Sunday, May 6, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

by Katherine Applegate
Harper/Harper Collins Publishers
January 17, 2012 | $16.99

Ivan is a silverback gorilla. He lives in the Exit 8 Big Top Mall off I-95, caged up as a novelty for passing shoppers. As the years have progressed (he's been in residence for 9876 days so far), he's made friends with Bob, a stray dog, Julia, the janitor's daughter, and Stella, an elephant caged up with him. When Ruby, a young elephant, comes to take the place Stella will leave when she soon succumbs to old-age and poor care, Ivan is faced with a challenge. He promises Stella to gain Ruby her freedom and then must fulfill, somehow, his seemingly impossible challenge. 

Ivan is an artist - putting on a show for children by drawing pictures with crayons, and through his art he activates a plan to save Ruby (and himself). Because Julia is also an artist, he engages her to help explain his plan to the humans. "It has to be Julia. She's an artist. Surely she'll look, truly look, at my painting," he says. And Julia does figure out the plan, and against all odds, it works. (Sort of how a spider we all know, with a human girl's help, once saved a pig.)

Ruby and Ivan.
Told from Ivan's viewpoint in the first person, the story is lovely, simple, and profound. While the book seems long for its intended audience (8-12 year olds), it's actually much shorter - Ivan's thoughts and ideas are placed in short bursts with lots of space between. Illustrations by Patricia Castelao support the text. A short glossary strategically placed at the front, and an author's note at the end situate the text squarely as advocacy for fair treatment of animals.

This is a great read aloud or a good one for middle-grade readers to brag about having read all 305 pages. It's serious in tone because Ivan's situation is serious. But it's full of hope and has a very happy ending to balance everything out. The George Eliot quote as the epigram that starts this story, "It is never too late to be what you might have been," really says it all.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this book - and you are right - it makes a TERRIFIC read aloud for families that have that 7-12 mix. And a lovely way to introduce George Eliot into the mix. Used it with a class as the "afternoon snack" - and the 4th graders voted to "keep tasting" instead of moving on to another book.