What a way to start a new year of reading! This book will require very little convincing to get teachers, librarians and kids to pick it up. It is a rare book that can capture the heart/attention of all three equally. Then again, The One and Only Ivan is a rare book, period.
Ivan, a silverback gorilla, has lived at Big Top Mall almost as long as he can remember. His memories of the jungle and his long-lost sister are fleeting, and he is content in his habitat. He loves painting, talking with his neighbour (wise elephant Stella), visits from Julia (the daughter of the janitor), and Bob (a stray dog). But then baby elephant Ruby arrives, and Ivan sees Big Top Mall as less of a home and more of a prison.
To call this book sweet is undermining the complexities Applegate has so carefully woven into her rich story about homecoming. The narration is not quite free verse, but has the same simple, polished and exacting feel as free verse novels do. This form allows for simplicity of language but with maximum emotional impact, a great combination for reluctant or struggling readers. It also allows Applegate to handle potentially disturbing scenes (including one with a metal elephant hook) without too much graphic detail.*
Fans of Love That Dog, The Incredibly Journey, Sounder, Piper, and anything written by Michael Morpurgo will cherish The One and Only Ivan. A contemporary, unique and accomplished addition to the canon of animal stories for children. Check out this stellar book trailer. If that cello doesn’t make you cry, nothing will.
The One and Only Ivan is available from HarperCollins Canada.
*A great website has been created for the book, featuring the amazing true story that inspired the book.