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The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

Picture of book cover of The One and Only Ivan against a background picture of rope

Having spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting.

But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home and his art through new eyes.

This story is inspired by a real-life silverback named Ivan, who lived through the same things our Ivan did but didn’t have a Ruby or a Bob. It is an excellent introduction to the dangers of human-wildlife interaction on wildlife and the need for animal conservation.

The story is quite nuanced, showing humans in our good, bad and ugly moments. The animals experience help, negligence and destruction from humans at different stages of their lives. It ends on a hopeful note that has and, I am confident, will continue to inspire a whole new set of advocates.

It has been a long time since I read a book in one sitting, but if there was ever a book that wouldn’t let go, it’s The One and Only Ivan. From the first page, I was hooked by Katherine Applegate’s spare and simple prose, which imagines the interior and exterior world of a gorilla kept in captivity in a mall for twenty-seven years.

There is sadness in the resignation with which Ivan views his lot in life. This is made even sadder because he doesn’t think he’s sad, although his active memory repression gives us a massive clue to his emotional state.

But sadness is not all there is to this story. In his interactions with his friends, former circus elephant Stella, Bob, the dog who refuses to be kept, and newbie Ruby, there is hope, love and an indomitable will to get the better they deserve.

Final Word

#1 New York Times bestseller, Newbery Award winner, and now a major motion picture streaming on Disney+, The One and Only Ivan is a short read (I finished it in an hour). Still, the

story it conveys is richer, more complex and packed with more emotion than some of the weightier tomes I’ve read. I laughed, I cried, I even laughed while I cried! And I plan on doing all those things when I read the sequel, The One and Only Bob.


This story will captivate readers from 8 to 80. Must. Read.


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