The One and Only Ivan

One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Published: 2012

4 of 5 stars

An artistic gorilla living in a circus-themed mall hatches a plan to save Ruby, a baby elephant, from life in a cage.

“Time to earn your keep, Picasso,” he mutters.

I wonder who this Picasso is.  Does he have a tire swing like me?  Does he ever eat his crayons?

I picked up this book as soon as I heard the announcement that The One and Only Ivan received the 2013 Newbery Medal.

Newbery Medal image

The story starts out with the random musings of a large, patient, fairly-contented gorilla as he describes what his life is like in the circus-themed mall.  The free-verse narration makes this a quick read, and shows Ivan’s personality well.  I’m not a huge fan of gorillas, personally, but I enjoyed seeing the world through Ivan’s eyes; his observations of humans were at times humorous, at times insightful, and I learned a bit about gorillas in the process as well.

Ivan’s tale plays out like a modernized version of Charlotte’s Web.  I’m not sure how intentional the similarities were, but they were there.  It was, however a darker version E.B. White’s tale, with the violence against animals described more vividly and humans as the obvious ‘enemy,’ making it somewhat depressing and politically charged — perhaps too much so for some very young children.

Overall: Though the tale has been told before, seeing the world through the eyes of a gorilla is what makes this book a unique and clever story.

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