Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
Did you ever start a book, not knowing what you were going to think of it, and end up staying awake all night trying to finish it because you just can't imagine putting it down? That was my experience with The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I know I had to work the next day, but I simply couldn't stop reading.

Ivan is a gorilla. He is the only gorilla at a small zoo located at the Big Top Mall. Even though he doesn't have any gorilla friends, Ivan still has Stella, the old elephant, and Bob, the stray dog, who make him as happy as two friends ever could. He even has the zoo's cleaner George and his daughter Julia to visit him and keep him company. No one is really happy at the Big Top Mall, but they live their lives the best they can under the circumstances. 

When a new baby elephant named Ruby is brought to the zoo, everything changes. Ruby and her sadness make the rest of the residents of the Big Top Mall realize just how sad they really are as well. Everyone becomes protective of Ruby, even when her constant questions drive them crazy. Stella protects Ruby as though Ruby were her own daughter, but when Stella gets sick, she makes Ivan promise he will get Ruby out of the little, miserable zoo and to some place where Ruby can be happy. Ivan is a gentle giant, but he takes his oath seriously, especially when he sees the zoo's owner, Mack, take out the claw stick on Ruby when she refuses to learn Stella's tricks. Ivan needs to save Ruby, but how can a gorilla who hasn't left his small cage in years get her out of the zoo? 

As I first started reading this book and they described the animals in their cages, I almost put it down. I really can't take anything that involves animals hurt or neglected, so it took a lot of will power to keep going (even though the descriptions aren't terribly graphic, they still made me very sad). I am glad I kept going. The story of Ivan and his friends, both human and creature, was so beautiful, it was heartbreaking. I kept reading because Ivan just had to save Ruby. I needed him to save Ruby. She was so innocent and naive, and seeing her in that zoo broke my heart. Ivan was such an interesting character with his gentle nature and his artistic talents (he likes to draw bananas the most, but draws other things too!). When he uses those artistic talents to save Ruby, you will literally find yourself beaming from ear to ear!

This is a beautiful middle reader story told in simple language from Ivan's point of view. He explains gorillas are creatures of few words, so the story is told in short, simple bursts of paragraphs. Since they are so small, it becomes a great book for a beginning reader who can stop and start with great frequency if they need to (if they can bring themselves to). I might give this story to an older, struggling reader because it is such a touching, beautiful story, but I would make sure it wasn't a student who would be insulted by slightly juvenile writing. The story would keep them interested, but the writing is young. If you need a story to read aloud in class or at home with your child, give Ivan and the crew a chance. You won't be sorry you did!

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