Meet Ivan…just Ivan, please.
Ivan is an adult male gorilla - a silverback - born to defend his domain and protect his family. Or at least, in Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan, that’s the way it usually works. Instead, Ivan has spent the last 27 years as the main attraction at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.
Here, he can survey his entire domain without even standing. Here, there is no one to protect.
With enough time you can get used to almost anything, though. If nothing else, Ivan has had a lot of time. He’s not alone either. Ivan’s social circle includes Bob, a dog of dubious origins, and Stella, Ivan’s co-star at the Big Top Mall, an elderly and sweet-natured elephant who forgets nothing. Then there’s Julia, the janitor’s daughter who sits across from Ivan’s domain most evenings, completing homework and turning out dazzling drawings of Ivan, Bob and Stella. That’s something she and Ivan have in common – a passion for creating art. That and an endless supply of crayons.
Ivan’s life, with something to draw (mostly bananas), and friends to keep him company, is bearable if monotonous. Yet the life to which Ivan and the others have become resigned is about to change in ways they could never have imagined. And it all begins with the arrival of a baby elephant named Ruby.
It has been a long time since Ivan has known either the luxury or the agony of hope for another kind of life. With Ruby’s arrival though, he begins to awake to the reality of his situation and to the precarious state of Ruby’s own destiny. A singular and selfless object begins to develop in Ivan: he must shield hopeful Ruby from the state of apathy that has been his lot, whatever the means. At long last, Ivan has someone to protect.
Young readers who feel an affinity with animals and those who have enjoyed such animal rescue tales as E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web or Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath will flock to The One and Only Ivan. Inspired by a true story, this title is also recommended for readers who may find that the brevity of the chapters and the first-person narrative combine to create an unusually engrossing encounter with the main character.
It should be noted that unlike most stories of a related rescue theme, Ivan’s is of an altogether rarer sort. Despite his narrative - the tale is related largely through the gorilla’s own inner dialogue – Ivan is no human character in animal garb. Instead the author smoothly manages to convey a sense of Ivan as the silverback gorilla he is. Sentient and courageous, a true survivor, yet neither particularly imaginative nor overtly rebellious, Ivan’s character is rendered the more poignant for the simplicity of his ambition and the motive that drives him.