The One and Only Ivan
The One and Only Ivan is told from the point of view of Ivan himself—a silverback gorilla who lives in a shopping mall with several other animals, including an elephant named Stella and a stray dog named Bob. Though there are humorous parts, much of the book deals with the cruelty of humans, and there are some parts that are downright heart-breaking. Not that all humans in the book are terrible; many people try to help Ivan and the other animals. Ivan is given crayons and paper (and later finger-paints), and art is another important theme in the book. In fact. Ivan’s paintings are a major plot point.
This book, a 2013 Newberry Award winner, is often assigned reading in many upper elementary school classes. The author has educator and parent resource guides on her website, with questions like, “Discuss the importance of memory in this story,” and “Compare the personalities of Mack and George.” These make great talking points with kids who are reading the story, even if it isn’t assigned by a teacher.
Amazingly, there was a real Ivan the gorilla who lived at a circus-themed shopping mall for twenty-seven years. After public condemnation of the living conditions, Ivan was liberated to a zoo in Atlanta, Georgia in 1994. And yes, he did paint.
In 2020, a sequel to The One and Only Ivan was published, called The One and Only Bob. I haven’t read it, but the author’s website says “Bob sets out on a dangerous journey in search of his long-lost sister with the help of his two best friends, Ivan and Ruby. As a hurricane approaches and time is running out, Bob finds courage he never knew he had and learns the true meaning of friendship and family.”
The One and Only Ivan is an excellent book that deals with some hard questions at times, but is well worth reading.