The One and Only Ivan was just awarded this year’s Newberry Award for its notable contribution to children’s literature. I had been hearing about it all over the place and was finally able to get my own copy, which I read this morning in one sitting. It is sparse and simple and quietly inspiring.
This was a perfect little book about a gorilla who has spent most of his life living in captivity in a sad miniature circus inside a mall. This is inspired by a true story; the original Ivan was on display in a mall in Washington for 27 years until he was moved to Zoo Atlanta in 1994. In the book, Ivan is friends with Stella, the elephant, and Bob, a small dog who sleeps in Ivan’s enclosure. Stella is poorly treated and forced to put on three shows every day to a dwindling audience. She remembers life before the mall, and she tells Ivan stories about living in the jungle because he can only recall flashes of his previous life. Their owner decides to bring in a new baby elephant to boost ticket sales and Ivan promises to take care of her. Ivan also has a human friend, a girl named Julia, who visits while her father works at his custodian job. She likes to draw, and Ivan does, too. With Julia’s help, Ivan sets a plan in motion to change their lives. This book is heartwarming and sad and uplifting, all at the same time. Applegate gives Ivan a thoughtful voice and a heart. Ivan teaches about more than animal issues; he teaches readers how to take care of each other and how to stick up for what is right, and reminds us that everyone wants a chance to be belong to a group. You, the reader, have a choice to build your own family, just as Ivan did. Sadly, the real Ivan passed away last summer at the age of 50, so this book winning the Newberry was a fitting tribute to him. I can’t wait to see what my students will think about this story!
This book has an AR level of 3.6 and is worth 4 points. Read this if…. just read this. Trust me.