The One and Only Ivan in Fact and Fiction

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Ivan's Story

Book Covers of Ivan and The One and Only Ivan

First Came the Fiction Inspired by the Facts

Author Katherine Applegate was inspired to write her award-winning middle grade novel The One and Only Ivan by a newspaper article. More than 20 years ago, she read an article in The New York Times about a gorilla that had been kept caged as an attraction in a shopping mall for twenty-seven years. She kept the article and used it as inspiration for her fictional account of the gorilla Ivan's life years later. The One and Only Ivan was published in 2012.

In 2014, Katherine Applegate's picture book biography of Ivan was published. While Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla is written for a younger audience, ages 4 to 8, it will also be of interest to kids 8 to 12 years old who read and loved The One and Only Ivan and want to know more about the real Ivan.

Follow the links below to overviews of the two books:

  • The One and Only Ivan
  • Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

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The One and Only Ivan - Middle Grade Fiction

The One and Only Ivan Book Cover Art
Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins

Summary

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is an amazing book, funny, poignant and for some children 8 to 12 life-changing in terms of how they view animals and their responsibility to them. Who knew that a novel narrated by a gorilla isolated and caged in a shopping mall exhibit for many years could have such a significant impact on young readers and, at the same time, be such a terrific story.

It's not surprising that The One and Only Ivan was awarded the John Newbery Medal in 2013 for young people's literature. According to the announcement, "Ivan’s transformative emergence from the 'Ape at Exit 8' to 'The One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback' comes to life through the gorilla’s own distinct narrative voice, which is filled with wry humor, deep emotion and thought-provoking insights into the nature of friendship, hope and humanity.  

“Katherine Applegate gives readers a unique and unforgettable gorilla’s-eye-view of the world that challenges the way we look at animals and at ourselves,” said Newbery Medal Committee Chair Steven Engelfried." (Source: ALA press release, 1/28/13)

Page one begins with the words "hello / I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. / It's not as easy as it looks." Readers learn about Ivan's life and the other animals and people he comes in contact with over the years and how he comes to finally be moved to an appropriate habitat. I'm not going to give away more of the plot because I want to avoid spoilers and I consider The One and Only Ivan a five-star book and highly recommend your 8 to 12 year olds read it and that you read it, too. I also think the book will appeal to many young teens.

Publication Information

  • Full Title: The One and Only Ivan
  • Author: Katherine Applegate
  • Illustrator: Patricia Castelao
  • Length: 305 pages
  • Publisher: HARPER, an imprint of HarperCollins
  • Publication Date: 2012
  • ISBN: 9780061992254
  • Guide: Download The One and Only Ivan Discussion Guide from HarperCollins.

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Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

Ivan The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall GorillaBook Cover
Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Summary

What was life really like for Ivan, the gorilla who lived in a shopping mall cage for 27 years and whose story inspired Katherine Applegate's middle grade novel The One and Only Ivan? What was his life like after he was moved to Zoo Atlanta's gorilla habitat? Applegate answers these questions in Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, a picture book biography, illustrated with gentle and muted artwork by G. Brian Karas. There is also a color photo of Ivan at the zoo.

With brevity and gentleness, Applegate presents Ivan's story in a way that will touch children of all ages. Applegate writes, "Ivan is remembered for his quirky personality and his loving relationship with his keepers, as well as for representing the need for all animals to be treated with dignity and kindness." (Ivan, p. 40) The author has done an excellent job of getting the point across about the need to treat animals as they should be treated.

I recommend Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla for children 4 to 8, as well as 8-12 year old readers of The One and Only Ivan who want to know more about the real Ivan. Older readers will particularly appreciate the two-page essay at the end of the book that goes into more detail about Ivan's life and includes two photographs, as well as the account of Ivan's life at the zoo by Jodi Carrigan, his main keeper at Zoo Atlanta, and a color photo of one of Ivan's paintings..

Publication Information

  • Full Title: Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla
  • Author: Katherine Applegate
  • Illustrator: G. Brian Karas
  • Length: pages
  • Publisher: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • ISBN: 9780544252301

Related Resources

If your child is interested in working with animals and/or knowing more about what it's like, I recommend , a National Geographic Kids book about the scientist, her chimpanzee research and her conservation efforts. Scientists in the Field is an excellent series of nonfiction books for middle grade readers. Books in the series include: The Snake Scientist, Digging for Bird-Dinosaurs, The Wildlife Detectives, and .