Thursday, December 6, 2012

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

If you like animal stories, verse novels, and books that tug at the heartstrings, Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan is for you.
 
Ivan is a silverback gorilla who lives in a shopping mall as part of a small, failing circus. In the next "domain" (cage) lives Stella the elephant, in declining health from a lifetime of performing, and resigned to her fate. Bob, not part of the show, is a small would-be tough guy dog, who claims he lives nowhere and likes it that way, though he sleeps on Ivan's sumptuous tummy almost every night. George, the kind human caretaker who works for the boss, and his daughter, Julie, come by often. Ivan appreciates these friends, but is emotionally stunted. He has only vague memories of his life with his parents and sister in the jungle that he prefers not to recall.
 
Ivan begins to awaken emotionally when two things happen: He discovers through Julie's help that he can paint, and a baby elephant named Ruby comes and moves into Stella's domain. Stella mothers the baby for a time, but soon dies, and Ruby is put into heavy circus training with Mack, the show's owner. Ivan now realizes that Mack brought Ruby in because he knew Stella would die, and that she will repeat Stella's life -- and his own -- unless he does something about it. Eventually, Ivan learns to call a cage a cage, and with the help of his paintings (which are bringing in as much as $65 from the tourists), he hatches a plan that he hopes will get Ruby sent to a kinder place with other elephants: the zoo. Ivan also faces his former life and what happened to his sister by deliberately remembering it. Though he doesn't know it yet, he's in fact learning to become the mighty silverback he is -- a true leader rather than the cartoonish, chest-beating ape that is pictured on the circus billboard.
 
The author's note explains that Ivan was a real gorilla who lived with a small circus for 27 years before public outcry found him a new home at a zoo in Atlanta. He really did paint, and he signed each of his paintings with his handprint.
 
A heartwarming story about compassion, art, and the nature of leadership, this book is highly recommended.

15 comments:

Andrea Mack said...

My 13-year-old and I really enjoyed this story. I'd put it on list of top MG books I read this year.

Faith E. Hough said...

I tend to be really picky about animal stories, but I've heard a lot of good things about this one. I'll definitely check it out--thanks for the recommendation!

Vijaya said...

Goosebumps! My friend went to Thailand where she saw elephants painting! They're beautiful too.

Kim Van Sickler said...

Sounds adorable! Interesting, we're both doing book reviews today!

Marcia said...

Andrea -- It's at the top of my list, too. It may even have supplanted my earlier top pick, WONDER.

Faith -- I'm discovering how much I love animal stories. Currently reading MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT by WH Beck, another goodie!

Vijaya -- The idea of animals making art is fascinating to me.

Kim -- I'll come over and visit yours! :)

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

A good read aloud for a few of my grands, maybe.

Barbara Watson said...

I'm featuring this on Monday. Adored it and I don't adore most animal as main character stories.

Marcia said...

Joyce -- Yes, I think it would be a great read-aloud!

Barbara -- I might be loving Malcolm almost as much. Stay tuned...

Janet Smart said...

I've never heard of this book before. It sounds like a really good and unique one to read.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

This sounds like a tearjerker. I love her writing.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

We used to have an elephant in our zoo who loved to paint. Unfortunately she died. :(

Sounds like a great book.

Marcia said...

Janet -- It's so hard to keep up with all the books, isn't it? Glad I found this one.

Jaye -- I think it's refreshing that it's a tear-jerker POSITIVE animal story.

Stina -- I've heard about painting elephants, too. I think that's fascinating.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

I had wanted to read this for a while, but when I finally got it out from the library I just couldn't get into it. I'm glad to read your review. Perhaps the timing was just not right for me. Maybe I'll give it another try.

Marcia said...

Ruth -- I've found too that sometimes a book works for me and sometimes it doesn't. I can enjoy a book on the second try that I didn't enjoy on the first, or reread a book I once loved and be amazed that it bores me the second time.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

wow....It sounds like a book I should read. Thanks for sharing your review.