Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.
Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
here was something about the very simple yet whimsical cover that drew me to this book. When I then read that the story is narrated to us by a gorilla I was sold!
Ivan (the gorilla if you hadn’t guessed/read the premise!) explains very early on that most animals only speak as necessary and to the point, mocking people who tend to waffle, are overly emotive and constantly chatter. The narration therefore reflects this viewpoint and describes the events that unfold in a brief and to the point manner. Literally on some pages there are just a couple of sentences to read. With Ivan as a narrator, ‘less is more’ and ‘quality over quantity’ is very apt as these few sentences at times, are very powerful indeed.
Ivan and his circus friends are resigned to their dreary, institutionalised life at a static circus. As the years have passed and their popularity has dwindled, so has their spirit and memories of a life in the wild prior to captivity is rapidly fading.
The sadness of their mundane lives really hits home when the animals ask Stella, a mature and injured elephant who still performs circus tricks whether she is excited at the news that a baby elephant will be arriving soon. Stella can think of nothing worse than the thought of this young, vibrant life suffering the same fate as her own and asks Ivan to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
Ivan is a thoughtful gorilla, in his domain with limited stimulation and people to observe he has a lot of time to ponder and wonder about his lot. His pondering and discussions with Stella and Bob, a stray dog who has attached himself to Ivan are thought provoking and gives insight as to how they view their micro world. He agrees to honour Stella’s wish although this is such a monumental task for a caged gorilla to do.
The issues the book raises are cleverly handled. The animals experience neglect, emotional and physical abuse and, even though this story has a happy ending for some of the animals, it still makes it clear that any enclosure, no matter how vast, still doesn’t replace the freedom of the wild.
I really enjoyed this book and it even provoked me to get teary without being too animal rights militant at the same time. I do wonder if younger or less empathetic readers may miss the point, so may appreciate some discussion to ensure that they understand the hidden meaning behind Ivan’s deceptively simple words.
Verdict: A beautiful read with a unique narrative style. One of my favourite reads of the year so far!
Reviewed by Karen
Thanks to those lovely people at Harper Collins Children’s Books we have three copies of The One and Only Ivan to giveaway. To enter simply comment below. Three winners will be selected at random to win one of these fabulous middle grade books. UK postal addresses only.
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