Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title of the book is important: The One and Only Ivan. Ivan, a lowland gorilla who has spent nearly his entire life in a small cage, is the only one. Gorillas live in family groups and males such as Ivan would protect their families in the wild. But in his small cage, Ivan is alone except for the humans who come by to take a look at him in the shopping mall. Although he has grown accustomed to his solitary life in the mall, with only a few friends and little to do except paint. We see Ivan’s heart through his art and feel his memories and longings through his imagination and paintings.

But the arrival of a new baby elephant awakens Ivan’s instincts to live and be alive again. His new little friend Ruby brings changes for Ivan and he begins to see his world in a new way, and his art through her fresh eyes. Ruby reminds him of what their home in the jungle is like and how wonderful it truly is.

The story of Ivan was inspired by a news article the author read about a captive gorilla known the “Shopping Mall Gorilla” who had lived a tiny cage at a shopping mall for 27 years before being moved to a zoo in Atlanta. Ivan became a beloved celebrity at the zoo, which houses the largest collection of western lowland gorillas in the country, and was well known for his paintings, which he “signed” with a thumb-print.

The appeal of this book and its narrative voice through Ivan makes an immediate impact and it is almost impossible to put down. There is sadness and disappointment but also hope as Ivan is moved to create a better “enclosure” for Ruby than the one he has accepted for so long. By changing her world, he changes his as well. It is an inspiring story of the possibility and potential we all have inside to be more and give more and make more of the world around us. The underlying theme of caring for all creatures big and small will appeal to animal lovers of all ages.

Age Range: 8 – 12 years

Grade Level: 3 – 7

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins; 1 edition (January 17, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061992259
ISBN-13: 978-0061992254

Price: $12.00

Literary awards: Newbery Medal (2013), SCBWI Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards for California/Hawaii (2013), School Library Journal Best of Children’s Books (2012), Kirkus Reviews Best of Children’s Books (2012)


Ivan is a a gorilla who has lived nearly his entire life in a small cage behind glass in a shopping mall. Ivan is alone except for the humans who come by to take a look at him in the shopping mall, but the arrival of a new baby elephant awakens his protective instincts and motivates him to live again.

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