The One and Only Ivan


Katherine Applegate




Date Reviewed:

November 6, 2021

his is a children's book. I picked it up because it is a Newberry Award winner. It is 300 pages long, but most of those pages are white space. Each chapter is only a few pages at most, most are just a single page. The sentences are short. You can read the entire book in a few hours.

The One and Only Ivan is the story of a mountain gorilla named Ivan who lives in a cage at a roadside zoo. His owner, Mack, once raised Ivan as a little boy, taking him to attractions and feeding him human food. But since Ivan has grown, Mack has locked him in a cage where viewers can come and gawk at him. It is a boring existence, but Ivan is a peaceful gorilla. Plus, he does have a couple of friends: Stella, an elephant that Mack keeps chained in her pen, and Bob, a dog that sneaks into Ivan's cage for company (Bob likes to sleep on Ivan's nice warm belly). Ivan also has a couple of human friends: George the zoo-keeper and his daughter Julia. Julia wants to be an artist when she grows up, she shares some of her art supplies with Ivan. Ivan can make art - using crayons or finger paints, he creates artwork that Mack sells in the gift shop for $20 ($25 framed).

One day, Mack brings a new animal to his roadside attraction - Ruby, a young elephant who hopes for friendship and a nice environment, but instead is depressed by the small pens and the fact that Mack forces her to perform in daily shows for the small audiences. For a while, the introduction of a new baby elephant bumps up the sagging fortunes of Mack's business, but things are not going well for him.

Ruby is despondent over her circumstances. Ivan tries to cheer her up by telling stories, but that has only limited effect on Ruby's mood. So Ivan makes Ruby a promise - he will get her to a better place.

This is a nice children's story. Ivan is likeable. It is easy reading. There is a few sentences of horror when Ivan recalls the gruesome fate of his family when humans captured him, but overall this is gentle story.