In my January review I talked about the soon to be announced Newbery Medal and how I was hoping that the book I was reviewing—Wonder by RJ Palacio—would win; but alas, it did not. And honestly, after reading this year’s winner—The One and Only Ivan—I am okay with that. The two books are vastly different so instead of comparing apples to oranges, I will simply detail why you should read this wonderfully, engaging chapter book, that also happened to win a really big national award.
Ivan is a silverback gorilla. He has lived in his metal, glass and cement “domain” at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade for 27 years and he rarely misses the jungle where he was born. Most days he does not even think about it. He is surrounded by friends—Stella, a wise and kind elephant; Bob, an energetic stray dog; and Julia, a human friend that opens Ivan’s world through art—that he loves, so he is usually content to think about them and the things that are part of his everyday life. Like having mall patrons staring at him through his glass enclosure; eating; watching TV; drawing pictures of everyday objects—like bananas and bugs; listening to Stella’s stories; watching Julia draw pictures outside of his “domain” while her dad cleans the mall; and having Bob fall asleep on his chest most nights.
That is until one day, when a sweet, baby elephant named Ruby is brought to live at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. It is with the help of her young elephant eyes that Ivan begins to see his world differently and seeks to change it.
A true story inspired Applegate to write this seemingly simple tale. Told through free verse, with multiple lines between sentences/paragraphs, it would be easy to mistake this book for something an early elementary reader might enjoy, but after delving into the subject matter, it is clear that this heartfelt, character-driven story was meant for older elementary/early middle school readers. Applegate tackles tough issues like captivity, cruelty and death with a sensitive hand and her pacing is spot on. While at times the storyline is tragic and sad, mostly it is inspirational, thought-provoking and gentle. This would be an excellent title to use to elicit discussion about human relationships with animals and why it is of the utmost importance to treat animals with love and respect.
The 2013 Newbery Medal committee did a commendable job selecting The One and Only Ivan as their winner. I thank them for their hard work and highly recommend reading it.