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Recommended Reads for Children

The One and Only Ivan

Katherine Applegate

Our new Recommended Reads for Children rounds up some stories you can share with your little ones. Former Project Worker Marianne Kelly is our Recommending Reader, and offers her views on these books over on The Reader Online.

I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of animal stories, especially when the story is told by an animal. The narrative often falls shorts and just doesn’t quite work. There are however delightful exceptions, of which Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan is a shining example. I was totally convinced from the first page:

‘I am Ivan. I am a Gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks.’

Ivan has grown accustomed to his life, not at all phased anymore by humans watching him through glass walls. He knows little of his previous life in the jungle and passes his days quietly, as he proclaims: ‘It’s hard to put into words. Gorillas are not complainers. We’re dreamers, poets, philosophers, nap takers.’ Ivan spends much of his time painting pictures (mostly of bananas) that are sold in the gift shop . He finds a great deal of comfort from his art as he tells the reader that ‘when I’m drawing a picture, I feel…quiet inside.’ The book is full of these lovely philosophical thoughts and beautiful perceptions from Ivan that draw us into his world.

Ivan is forced to re-examine his life after becoming friends with a baby Elephant called Ruby, the newest attraction at the decaying roadside zoo where he lives. Ivan refuses to give up on a promise he makes to give a chance of a better life to Ruby. Using his unusual artistic ability, and with some help from a special human friend, Ivan is able to keep his promise to Ruby, and also find a new life for himself.

It is Ivan’s voice — and his life-affirming story — that will capture readers imagination. Applegate succeeds in convincing us in Ivan’s story by the use of clean, spare prose which results in a book with short chapters and lots of white space. Such a book seems to appeal to reluctant readers who may be intimidated by too many words on a page but will feel a real sense of achievement to have completed a book that reaches over 300 pages. Kate Applegate was inspired by a newspaper article about 20 years ago about the real-life Ivan, a gorilla who had been cruelly exhibited in an American shopping mall until a public outcry led to his removal to better quarters in an Atlanta zoo. The One and Only Ivan, deservedly won the the John Newbery Medal for the outstanding book of 2012, one of the top honors for Children’s Literature.

A truly charming and unforgettable story and fantastic read aloud book that will have everyone cheering for Ivan and his friends.

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