal residents of an interior park in a fading interstate mall owned by the conflicted Mack, a loving but flawed animal keeper. Ivan’s friends Stella, an elephant, and Bob, the resident stray dog, keep him reasonably occupied, as do occasional drawing sessions, the results of which Mack sells. Determined to increase attendance, Mack buys a baby elephant, Ruby, and while Ruby bonds with Stella and tries to adjust, Stella’s health declines. Ivan then makes a rash promise to his dying friend: to get Ruby out of the mall and into a more suitable nearby zoo. Ivan is a fascinating narrator with an intelligent, pithy voice that is, by turns, amusing and poignant (“It’s not so bad, I wanted to tell the little boy. With enough time, you can get used to almost anything”). Applegate doesn’t pull any punches in this look at the treatment of captive wild animals; Ivan’s remembrance of the demise of his gorilla family is brief but starkly brutal (his parents were shot, then dismembered), and the sadness and boredom of mall captivity is palpable. Castelao’s intermittent, slightly stylized illustrations, in smudgy, charcoal-like tones of gray, complement the evocative yet spare storytelling. Short chapters and widely spaced lines of text ensure the 300+ pages move quickly and will make this approachable for reluctant readers. Animal-loving youngsters and their adults will find plenty of food for thought in Ivan’s extraordinary story.  JH

The One and Only Ivan.
Applegate, Katherine (author).  Illustrated by Patricia Castelao.  Jan. 2012. 320p. Harper, hardcover, $16.99 (9780061992254). Grades 3-6.
REVIEW.  First published February 15, 2012 (Booklist).

Ivan, a silverback gorilla, has lived in a glass, metal, and concrete enclosure at Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, “conveniently located off I-95,” for 27 years. Bored, he watches TV, draws pictures, throws “me-balls” (dried excrement) at visitors, and enjoys the company of a venerable elephant named Stella and a few other friends. After a baby elephant arrives, Ivan makes Stella a solemn promise that seems impossible to fulfill. The text, written in first person from Ivan’s point of view, does a good job of vividly conveying his personality, emotions, and intelligence as well as creating a sense of otherness in his point of view. His story is based on the life of a gorilla now living at Zoo Atlanta. The book’s wide-spaced lines, plentiful white space, and pleasing black-and-white illustrations make this a quicker read than the page count might suggest. Animals fans will enjoy this one. — Carolyn Phelan

Horn Book Magazine:
The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate; illus. by Patricia Castelao
Intermediate Harper/HarperCollins 305 pp.
1/12 978-0-06-199225-4 $16.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-06-210198-3 $9.99

“I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. / It’s not as easy as it looks.” In short chapters (the book has an open layout and frequent illustrations) that have the look and feel of prose poems, Applegate has captured the voice of Ivan, a captive gorilla who lives at the “Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.” When a new baby elephant, Ruby, arrives, Ivan promises the old elephant, Stella, that he will take care of her. When Stella passes away, he realizes that their years of captivity in such a restrictive environment are not what Ruby deserves. He hatches a daring plan that involves his own original artwork, a stray dog, the daughter of the custodian, and a zoo thousands of miles away. Ultimately, his plan is successful and the captive animals are relocated to the much-more-humane habitat of the zoo as the pensive, melancholy tone gives way to hope and joy. The choice to tell this story in the first person and to personify the gorilla with an entire range of human thoughts, feelings, and emotions poses important questions to the reader, not only about what it means to be human but also about what it means to be a living creature, and what kind of kinship we all share. An author’s note describes the true incident that inspired this story and includes more information about the real Ivan. JONATHAN HUNT

Reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine [or Guide, as applicable] by permission of The Horn Book, Inc.,

School Library Journal:
 APPLEGATE, Katherine. The One and Only Ivan. illus. by Patricia Castelao. 305p. CIP. HarperCollins/Harper. Jan. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-210198-3. LC 2011010034.

Gr 3-7–This tender tale of friendship and hope is narrated by a silverback gorilla living at The Big Top Mall, a shabby, circus-themed roadside attraction. For years, Ivan was passively content. He had his art, unlimited bananas, and his friends: Stella (an elephant), Bob (a stray dog), and Julia (a human child). Ivan’s eyes are finally opened to his deplorable surroundings when he loses a friend due to neglect. The last straw is when he witnesses the attraction’s owner abusing Ruby, a newly acquired baby elephant. Thus, Ivan is inspired to take action. With some help from his human friends, his dream of a better life for all the Big Top’s animals just might come true. The character of Ivan, as explained in an author’s note, is inspired by a real gorilla that lived through similar conditions before being adopted by Zoo Atlanta. Applegate makes a powerful statement about the treatment of animals–especially those living in captivity–and reminds readers that all creatures deserve a safe place to call home. Castelao’s delightful illustrations enhance this lovely story, and the characters will capture readers’ hearts and never let go. A must-have.–Alissa J. LeMerise, Oxford Public Library, MI


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