Saturday, June 22, 2013

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

This year's Newbery winner is a first person narration in the voice of  Ivan, a silverback gorilla, who resides at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. A large billboard outside the mall, which features prominently in the story's resolution, proclaims the presence of the One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback.

Ivan's has two best friends. The first is Stella, an old elephant, and another featured animal of the mall. The other is  Bob, a homeless dog who lives off scraps left by the mall patrons and who sleeps in Ivan's "domain," as he calls his glass walled cage.

Ivan was born in the wild and captured with his twin sister, Tag, who died during the trip to the U.S. He first lived with his trainer, Mack, in his house, but was transferred to the mall when he became too big and unmanageable to live with people. He has had no contact with other gorillas in the twenty-seven years since his capture and spends his life being stared at and imitated by the many people who pay to see him and the other animals.

While Ivan is generally disdainful of humans (slimy chimps), he does like Julia, the mall custodian's daughter. Julia is quiet and patient, unlike the noisy humans that Ivan sees all day. Julia is the one who first introduced Ivan to the world of art. When she noticed him watching her draw while she was waiting for her father, she pushed a crayon and some paper into his cage and he began drawing the things he saw. Mack, seeing the opportunity to further capitalize on the animals, began selling Ivan's drawings in the mall gift shop.

As Stella becomes older and sicker, Mack brings in a new, baby elephant, Ruby. He hopes to train Ruby to perform with Stella and bring in more business for his ailing circus. When Stella is dying, she extracts a promise from Ivan to provide a better life for Ruby than this mall existence.

This poignant tale is much more than an animal rights treatise. The author conveys a thoughtfulness and intelligence in the animals, especially character of Ivan, that lends depth to the story. Although obviously fictional, the book is based on a real gorilla that lives at the Atlanta Zoo. Despite the size of the book, it is a quick read. It has very short chapters, lots of white space on the pages and several illustrations. The personification of the animals will make this book appealing to a wide audience, not just animal lovers. 2012


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