Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Reviewed by Louise Hilton.


The 2013 Newbery Medal, awarded by the American Library Association for the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”, went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and I couldn’t agree more with the decision.

The titular Ivan is a gorilla living in a shopping mall as a sort of roadside attraction.  Ivan has few memories of his early years in the jungle and instead has adapted to his new, human-controlled environment and befriended the elephants in the neighboring cages.  Ivan enjoys watching television and eventually discovers a real passion: art.  He spends days drawing with crayons, etching out sheet after sheet of banana peels, apple cores, and other everyday objects.  I won’t give too much away but Ivan’s artwork gains widespread attention and eventually leads to a better life for his fellow animals and himself.

The story is all the more heart-wrenching when you discover that the novel is based on the true story of a gorilla kept in captivity for twenty-seven years at a shopping center in Washington before finally a public outcry led to his eventual transfer to Zoo Atlanta.

Bolstered by Applegate’s engaging writing style and her brave choice to tell the story in the first person with Ivan himself as narrator, The One and Only Ivan is an exquisite – and important – read. I highly recommend this uplifting story to readers of all ages.

My favorite blurb about the book comes from author Gary Schmidt: “In cheering for Ivan and his friends, we cheer for our own humanity, and our own possibilities.  Read this.”  Indeed.

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