Sunday, October 21, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
Illustrator: Patricia Castelao

Ages 8 and up (From the publisher)
A Global Read Aloud for 2012

Watch the Official Book Trailer

The One and Only Ivan is a wonderful book convincingly narrated by the main character Ivan. Ivan is a gentle gorilla who lives in a strip mall as part of a small circus-type collection of animals.  He has lived in his "domain" in this mall for nearly three decades. 
When they were young Ivan and his sister Tag were stolen from their home in Africa.  His sister sadly dies in the crate with him during their transport to the US.   Ivan tries, somewhat unsuccessfully, to suppress memories of his homeland and family throughout the book.  It seems too painful for him to think about the happy times when he and his sister would play tag and his father, the mighty silver back, would stoically guard the family to keep them safe. 

In his touching narration, Ivan has a not-so-thin veil of sadness as he discusses his daily events and the humans who visit the mall. Although there are no other gorillas, he finds some camaraderie with Stella the performing elephant and his loyal dog friend Bob.

Ivan is resigned to the fact that he will live out his remaining days at the mall, watching his TV and painting pictures that are sold at the gift shop.  Things change when a new animal comes to the mall, a baby elephant named Ruby.  Stella and Ruby quickly develop a close mother-daughter type relationship. 

Shortly after Ruby's arrival Stella dies of an infection in her foot. This infection was left untreated because the owner did not want to pay for a veterinarian.  While she was ill, Stella made Ivan promise that he would protect Ruby and somehow get her to a zoo. He soon realizes that he has no idea how to fulfill his promise.  Ivan's  memories of his childhood come flooding back when the mall owner uses "the claw" on Ruby to get her to perform.  Being a "mighty silver back", a born protector,  Ivan is more determined than ever to save her.  

What Ivan does not realize is that there are some compassionate humans who are fighting for the animals as well. With the help of the night custodian's concerned daughter, Ivan's art is used to raise awareness of the inhumane treatment of the mall animals. 

I think readers will love the powerful ending.  Students who love animals will particularly love it. 
I will definitely be reading this book to my fourth graders later this year.
This book is based on a real gorilla named Ivan.  Click here to read more about his story.

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