Kids love books about animals. Adults love books about animals. We all love books about animals, especially about animals who overcome obstacles. “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate is the 2013 Newbery Award winner and well-deserving of such an honor. It is told from the perspective of Ivan, a silverback gorilla taken from the jungle in his youth and raised as a human child until he was too big for convertible rides and high chairs. Mack, his owner/foster parent/zookeeper, moved him to his circus-themed mall where he is the only gorilla who makes friends with Stella, the only elephant. The two form a friendship based out of respect for the shared loneliness and mutual love of yogurt-covered raisins. Rounding out an unlikely trio is Bob, a tough, street-wise stray dog who provides continual sassy, but lovingly-realistic commentary. The circus is a failing venture for Mack and so he decides to purchase a baby elephant, Ruby, from a bankrupt circus. Stella takes Ruby in as her own but as Stella’s health fails, Ivan makes the difficult promise to keep Ruby safe; to protect her from a fate of lonely captivity.
This is a book marketed to elementary age students but would also be a great book for adults. It has the potential to spark a variety of discussions including the potential responsibility that humans have for animals and the role the two kingdoms play in the others’ life. In fact, Applegate includes a lengthy epilogue on the matter in which you learn that the story is semi-inspired by a real-life Ivan. I would recommend this work but I would actually recommend the audiobook version the most. Adam Grupper does an incredible job of narrating the story using convincing and distinct voices for the diverse characters. His booming yet dignified voice brings Ivan to life.
– a post from Sarah