The One and only Ivan is one of the saddest books I have ever read. I hoped when I reached the end the sadness would lift but it does not, well not completely. Ivan is only partly free - he is now living in a zoo but at least he has the company of other gorillas. Having said that I do think everyone should read this book. Books should make us feel things. Being sad is a real emotion and not one we should shy away from or avoid. Ivan is a hero in the true sense of the word. He has wise words to share. At times this book feels like a verse novel.
"I have been in my domain for nine thousand eight hundred and fifty-five days.
For a while when I was young and foolish, I thought I was the last gorilla on earth.
I tried not to dwell on it. Still, it's hard to stay upbeat when you thing there are no more of you.
Then one night after I watched a movie ... I saw a lush forest. I heard birds murmuring. The grass moved. The trees rustled.
Then I saw him. He was a bit threadbare and scrawny and not as good-looking as I am, to be honest. But sure enough, he was a gorilla."
Ivan, Stella and later Ruby are part of a collection of animals that live in a shopping mall. This is a circus that does not travel. There are shows three times a day and gift stores where you can buy souvenirs of your visit. I found this so very very sad. The poster advertising their act is faded, the shopping mall is run down, crowds are dwindling and sadly the man in charge has become vicious.
Here is the web site for this book. Take a look at the opening video it is so beautiful and poignant and contains some fabulous quotes from authors and reviewers.
I have been hearing about this book all year. I read the whole book in one sitting. I am certain the sentiments of this book will linger with me for many years. I watched a video of a class in America. They were listening to their teacher read a list of top five books. I guess it was the top five for 2012. There is one little girl close to the front of the camera. She can hardly contain her excitement as she anticipates and hopes The One and Only Ivan will be named the number one book! When it is, the whole class just explodes!
Here is an interview with the author. Here is a set of teaching ideas. Read an extract on the publisher's web site.
The other hero in this story is Bob, a stray dog who is a secret companion for Ivan. Ivan promises to take care of young Ruby.
"I shouldn't have made that promise, Bob. I just wanted ... to make Stella happy, I guess. But I can't save Ruby. I can't even save myself.
I flop onto my back. The cement is always cold, but tonight it hurts.
Bob leaps on to my belly. 'You are the One and Only Ivan,' he says. 'Mighty Silverback.'
He licks my chin, and he is not even checking for leftovers.
'Say it,' Bob commands.
I look away.
'Say it, Ivan.'
I don't answer so Bob licks my nose until I can't stand it any longer.
'I am the One and Only Ivan,' I mutter.
'And don't you ever forget it,' he says."
On the final pages of this book you will read the astonishing fact that this book is based on real events. There really was a gorilla who was held in a shopping mall for twenty-seven years until community action saved him. Here are some words from the Kirkus review.
Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates.