The One and Only Ivan

By Katherine Applegate (2011)

Read to Them is very proud to offer the 2012 Newbery winner – The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate – as a One School… and One District, One Book selection. It is a very special book.

Ivan offers two distinct opportunities for elementary schools and their families.

1) Ivan is a terribly moving and affecting story – about a gorilla who entertains desultory tourists at a highway rest stop. Ivan is written in the first person – so the reader experiences everything from Ivan’s perspective – his life, his past, his current domain, his friends, his hopes, his dreams. He is a very affecting narrator. Patient, melancholy, wise.

Ivan also has very fine friends – an elephant named Stella, a dog named Bob, and a girl named Julia (not unlike Fern from Charlotte’s Web). Ivan’s friends provide plenty of humorous perspective. But they also help Ivan negotiate the various frustrations of his captive life.

Ivan is a winning protagonist, too, because he is able to express himself – privately and publicly – by drawing. With crayons and finger paints. Students (for generations likely, for Ivan is destined to be a classic) will surely identify with a character who uses art to negotiate and express his inner feelings.

2) Ivan will also be a boon to students and schools – budding writers, not just readers! – because Katherine Applegate has crafted her book in sterling, scrupulously honed and polished prose. It is near poetry, almost haiku.

Example: “Homework, I have discovered, involves a sharp pencil and thick books and long sighs.”

Most of Ivan’s chapters consist of carefully crafted single sentence paragraphs. They make for patient, careful reading. And listening. They merit appreciative attention. Students and parents will fly through Ivan’s carefully polished prose. Teachers will want to stop and call attention. Put Ivan/Applegate’s sentences on t-shirts. Create simple, inspiring writing exercises out of Applegate’s technique.

Ivan contains pictures – so it will appeal to elementary school audiences. Ivan also is about weighty themes of captivity and freedom – so it will also appeal to older and even middle school audiences.

Read to Them looks forward to many schools and districts sharing the magic charms of The One and Only Ivan in the coming years.