The One and Only Ivan
Katherine Applegate (Juvenile Fiction)
“I just thought of a story,” I say. “Is it a made-up story or a true one?” Ruby asks. “True,” I say. “I hope.” Ruby leans against the bars. Her eyes hold the pale moon in them, the way a still pond holds stars. “Once upon a time,” I say, “there was a baby elephant. She was smart and brave, and she needed to go to a place called a zoo.” “What’s a zoo?” Ruby asks. “A zoo, Ruby, is a place where humans make amends. A good zoo is a place where humans care for animals and keep them safe.” “Did the baby elephant get to the zoo?” Ruby asks softly. I don’t answer right away. “Yes,” I say at last. “How did she get there?” Ruby asks. “She had a friend,” I say. “A friend who made a promise.”
Ivan is known by many names that humans have given him: The Freeway Gorilla, The Ape at Exit 8, Mighty Silverback, and The One and Only Ivan. But really, Ivan isn’t any of those. He’s just Ivan who spends his days (9,876 and counting) at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Ivan is great at counting, but the thing he loves to do more than anything else is draw. His drawings sell for $20 in the gift shop ($25 framed) and so he spends his days drawing, counting, and observing until a baby elephant named Ruby joins the Big Top Mall. Ruby is shy and scared and Ivan soon realizes that he must make good on a promise he made to a friend in order to keep Ruby safe. A promise that he’s not sure how he’ll keep, but he knows he must find a way. Whatever that might be.
Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal, The One and Only Ivan was inspired by a real gorilla named Ivan who spent almost three decades in a circus-themed mall in Washington state before his eventual relocation to Zoo Atlanta. In this heartwarming and touching story, Applegate gives us a hero who is kind, strong, and loyal. Despite being four-hundred pounds of pure power, Ivan is a main character full of self-doubt, humility, and opinions…lots and lots of opinions: poodles are parasites, humans speak too much, and there is absolutely no excuse for chimps.
Throughout her story, Applegate gives us glimpses of kindness, cruelty, desperation, remorse, selflessness, hope, and love. It is a tale of loyalty, bravery, and ingenuity and shows us how far we are willing to go in order to keep a promise to a friend. Narrated by Ivan and written in simple, concise sentences that manage to convey a wide range of thoughts and feelings, we get to experience the lonely and isolated world of caged animals and their longing to see the sky, touch the grass, feel the wind, and taste a bit of freedom. After reading this book, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll never look at a circus (with animals) in the same way again. At least I hope so.
The One and Only Ivan has so many valuable lessons to share with readers young and old alike: the honor of keeping your word, the importance of finding your inner strength, and the impact that a small act of kindness possesses. Above all, this book shows us that you don’t have to have much in common with someone in order to extend a bit of comfort and hope. Ivan shows us this through his friendship with Stella, an elderly elephant. “We don’t have much in common, but we have enough. We are huge and alone, and we both love yogurt raisins.” Author, speaker, and businessman Stephen Covey once said, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” How wonderful life could be if we were able to take a lesson from an opinionated silverback and an aged pachyderm.
*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com
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