The One and Only Ivan
illustrations by Patricia Castelao
FORMAT: Juvenile Fiction
AGES: Elementary School, Middle School
Ivan is a silver-back gorilla that lives in a mall. Mack, his owner is a bit frustrated that business isn’t going quite so well. But Ivan isn’t angry about the small “domain” that he rules. He likes yogurt covered raisins, drawing pictures with crayons, and talking to his best friend Stella, the elephant in the cage next to him. However, when Mack buys Ruby, a baby elephant, to help business he doesn’t realize the power that Stella and Ivan gain in finding a reason to protect someone.
Before Stella dies (due to an injury that Mack doesn’t call the vet for) she makes Ivan promise that he will protect Ruby and get her to a zoo. Ivan doesn’t know how to exactly come through on his promise, but he has to try. With the help of the janitor and his daughter, Ivan finally starts to figure out how his talent for art could possibly make a difference to the quality of Ruby’s life.
This book was okay for me. I can see why it won the Newbery Award. The writing is good and the topics for discussion are endless. However, it just didn’t do it for me. I felt like the book was more “preachy” in the message it wanted to get through to the readers. And, I don’t know about that. It felt like it was glorifying zoos and how wonderful they are. And I agree that I like zoos. And I don’t think that having wild animals in small cages in a shopping mall is even remotely right. But, I didn’t like how I felt like this book hit me over the head with that message over and over again. And I don’t think that zoos are the perfect solution to helping wild animals. To me, keeping places where wild animals can live in their natural habitat is a better option. Although having zoos to educate people about wild animals is also important. But like I said, I didn’t feel like this book was for me. The size of the “message” I felt was in the book just turned me off.
However, I can see how the simple way of thinking that Ivan had or the short bursts of text would be a good draw for readers who want to read a long book that isn’t really as long as it seems. I also can see how kids who love animals would be especially interested in reading a book from an animal perspective. But, they would have to be able to get past the “man is bad unless he is good and helps animals” message that you get hit over the head with.
Book Discussion Questions:
What makes an animal wild?
Why are zoos better than cages in a shopping mall?
Where is the best place for wild animals? Why?
If you could go on an animal safari and see any animal in its natural habitat, what animal would you want to see? Why?
Why would it be too hard for Ivan to be taken back to his natural habitat?
Besides the animals, who in this story was a hero? Why?
This was based on a real story. Why do you think did it take so long for the real Ivan to get out of the shopping mall?
Ivan was first raised as a pet, rather than kept in the mall cage since he was a baby. Why or why not is it a good idea to raise a wild animal as a pet?
Why do you think this book won the Newbery Award?