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Review of The One and Only Ivan

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.

About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.



  1. The book The One and Only Ivan was amazing!!! This year I am in fifth grade and I am joining a club called, NAME THAT BOOK and in this club we have requirements, we have to read more than 30 books! We have to remember the quotes and summaries for each book and The One and Only Ivan is a book I have to read (which I did). Our school is #1 nobody knows number #2! This year in the Compotion we will win!

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