My two youngest kids and I have been enjoying reading a book together called The One and Only Ivan, and were thrilled to find out that “Ivan” was crowned with the 2013 Newbery Medal.
What is the Newbery Award?
The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Author Katherine Applegate, who has written several books for children and young adults, tells the true story of Ivan, a gorilla who spent 27 years of his life living in a glass-walled cage inside a circus-themed shopping mall. During those 27 years, he never saw another gorilla, but he did develop friendships with an elephant named Stella and a dog named Bob. He spent much of his time watching TV and drawing pictures with crayon and paper.
Although Ivan really did exist, and many elements mentioned in the story are true, Applegate’s children’s book is a work of fiction. I love that Applegate took creative liberty in telling the story from Ivan the Gorilla’s perspective.
What is The One and Only Ivan about?
Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.
Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.
Who should read The One and Only Ivan?
“Memories are precious,” Stella adds. “They help tell us who we are.”
The One and Only Ivan is geared to children, ages 9-12, but my husband and I have both stayed entertained and interested as we have read it out loud with the kids. My 7 year old, who is an advanced reader, is enjoying it a lot, and is definitely fully understanding the story. There are quite a few conversation-starters throughout the book (something that I love–yay for teaching moments!).
I think some younger kids would love the story…but be warned: this is not a picture book. There are several small illustrations scattered throughout the book, but if your younger child needs big pictures to stay entertained, then you’d be better off waiting a few years. Also, this is not a read-in-one-sitting book. The hardcover book is 320 pages. It’s also available in digital format.
The final word: The One and Only Ivan is recommended by me, AJ, and Reese. We think you’ll enjoy it!
Note: The product links included in this post are not affiliate links, but I do work with The Copia and receive compensation for my time. You can purchase the ebook OR the hardcover book through the links above. Be sure to stop by my book club sometime…I might even have a special “Ivan” discussion thread!
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