The One and Only Ivan

Thank you Mr. Schu, if it were not for your steady flood of #theoneandonlyivan tweets, I would not have read this amazing story. I can see why are you are so passionate about this book, I am too now. Thank You!

Title: The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
Illustrator: Patricia Castelao
Publisher: Harper 2012
Themes: Animals, Animal Treatment, Art, Friendship
Ages: 8 and up
Pages: 320

Ivan is a gorilla in a circus-themed mall. He enjoys his friends, Stella the elephant and Bob the dog, and his human friend Julia, from whom he learns art. He spends his days observing the shoppers, watching TV, and painting. He doesn’t remember his old life in the jungle, this does not bother him. Until, one day when Ruby the baby elephant’s arrival triggers a series of events that opens Ivan’s eyes to their ‘real’ living situation. With this realization, Ivan begins to take on the role of the mighty silverback, the protector.

This is unlike any book I have ever read, breathtakingly simple, humorous, but also poignant. I knew this was going to be an amazing story after reading the following lines on page 2:

 “People call me the Freeway Gorilla. The Ape at Exit 8 … I am just Ivan … Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.

Everyone knows peels are the best part.”

The writing style eloquently matches Ivan’s character. Chapters are structured more like topics or insights that are only one to several pages long. Sentences are short, simple, but with tremendous impact to make the reader cry, rejoice, or simply ponder the impact we humans have on the world. Throughout the book there were many what I call “stop-and-think” lines that would make great discussion points. The combination of the short chapters and easy-to-read sentence structure makes this book accessible for even young readers just transitioning into middle-grade novels.

This is a beautiful, thoughtful story that will sit in your mind long after the last page is turned. I am not sure what is more amazing, the beauty of the author’s writing or knowing the true story that inspired this book.

Thank you Ms. Applegate for writing such an enlightening story for kids just beginning to comprehend the world around them.

Related Resources and Reviews:

Links about Ivan.

  • Learn more about Ivan on the author’s website.
  • Newspaper article about Ivan.
  • Atlanta Zoo’s Ivan Page – timeline, photographs, video clip

Check out the book trailer here.
Discussion guide with questions and activities.

Check out other great reviews of this book at Great Kid Books, Sprouts Bookshelf, and 100 Scope Notes.

Spoiler Alert and Analysis:

Below is a list of some of my favorite parts from the book. (skip through if you don’t want to know more.)

  • Parallel structure of the chapters “Three Visitors” and “My Visitors Return”
  • Ivan coming to terms with his past in “Remembering”, “What They Did”, and “Something Else to Buy”. Be prepared with a hankie and set aside some time for pondering.
  • Ivan watching the gorilla family on TV, and they are right behind his wooden curtain. Excellent use of anticipation, my heart leapt for joy.
  • Julia and Bob coming to visit Ivan in the zoo, it was like good old friends coming to visit.

What were your favorite moments in the book? If you haven’t read the book yet, no worries, please come back after you have read it. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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23 Comments to “The One and Only Ivan”

  1. Oh boy we loved this book. I was so totally amazed by the beauty of the writing, the pacing, and the characters. I love the part when Ivan is in the zoo, and realizes he can see Ruby. So good. And also the moment when Julia realizes that he’s made a giant picture, and convinces her dad to glue it to the billboard.

    • I love those scenes too. I should probably just make a list of all the highlights I made in the book. I was soooo bummed that the book didn’t have an illustration of that picture Ivan drew that made it onto the billboard.

  2. I haven’t read it yet but will now.

  3. Very unusual book. Your review really captivated me. Must try to find this.

    • Patricia, the book came out in January, and has been getting wide-acclaim through the librarian circles. I don’t think you should have any problem finding it at your local library. I hope you love it, do come back and let us know!

  4. Hi, Darshana. I’m so glad you wrote about this book. Like you, I saw a lot of tweets about it, but I wasn’t sure what it was all about. Now I do…so thank you! I have a few other books on hold at our local library and am going to go add this one right now 🙂

  5. This sounds wonderful, Darshana! Thanks for sharing!

  6. I loved this book.
    I have to say some of my favorite moments involved him remembering his sister.
    I think death is a pretty difficult thing to write about, and we really feel Ivan’s heart break over her in this story.

    And the relationships are just so strong.
    I loved the entire book.

  7. I keep hearing amazing things about this books but have not picked it up yet. Sometimes I find it hard to pick up books I think will make me sad. Thanks for linking up to The Children’s Bookshelf.

  8. I read the newspaper article about Ivan and it certainly inspires me to read the book. Just the fact that Ivan was the only gorilla to survive the trip from the Congo is a story in itself. One can only imagine how that affected him.

  9. Wow, this story sounds so precious. Thank you for bringing my attention to it. I’m going to put this on our library list for the weekend. So glad I found you at the Kid Lit Blog Hop this week!

  10. I got chills just reading the quote you included above. I haven’t read this book, but first came across it when a publisher offered it through one of my giveaways. I loved your review and I think I would really love this book. It’s officially on my TBR list now!

    Thanks so much for linking into the Kit Lit Blog Hop once again! 😀

  11. My 2nd grader and I read it together a couple of weeks ago. We live in Metro Atlanta, so have/had a real-life connection to Ivan. I liked the book, and so did my son. I think he liked Bob the best:)

    • I am so happy to hear your 2nd grader enjoyed it. I am currently reading it aloud to my 1st grader and Pre-K girls. They are enjoying it though it is taking a while for us to get through it because of the higher reading level. Didn’t realize there were so many similes and metaphors until I started reading it aloud to them. We are down to the last 50 pages now.

  12. I have read this book and own it too! One of my favorites!

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