The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (2012)

51DLkub2rOL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_An unhappy but resigned gorilla uses art and inspiration from a new friend to fight for a brighter future in this quiet, thoughtful Newbery Medal winner.

Recommended grade level: 3-6

Pages: 307, with pictures (for ISBN 9780061992254)

Genre(s) and keywords: animal fiction, award winner

Tone/Style: thoughtful, lyrical

Pace: leisurely

Topics: animals, animal abuse, art, activism

Themes: loss, loneliness, change, action versus inaction, friendship, self-expression, dreams for the future

Summary: Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better. (Source)

Who will like this book?: First of all, adults. This is one of those teachers-love-it award-winning titles. Luckily, its lovable animal characters and themes of friendship and hope for the future have wide appeal for young people, too. It’s the sort of book that can touch just about anyone regardless of age or station, and likely will continue to do so even after many years. I would recommend this to animal lovers, emotional and sentimental readers, and to teachers as a reading assignment for students.

Who won’t like this book?: Readers who prefer action and fast-paced plots. Readers who don’t like sad stories.

Other comments: Though the reading level of this title is more upper elementary, its characters and the issues they face are not age-specific, so older middle schoolers may breeze through the book but they probably will not feel it’s below their maturity level.


Readalikes: Applegate also wrote a nonfiction picture book about the real Ivan called Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla. Also try the classic Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Wonder by R.J. Palacio is similar in spirit, if not in plot.

-Kylie Peters

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