Title: The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
Genre/Audience: Middle grade, juvenile
Publication: Harper Collins, 2012
This was a super cute children’s book with a lot of heart and a great message. It is narrated by Ivan, a gorilla, who lives in a circus themed mall, in a small confinement. It is also about the other animals who live there, including Stella, an old, pained elephant, and Bob, a spunky stray dog. At night, when the people leave, the animals speak to one another, they joke, and they reminisce about better days. Ivan also creates paintings of objects around him, and while he sees beautiful art, his owner sees mere scribbles. When Ruby, a baby elephant arrives, Ivan realizes at last that life in the mall is not as it should be, and he vows to save Ruby from their desolate, confined life.
I absolutely loved Ivan. He was incredibly astute and hilarious in his observations without ever meaning to be. There were a lot of things Ivan said/thought that really cracked me up, and I loved his tone – so serious and honest in the way that only children, and apparently animals, can be. I’m reminded of the time my aunt took me shopping with her when I was little and she was trying on clothes. She asked me how she looked and I told her she looked bad. That’s kind of what Ivan reminded me of, in a way. My intentions were not to be hurtful, only to be honest, and Ivan’s reflections of life around him were so honest, sweet, and funny in that same way.
As a huge animal lover, I really appreciated the personification of these animals. I love how the author presented them as creatures with thoughts, feelings, desires, and memories, and that she made them very human-like. Seeing animals in that perspective helps show that animals deserve rights and fair treatment. I initially picked this book up because I have had a lifelong fascination with Koko, an adult gorilla who knows sign language. I even have a stuffed gorilla of Koko that I got in kindergarten and have kept to this day. Koko paints, communicates in sign language, and even had a pet cat at one point. While animals cannot communicate in the same way that we do, they have feelings and thoughts. I love how Katherine Applegate delivered this message in such a funny but honest way.
While I enjoyed the message and thought the story was enjoyable and a very fast read, I don’t think it’s one of my favorites. I think this is only because of how simple the storytelling was, and that’s because this book was designed for children. I’d still recommend it though, especially if you’re an animal lover like myself.
My Rating: 4/5