The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

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The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is a fantastic story to read with your whole family this summer! We read this book in the car on a road trip this weekend and it kept all three of my kids ages 8-17 listening! 

Applegate's novel is the touching story of a gorilla named Ivan who lives in the Big Top Circus Mall in a small enclosure along with an elderly elephant Stella, and few other animals on display. Ivan spends his days in his tiny enclosure watching TV, painting bananas and occasionally entertaining the mall shoppers. Ivan doesn't think too much about his existence until a baby elephant named Ruby arrives. Ruby begins asking questions about where Ivan came from and forces Ivan to remember his life before the mall. Ivan begins to want more for little Ruby than a life like his and Stella's. When Stella falls ill, she asks Ivan to keep a promise that might be impossible! Ivan, with the help of the mall Janitor and his young daughter set out to help Ruby get out of the Big Top Mall and find a better life. 

This Newberry award-winning book is a true story based on the life of Ivan, a Silverback Gorilla that was captured in the Congo in 1962 and sold to a mall owner in the US where he lived as a member of the family until he was 5 years old. Due to Ivan's growing size and strength, he was moved to a small concrete enclosure in the mall where he remained for 27 years. 

Ivan, pictured above in the Seattle Newspaper, although beloved by Mall Shoppers, did not see grass, sunshine, trees or other gorillas for almost 30 years. After years of pressure from the public and animal welfare communities , Ivan was eventually transferred to the Atlanta Zoo where he lived happily among other gorillas for the rest of his life. 

My kids and I loved this story and,after reading it, were eager to research more about the real life of Ivan. You can read all about Ivan's years at the Atlanta Zoo and watch videos of Ivan here

This book is written for children between the ages of 8-12. It is a sweet story told in the voice of Ivan with moments of both humor and sadness. The only part of the book I would caution parents about is when Ivan remembers his captures attacking his family. This scene becomes violent when his parents are shot and it would be upsetting to younger or sensitive children. I quickly reworded this section and omitted some of the scene while I was reading allowed. But overall, this is a wonderful book that will interest your whole family. You will all fall in love with both Ivan and Ruby and will no doubt be cheering them on!

You can find The One and Only Ivan here