“The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate is definitely one of my new favourite books! It didn’t take me long to feel emotionally attached to the characters, and I absolutely love Applegate’s writing style. There were many times when I felt the need to pause and just soak in a sentence. This novel is the 2013 Newberry Medal winner and I completely understand why. Applegate is a talented author and I am excited to see what she comes out with next!
“The One and Only Ivan” is a fictional tale about a lonely gorilla who’s had to spend the majority of his life in a shopping mall/animal attraction. While Applegate’s story is fictional, Ivan the gorilla was real, and really did live in a mall. I only learned about this after I was done reading the novel, and knowing that Ivan existed, made the character and story press even deeper into my heart.
Applegate uses the story and the characters to relay very important messages to humans. These morals will spark conversation and allow opportunities for students to express opinions.
Recommended Age Group?
I agree with the publisher’s age recommendation (8-12). Although, 8-year-olds may not glean as much from the novel as intended. Some of the characters’ more solemn flashbacks and memories might be difficult for some 8-year-olds to read about. Waiting until 9 years of age might help the student to understand the themes and morals on a deeper level. At the age of 9, they might also be better able to understand why so many people have so little regard for animal lives.
One of the larger themes that crops up again and again is how people care for animals (not just physically, but emotionally as well). This is an important theme for the 21st Century. "The One and Only Ivan" is also a story of friendship and loss. The losses in this novel are heartbreaking and poignant. Two particular losses (Ivan’s parents) are hard to read about. After finishing that tiny chapter on Ivan’s deep loss, I felt the need to close the book and think about how animal-slaughtering is still happening in our world today. While Applegate doesn’t use a lot of detail to describe what happened to Ivan's parents, there is enough detail for the images to make a home in your head.
This book is classroom approved! Kids will love the characters and think about the lessons and morals that Applegate offers. Some children may feel sad at parts, especially after Ivan’s parent’s deaths, so some preparation may need to take place before digging into those particular chapters. Overall, this novel will spark happiness and plenty of conversation!
“The One and Only Ivan” is also becoming a movie! Your students may be interested in reading the novel first so that they can compare both story-telling avenues.