Review: 'The One and Only Ivan'

Petworth Library

Review: 'The One and Only Ivan'

ivanKatherine Applegate has penned my new favorite contemporary children's book!

Poignant, intelligent, funny, thought-provoking, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is inspired by the story of a real captive gorilla that lived as a caged performer at a shopping mall for 27 years. Noble artist Ivan's first-gorilla narrative is told with wry wit and spare, well-chosen, thoughtful text because "[h]umans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot."

Apparently silverback gorillas do not.

The ensuing conversations, warm rapport and situational drama of the animals "living" at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade will draw you in and take root in your heart. The quirky, precocious animal characters and Ivan's friendly child muse, Julia, will appeal to youth in grades 4 and up. However, this story coaxes mature readers to examine the concept of "home" and what it means to truly live one's life beyond one's perceived limitations, beyond others' expectations and ponder if it is possible to feel fulfilled whether or not "the ideal life" is achieved.

Whether you (like I) have a soft spot for smart stories with plucky pet protagonists who wax philosophical on life, love and learning (think of Charlotte's Web, The Art of Racing In the Rain), I hope you are a believer that the animal world has much to teach us if we care to open our minds and hearts to learn. Two very enthusiastic opposable thumbs up!  

-- Tammeric Itson Scurry