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Book Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

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.

So, while I realize that this book is a bit more juvenile than what we usually review, I was prompted to read this book by a school librarian (@mrschureads) and after seeing his tweets and others raving about this book, I picked up my first juvenile fiction book in a long time.

For starters, I was immediately drawn to this book because it is told from the POV of Ivan. It isn’t told from a human standpoint, but as Ivan interprets things. When I have watched movies and read books from with an animal as a main character, it seems as if the animal exhibits human instinct. Here Ivan is purely gorilla telling a story. For example, there is a clever part where Ivan is watching television with Bob, his friend and stray dog, and they see humans kissing. Ivan, with his gorilla instinct, calls this ‘face licking’ which led me to fits of hysterical laughter while I was reading.

Ivan and his elephant friend, Stella, have a deep bond and when Stella’s injuries seem to be life-threatening, the mall owner decides to bring in Ruby, a baby elephant. Ruby and Stella bond immediately and Ivan makes a promise to Stella that he will take care of Ruby always. Not so easy to do when you’re a gorilla in a cage, or ‘habitat’, and Ruby is a scared baby elephant.

But Ivan is an artist and with the help of night janitor’s daughter, Julia, Ivan decides to get help the only way he can communicate with humans: art.

This book melted my heart several times and reduced me to a blubbering pile of tears by the end. Weighing in at 320 pages, I feel hard pressed to find an appropriate age group for the promotion of this title. The book itself is highly enjoyable and I even read bits and pieces to a high school English class and the LOVED it. And I’ve read parts of it to a younger 3rd grade class and they loved it as well. Regardless of age, this is an excellent book and when I realized that it was penned by the Katherine Applegate, I have no idea why I waiting so long to pick it up.

Also, of great interest to me, was the fact that Applegate based this book off of a true-life story, which I read on the author’s interactive book site here.

My advice? Read it immediately. It is a quick read, despite the high page count, and you will find yourself completely enraptured by Ivan’s story and laughing at his gorilla antics. (Stephanie)