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March 17, 2013

“The One and Only Ivan”

by Anne Paddock

I too find it hard to believe there is a connection across time and space, linking me to a race of ill-mannered clowns.

In 2012, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate was awarded the Newberry Medal for children’s literature. Ivan, a 400 pound Silverback gorilla has been living in a large cage at the Exit 8 (off I-95) Big Top Mall and Video Arcade for the past 9,855 days (27 years). Trapped as a baby and transported to the US, Ivan was raised like a human by Mack, his owner. When Ivan got too big to handle, Mack put him in the cage at the local mall and used him to attract shoppers.

The story is told from the narrative voice of Ivan who considers himself an artist first and a gorilla second. He passes his day drawing with crayons, throwing me-balls (dried dung) at people who irritate him, and talking to his two closest friends:  Bob, the tiny street smart stray mutt who sneaks into Ivan’s cage to offer advice (i.e. poodles are parasites), lick the crumbs off Ivan’s face, or fall asleep on Ivan’s squishy belly; and Stella, the wise elderly female elephant who retired from circus life to live in an adjacent large cage.

One day, a baby elephant named Ruby arrives and empowers the others to see life differently.  Loosely based on the real life story of a gorilla named Ivan who lived alone in a Washington State mall for 27 years before public outcry resulted in his move to the Atlanta Zoo where he could live with other gorillas, The One and Only Ivan is a sad but ultimately heartwarming story for 8 – 12 year olds. At 300 pages with large font and very short paragraphs (and often just a sentence or two on many pages), the book shows both the good and bad sides of human nature.

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