The One and Only Ivan
Katherine Applegate
HarperCollins
2012
2013 Newbery Winner (updated 1/29/13)

I am a sucker for a good animal story.

I also enjoy books with intentional line breaks.

I love it when an author has pitch perfect “voice” and can communicate a lot in a small amount of space

and when the bad guys are, well, human enough that at least a small part of you empathizes with their predicament

and when the good guys are good, but still need some convincing to do the right thing

and when the coming-of-age story is presented as a journey: sometimes terrifying, sometimes happy, sometimes confusing, but definitely “the right thing to do”

and when the friends in the story are supremely loyal to each other

and when a book can make me tear up at the happy ending

and when a book can make a statement about the importance of art

and when an author can make a statement about social/animal justice but not be preachy

and when all of this happens in a book written from the perspective of the mighty-and-yet-gentle-silverback-also-known-as

The One and Only Ivan.

For the record, I don’t enjoy it when the pictures are just not quite right and don’t really capture who the characters are in my mind.

Truth/Story
This book is a great story, and one that is based on true events/characters. Applegate has mastered the art of communicating a lot with few words, making this a quick read but a forceful one. I found it interesting that Ivan, the gorilla narrating his experience, identifies himself with humans as all part of the big ape family near the beginning of the book, but by the end, definitely thinks of himself as a gorilla and of humans as, well, humans. He views himself as distinct, yet sort of related when the book opens; we hear less of those sorts of statements as the book progresses. The humans clearly make some poor decisions in regards to their care of animals in this book; some decisions are downright cruel (but more in theory–no graphic violence here). There are also humans who make a real effort to care for the animals near them as best they can. I think Applegate has managed to communicate “a message” about animal cruelty and ethical treatment while at the same time giving us a genuinely great story.

For the record, I think the Newbery, Boston Globe-Horn Book, and other award committees are going to have a tough decision this year…. Here it is April, and I’ve already read two terrific possibilities (Wonder being the other), and there are lots more coming plus at least one more in my current “to read” stack from the library!


Reading

  • Humans are given dominion over God’s creation right in Genesis (Adam even names the animals). Have we done a good job with that responsibility? Um…. Worth discussing!! What are ways in which we have been good stewards with what the Lord has given us? Bad stewards? Perhaps bad stewards with good, or misguided, intentions? 
  • Where is the balance in our care for Creation? What sorts of factors should guide our decisions as we seek to tend the earth and its creatures? What are the reasons Applegate implies? Is there more to it than the book intimates?
  • What does set us apart from the great apes? (hint: look back at Genesis… God made humans in his image) What are the implications of this?

Book from local library; cover image from goodreads

Thoughts? Other books that come to mind that do a good job enlightening us in the area of animal husbandry, stewardship of Creation, etc.?

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