The One and Only Ivan is a terrific, middle-grade book that inspires kids to talk about the capture and treatment of wild animals. The book was based on a true story (watch the YouTube Ivan video) about a real gorilla, named Ivan, who was kept in a small, glass enclosure as the main exhibit of a shopping mall for over two decades before being adopted by Zoo Atlanta in 1994.
In the book, Ivan has almost forgotten his family and life in the jungle as he lives in his enclosure as the “one and only” silverback gorilla at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall with his friends Bob (a stray dog) and Stella (an elephant). He is used to his routine, painting and watching TV until Ruby, a baby elephant, joins their group and makes Ivan begin to question their life at the mall.
Ivan begins to plan their rescue, so that Ruby can live a different life. He experiences kindness from the maintenance man’s daughter who does her homework while her dad cleans and who brings him art supplies.
Discussing with Brendan, my 11 year old son, he “learned that people shouldn’t imprison animals in malls” and said that he “never knew people did that”. We had visited the Ripley’s aquarium during our trip to Myrtle Beach and after reading Ivan asked “do you think they like that” considering the sting rays, jellyfish and horseshoe crabs that were on display for touching? He also found it surprising that a Gorilla would take care of a baby elephant since silverbacks usually protect their own kind and thought it was “dope” who he befriended Bob and hid him from the mall owner. We both agreed that it was great that he could be reintroduced to other gorillas after 27 years in captivity.
This is a terrific book to read with a grade 4-5 child. Brendan read it with his class and I followed along at home so that we could discuss the story together. If you don’t have time to read this book, check out the video link together with your children and discuss your thoughts on animals in captivity.
Being curious, we googled Ivan and learned that Ivan lived the rest of his life with other gorillas. He died at the age of 50 years old at the zoo where he was known for his paintings. Thanks to Mrs. Wilson who introduced us to a great book to discuss and share! Brendan and I have both rated it 4 stars.