Thursday, September 06, 2012

The One and Only IvanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This story about a gorilla, two elephants and a stray dog living as caged sideshow animals in a shopping mall is sweet and touching. Told from the point of view of Ivan, the gorilla, it is a compassionate look at the world as seen through the eyes of a caged animal. Ivan has always been an easy going gorilla, seemingly content to watch TV and finger paint. He doesn't seem to mind that he's a money-making display for gawking shoppers. But when a baby elephant is added as a new attraction to the Exit 8 Big Top Mall, and a tragic event occurs, Ivan begins to see the world in a new way. He no longer sees his home as a domain, but as a cage. Through his finger paintings, Ivan manages to make a change for the better for all of the animals at the Big Top Mall.

This book would be an excellent way to introduce a child to the meaning of compassion. It's also a wonderful tribute to the power of art. The book is told in short, almost poetic segments and would make a great read-aloud. It is 300 pages long, but the type is large and there is a lot of blank space between the lines of text. In other words, it's a fast read. As an illustrator, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful illustrations by Patricia Castelao that beautifully capture the poignancy of the story.

I've always had ambivalent feelings about zoos, mostly because I hate to see animals in cages, but the world has changed and fortunately so have most zoos. With habitat loss a major concern for many wild animals, zoos are in the forefront in trying to save many of the world's endangered animals. And although zoos still aren't the ideal home for a wild animal, they sure beat the conditions that Ivan and Ruby have endured living in a shopping mall.

Applegate was inspired by a real gorilla named Ivan who spent 27 years on display in a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. Due to the efforts of animal rights activists, Ivan was finally sent to live in a zoo in Atlanta, where, for the first time in his life, he was able to interact with other gorillas. Ivan was still alive when this book was released earlier this year, but sadly he died on August 21st, 2012. He had been in declining health for a number of years and died while under anesthesia administered to him during a routine physical exam.

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