2013: The One and Only Ivan (Art Activism)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5

The 2013 Newbery Medal Winner, The One and Only Ivan, is the touching story of Ivan, a gorilla held in a tawdry “circus”. The entire narrative is from Ivan’s perspective. Ivan was born in the wild but grew up in captivity; only the stories Stella the elephant told and the art which Julia (human) helped him produce kept him sane. Once Ivan is fully grown, he stops attracting circus visitors. Mack, the owner, decides to bring in Ruby, a baby elephant. Shortly thereafter, Stella dies from an untreated foot infection. Ivan promises Stella that he won’t let Ruby grow up in their circus.

To that end, he uses the paint and paper Julia bring him to create a message which she convinces her dad to put on the billboard. This eventually leads to inspections and the seizure of Ivan, Ruby, and all the other animals. They are moved to a proper zoo, where Ivan relearns how to be an ape and Ruby has the company of other elephants.

The words are pretty simple, but the message is profound. Every animal has feelings and small actions can make a big difference. Creativity matters. Ivan, for example, frets over how to keep his promise to Stella before figuring out how to “write” on multiple sheets of paper, creating a message for the billboard. Julia understands Ivan’s message, and her father George puts it up on the billboard, despite knowing that it will likely cost him his job. The One and Only Ivan is a moving story of inter-species cooperation.

This would be perfect for people who enjoy animal stories. It is designed for kids from 3rd through 7th grade, but there is much for adults to appreciate.


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