Recently, on a cold weekday afternoon, I was browsing through the children’s section at Ekta Books in Thapathali, Kathmandu. I wanted a pick-me-up as the weather had been dreary for a while, leaving me lethargic and a little upset. A good book ought to solve the problem, I thought. Only this time I wanted something fun and heartwarming, and where better to look than children’s literature!
I picked up ‘The One and Only Ivan’ by Katherine Applegate on a staff’s recommendation. She said it’s been selling well and is also apparently on a school syllabus in Nepal.
The One and Only Ivan is a tale of love and friendship that revolves around a silverback gorilla named Ivan. He has been living in a cage, which he calls domain, for years at the Big Top Circus Mall and knows nothing of the real world. His world is all that he can see through his cage-bars.
However, Ivan, not knowing another way of life, is content. He eats all he wants, and enjoys painting, which sells at the gift store for “$20, $25 with a frame’. He loves Stella, a rescued circus elephant, and Bob, the dog, who sleeps on his tummy. Then Mack, the mall operator, brings in Ruby, a baby elephant. She was taken from her family and isn’t used to a confined life. It is Ruby who makes Ivan realize there’s an entirely different world out there and they aren’t meant to be where they are.
Applegate’s incredible story is inspired by a real-life gorilla named Ivan who lives in Zoo Atlanta. He spent almost three decades at a circus-themed mall in Washington state after being captured as an infant in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He enjoys a celebrity status at the zoo where he is known for his paintings that are “signed” with his thumbprint.
The book is airy, comprised of short sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. The prose is often poetry-like with Ivan making fun observations about human nature. “Humans speak too much. They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say.” The story is a bit slow and sad at times but you feel an instant connection with Ivan and thus don’t want to put the book down.
The One and Only Ivan is a good book to introduce young adults to animal rights. It can also make them empathetic towards others. But above all, it will lift their spirits and make them smile.
About the author
Katherine Applegate is an American young adult and children’s fiction writer who mostly writes science fiction, fantasy, and adventure novels. She is known for her book series namely Animorphs, Remnants, and Everworld. She also wrote the acclaimed chapter book series called Roscoe Riley Rules. The One and Only Ivan won the 2013 Newbery Medal.