It’s hard to put into words. Gorillas are not complainers. We’re dreamers, poets, philosophers, nap takers.
What does an easygoing silverback, a stray Chihuahua mix, and a wise old elephant have in common? They all live in the Exit 8 Big Top Mall in Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. You’ll be hard pressed not to fall in love immediately with Ivan who says initially, “People call me the Freeway Gorilla. The Ape at Exit 8. The One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback. The names are mine, but they’re not me. I am Ivan, just Ivan, only Ivan. Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.” At this point, on page two, the Silverback had me.
Ivan copes with his isolated life in a cage (inside of a mall no less) by making friends with the other animals on display. The night janitor’s daughter seems to intuitively understand that the urban gorilla is an artist at heart. He also has an affinity for American television. Truth is, Ivan just seems human at times. Poignant friendships are the hallmark of this touching, award-winning book best suited for 8-to 11-year-olds. Please be warned: you’re gonna fall for Ivan’s unforgettable first-person (first-primate?) narration. You’ll enjoy how Applegate blends humor and emotion in a story about friendship and hope.
If you are a fan of Charlotte’s Web, Ivan will definitely draw you in.
*It is interesting to note that this fictionalized story is based on a true account of a baby gorilla named Ivan who was kidnapped from a jungle in Africa. He spent 27 years walled up inside a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. Fortunately, he was relocated to the Atlanta Zoo. A few years back, Ivan died after turning 50 years old.