{book} a one and only

on

one and only ivanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

cover and illustrations by Patricia Castelao

Harper (HarperCollins), 2012.

hardcover, 304 pages. ages 8-12.

The One and Only Ivan is highly recommended by more than a few respectable book bloggers. I knew I would have to read it despite a few personal concerns. (yes, I know, I’m such a difficult person!) One, was the cover and how reminiscent it is of Kate DiCamillo’s gorgeous The Magician’s Elephant: coincidence or trying to draw parallels? DiCamillo is a dangerous author to have in mind going into another’s book. Two, is more of a thing. I do love animals, but I’m not big on animal narrators outside of Picture Books and my own pre-adolescent years (with a few exceptions). But who doesn’t love a book that you know will make you cry? and it did make me cry—more than once.

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better. Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.—publisher’s comments

Those short sentences with long adjectives took some adjustment, but I was quickly charmed by Ivan. Based on a true-story and no doubt a healthy amount of research, Applegate’s imagination is enviable. There is no trite/gimmicky realization of this silverback gorilla named Ivan. He becomes quite precious (a descriptor I am always careful to use) and this makes all the difference in the success of the novel. He truly is a one and only, the indisputable soul of this piece.

one and only ivan pageIvan has figured out how best to cope with his situation. He struggles with maintaining more than just dignity, but the essence of who he is. He is an Artist and this does much more than strengthen the credibility of our narrator, this truth saturates every aspect of the story. Having good friends help. As friendship stories go, The One and Only Ivan is breathtaking. Friendship is life-giving and love makes one daring in all the right ways. Ruby and Stella wakes Ivan into unforeseeable action and not unlike Charlotte’s Web, we hold our breath and hope that desperate plan finds a happy ending—for all the characters. The kind of Hope that is not easily won is the most beautiful, and this is the kind one finds in The One and Only Ivan.

one and only ivan w ruby

The pages are light, some only bearing a few sentences, and Applegate is powerful with it. A lot of the humor is in the oddities, in wry observations, the “chimps” remarks, and the presence of Bob. However, the humor is a quiet counterpoint to that “poignancy” Applegate wields. There are some truly hard subjects and moments that linger. There are some complicated characters alongside the more easily identifiable “good” and “bad.” I adore the inclusion. The Readers (especially the young) will find an easy verisimilitude with the characters—which only makes the story (stories) that much more affecting. The One and Only Ivan is gorgeous juvenile Literature, an unforgettable work by Katherine Applegate.

one and only ivan julia

recommendations: This is one for boys and girls alike, avid reader or no, animal-lover or no. It is an excellent sample of good creative writing. However educational and insightful the read is, it is not message-y; and those crucial realizations that help create a lot of the heart in the novel require some of those comprehension skills of the 8 & up crowd. Also, some of the subject matters require some maturity. Sensitive readers will love this book, but a parent should take the time to read and converse. This is one of those stories that an adult should not be embarrassed to cry during in front of their children.

One-and-Only-Ivan-imageExpect the young reader to become interested or deepen interest in topics of humane animal treatment. I was driven to consider my friendships—with gratitude—and with the desire to become a better friend. And it must not go without saying that the Hope many of the figures in the story bring has incredible value. There are people who care, people who will fight with and for you. There are people who love and are striving to create positive change in both small and grand ways for those most vulnerable. Ivan who used what was within his power to use is a stirring example.

One of my favorite parts (there are many): “Anger is precious. A silverback uses anger to maintain order and warn his troop of danger. When my father beat his chest, it was to say, Beware, listen, I am in charge. I am angry to protect you, because that is what I was born to do.” (10) “I am angry to protect you”–gorgeous.

of note: the parent child depictions, especially in Ivan’s earliest memories, w/ Stella, w/ Ruby, and with the remarkable human girl character Julia and her father are worth the cost of admission.

{images belong to Patricia Castelao}

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Connie says:

    Hi Leslie, Nice to read your review about this book. I’m doing a mock Newbery group with 5 of my students and this is one we’ve read and enjoyed. I’m like you in that “animal narrators” aren’t my favorite books to read and I started it with some hesitation. But thoroughly enjoyed it. We vote on Friday! Looking forward to what the actual winner is. Happy Reading, Connie

  2. Carl V. says:

    I am so glad that you brought up the lovely book, The Magician’s Elephant, as the first time I saw this cover I was instantly wanting to compare it to that book and have not picked it up for the worry that I’ll have an expectation that won’t be met. Because this is a fantastic cover and it would be bitterly disappointing to pick up the book and have it not meet expectations.

    I don’t mind animal narrators so much but I don’t generally seek those kind of books either. I appreciate you reviewing this because I haven’t seen anyone I trust review this to this point. I’ll be less reluctant to pick it up now.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Glad to see your review of this. I had seen it mentioned in a couple best of lists and wanted to pick it up to read to Emmeline but thought it might be too difficult for her. Seems like a good story but I think I’m glad I didn’t try it with her.

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