Although I was skeptical about reading a book narrated by a gorilla, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is a new favorite of mine. I began this book right after my girls left for school this morning, and didn't make it off the couch until I finished it up. (I am on spring break, and my children, who attend school in a different district are not, thus giving me hours of time by myself to read - and perhaps clean).
Ivan is a gorilla living alone without other gorillas in a small zoo at a local Washington Mall. He has one friend - an elephant named Stella. The two of them are supposed to attract customers and make money, yet business isn't going well. As a last ditch effort to revive the mall, a baby elephant, Ruby, is purchased.
These three animals interact with each other, and also with Julia, the custodian's young daughter. Julia draws pictures and sits outside the animals' cage while her father works at night. It is she who realizes that Stella is sick, and she that finally understands what Ivan is trying to communicate in his paintings.
While I went into this book a bit doubtfully, sure that I would not fall in love with it, there were two things that totally changed my mind. The first is the way in which this story is told - narrated by Ivan. I loved Ivan's voice, and while Applegate can only guess at what Ivan is thinking, I am betting she has come pretty close to what the real Ivan thought. Yes, there was a "real" Ivan. Which is the second thing that totally sold me on this story. Applegate has based this book on a gorilla who really did live in a small Washington mall for three decades without seeing another gorilla. In fact, he was featured in National Geographic. I absolutely love when authors can take real events and base stories on them.
The One and Only Ivan is a must purchase for my school library. I am also anxious to read this aloud to my own girls, sure that they will fall in love with this book, too.