The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan

Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal

"ZANESVILLE, Ohio - Sheriff's deputies shot nearly 50 wild animals - including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions - in a big-game hunt across the Ohio countryside Wednesday after the owner of an exotic-animal park threw their cages open and committed suicide in what appeared to be one last act of spite against his neighbors and police." -- CBS news report, 10/19/11: "Ohio sheriff: Only one monkey remains missing"

"'We were looking for food,' Ruby says, 'my family and I. But I wandered off and got lost and went too close to the village.' Ruby looks at me, eyes wide. 'I was so scared when I fell into that hole.' "'Of course you were,' I say. 'I would have been scared too.' "'Me too,' Bob admits. 'And I like holes.'

"'The hole was huge.' Ruby pokes her trunk through the bars and makes a circle in the air. 'And guess what?' She doesn't wait for an answer. 'The water was all the way up to my neck and I was sure I was going to die.' "I shudder. 'What happened then?' I ask. "'I'll tell you what happened,' Bob says darkly. 'They captured her and put her in a box and shipped her off and here she is. Just like they did with Stella.' He pauses to scratch an ear.

'Humans. Rats have bigger hearts. Roaches have kinder souls. Flies have--' "'No, Bob!' Ruby interrupts. 'You're wrong. These humans helped me. When they saw I was trapped, they grabbed ropes and they made loops around my neck and my tummy. The whole entire village helped, even little kids and grandmas and grandpas, and they all pulled and pulled and...' "Ruby stops. Her lashes are wet, and I know she must be remembering all the terrible feelings from that day. "'...and they saved me,' she finishes in a whisper.

"Bob blinks. 'They saved you?' he repeats. "'When I was finally out, everyone cheered,' Ruby says. 'And the children fed me fruit. And then all those humans led me back to my family. It took the whole day to find them.' "'No way,' Bob says, still doubtful. "'It's true,' Ruby says. 'Every word.' "'I've heard rescue stories like that before.' It's Stella's voice. She sounds weary. Slowly she makes her way over to Ruby. 'Humans can surprise you sometimes. An unpredictable species, Homo sapiens.' "Bob still looks unconvinced. 'But Ruby's here now.' he points out. 'If humans are so swell, who did this to her?' "I send Bob a grumpy look. Sometimes he doesn't know when to keep quiet."

Meet The One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback. An artistic silverback gorilla and narrator of this exceptional animal tale. He's known as the freeway gorilla, being that he lives in a cage at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He shares his small enclosure in the mall with a dog of unknown origin named Bob. The adjoining enclosure houses two elephants, ailing Stella and young, recent-arrival Ruby. Ivan has a lifelong fondness for drawing, and a couple of human characters -- with radically different motivations -- regularly provide him paper and crayons with which he creates drawings that are then sold to mall customers, for twenty bucks a piece (twenty-five with frame).

Thanks to the companionship of his four-legged friends and his art, Ivan is reasonably content with his life of mediocre food, TV watching, and living in the public eye. But then, something goes really wrong. THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is the story of a promise made and a promise fulfilled. It is one of those stories that will cause readers to see their world (and maybe their own species) differently. "Elephants Are People Too!!"

While this is Ivan's story, it is also a children's book and so it is important to watch the one significant human child in this talking animals tale -- the Fern figure. Her name is Julia and she is the custodian's daughter. Julia cannot literally understand the animal conversations in the manner that Fern can, but her heart is all there and so she really understands the big stuff. Unencumbered by the "realities" (stupidity?) of adulthood, Julia asks her father the hard questions about the animals' treatment that we all should be asking. It all feels somewhat like a race to the finish line. Think about how differently, for instance, women, blacks, and same-sex couples are treated today in comparison to when Wilbur and Fern and Charlotte's story was published six decades ago. Sure, plenty of people have also become enlightened over the same sixty years about animal rights and about the plight of large wild mammals.

But with all this enlightenment running neck-and-neck with extinction, will it be too little too late by time we get it together to protect -- for instance -- the remaining Bengal tigers? No matter what comes along in children's publishing over the next year, count on THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN to be one of the heavyweights of 2012.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS California USA

Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ ( [email protected]


Ivan, a silver-backed gorilla, lives in a cage in the Exit Eight Big Top Mall and Video Arcade along with Stella, a lovely wise and caring elephant and Bob a stray dog who scavenges for himself to survive.  These three friends know their lives don't hold much.  They don't even bring in the crowds any longer so money is tight.  The bright light in their lives is Julia, the daughter of the caretaker, George.  George has great heart and Julia has a gift for art.  She invites Ivan into her world of line and color and Ivan gradually begins to understand that he can use his paper and crayons to share the most wondrous of things, shape and sound and taste.  

When Stella passes away, she leaves Ivan responsible for Ruby, the baby elephant who has been stolen away from her family to be the star of the show and the attraction that will line the owner, Mack's, pockets with money.  How can a silver-back gorilla save the life of an elephant?  How can a trio of forgotten orphans build meaning in their empty world?  

This is a heartwarming story of friendship and honor and the power of caring for someone other than yourself.  

Ages  8 -12    304 pages

ALSC Tween Recommended Reads


Ivan is easy-going 20-something silverback gorilla who lives in a mall with a small menagerie of other creatures. Day in and day out he watches humans watch him and paints. Next to his domain is the domain of one of his best friends: a wise, old, circus elephant named Stella. He is content with his existence until Ruby, a baby elephant arrives. Now Ivan must decide if he can be the silverback he was meant to be and how he can enlist the help of the one human who understands him.


The many chapters of the book help, instead of hinder, its appeal to readers, as many chapters are very brief, which provides a lot of white space within the book when skimming through. Applegate is skilled in ensuring the few words in these chapters possess a lot of power and move the story forward. As Ivan at one point says, gorillas, unlike humans, are not known to waste words, and Applegate, speaking through Ivan, is careful not to do just that. Although we can never really know what goes on inside the mind of a gorilla, this story makes it seem as though we can. The world and creatures within this book play a part in a very moving story that addresses difficult issues sometimes with straightforwardness, and sometimes with obliqueness, allowing readers of differing ages to complete the story with inferences.


I think boys and girls who are interested in animals and family relationships will appreciate this book. The sentence structure tends to be simple, as it is Ivan who is speaking, so readers with a wide variety of reading levels could find this accessible. Although the beginning builds the world and the character’s circumstances, and may seem a bit slow-moving, as it is more psychological in highlighting Ivan’s perspective of his world, the action is quick to pick up and ultimately, creates a story well worth reading.



Applegate, Katherine. The One and Only Ivan. Illus. Patricia Castelao. New York: Harper, 2012. Print. 


Recommended by:  Anna Montgomery, Librarian USA 

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The One And Only Ivan is about a gorilla who lives in a mall,he also is in a cage near other animals, and one animal he lives with is an old elephant.So life is simple,until a young elephant moves in. Ivan must find a way to take care of the baby elephant when the old elephant can't!
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This book is really good for animal lovers. This book was about a gorilla living in a mall and a domain, Ivan tells about his life and goes through really sad moments.
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I read this and did not think I was going to like it, but I loved it. It really made me think, and reminded me a lot of Charlotte's Web ! Give it a try, you will love it !
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(Updated: May 13, 2013)
I am currently reading this book aloud to 4th graders at my school. They are loving that it is written from the point of view of a Gorilla - Ivan. The author really does a nice job!
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