The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

“I like colorful tales with black beginnings and stormy middles and cloudless blue-sky endings. But any story will do.”

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

I used to read so much middle grade, and lately when I am wandering through the children’s section at my local library with my son, I can’t help but be drawn to all the books that came after I was a child myself, or the ones that I just never got the chance to read. I’m hit with enormous nostalgia and can’t help but pick up a few books to take home and borrow. 

I picked up The One and Only Ivan a few days ago and couldn’t resist starting it. What an emotionally beautiful and riveting story. It follows the story of Ivan, a silverback gorilla, two elephants- Stella and Ruby, and a dog named Bob. They all live in a mall in Washington State. They’re like part of a circus that never leaves, always stays put. At the start of the book, we find out that Ivan has been stuck inside his small “domain” for twenty seven years. 

Ivan dreams of a different life. Of skies and grass and trees. He is an artist, drawing and painting pictures that the owner of the mall then puts up for sale. It’s not a great life, but he has his friends who he can talk to and some kind humans who talk to him. 

I wasn’t expecting this book to emotionally destroy me so much. But then, at the end, I learned from the author’s note that Ivan was based on a real gorilla. Ivan lived in a small cage for twenty seven years. In 1995, after people began heavily protesting for him, he was eventually moved to the Atlanta Zoo where he had a happy 18 years with other gorillas in a space that while still contained, was freer. 

Here’s a picture of Ivan when he lived at the zoo:

I think this story is wonderful. The fact that it was based on a real gorilla made it even more profound. We, as humans, have a duty to treat the planet and the life upon it with respect, and I think this often gets lost by so many of us. It’s important to do better and be better for this planet so that our children can learn from us and follow our example.

I also think the best middle grade books are the ones you can connect to at any age. This is one of those books with a profound emotional impact, no matter what age you are. I’m really glad I let the cover pull me in and borrowed it. This is also part of a series. I’m looking forward to reading the rest and more by this author.

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