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.
From the January/February 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.