I can see why people are all gaga over Ivan, the gorilla who’s the star of the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Ivan is a sympathetic character, an artist, something of a stoic, and a good friend to Stella, the elephant, Bob, the stray dog, and Julia, the daughter of the night janitor for the mall. Ivan lives in the moment, takes life as it comes, and doesn’t worry over much. However, when he makes a promise to a dying friend, Ivan is determined to keep his word, no matter what.

I really enjoyed getting to know Ivan. And I had sympathy for his plight, a lonely gorilla who has nothing to do but watch TV and draw pictures to be sold in the mall gift shop. Ivan doesn’t feel sorry for himself, even though he has been living without the company of other gorillas for most of his life, the last twenty-some odd years. (The One and Only Ivan is based on the true of a gorilla named Ivan who lived for twenty-seven years in a circus-themed mall in Washington state and who now lives in the Atlanta Zoo.)

But honestly the whole “animals are people, too” theme was distracting to me. I think the author could have made us sympathize, even identify, with Ivan without beating us over the head with the philosophy that we’re all great apes, and animals are just like people (only they’re not really, are they?). The insertion into the story of animal rights rhetoric was intrusive and unnecessary. Animals are animals and people are people. People have a responsibility to treat animals with care and respect, and Ivan shouldn’t have been caged alone without other gorillas and without a natural habitat for over twenty years. The story of Ivan’s “emancipation” is a good one, even if Ivan is anthropomorphized a little too much. How else could he tell his own story?

3 responses

  1. I brought this one home from the library recently but haven’t started it yet.

  2. […] Across the Page: Books Read in 2012. For Janet, I have a suggestion that dovetails with her “movement outward into discovering the natural world”: Exploring Nature with your Child by Dorothy Edwards Shuttlesworth. I read this older title quite a while ago, but I remember it being quite useful and inspiring when I had preschool and primary age children to educate in my home. Also, Janet and her students might enjoy an animal story which made its way into my Cybils reading this year, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. […]

  3. […] “If I get tired and need a break, I eat my crayons.” The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. […]

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