read by Adam Grupper
What a fabulous book, and most deserving of the 2013 Newbery Medal! I was both laughing and crying by its end.
"The One and Only Ivan," as the billboard on the interstate calls him, is a silverback lowland gorilla who's been living in a cage (he calls it his "domain") at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade for 9,855 days (as recorded by Ivan - 27 years). His best friends are Stella, an aging elephant, and Bob, a stray dog who shares his cage at night. He also interacts with Mack, his (and the mall's) owner; George the janitor; and George's daughter Julia. He is an artist, drawing with crayons and paper Julia shoves through a hole in his cage, and later with markers and fingerpaints.
One day, though, a new baby elephant, Ruby, arrives, and everything changes...
Ivan narrates this touching story in very short chapters and sentences. The print book is easy to read as a result, and is scattered with charming black-and-white illustrations by Patricia Castelao. Actor Adam Grupper is marvelous on the audiobook as Ivan, with his rich, deep voice, but also creates unique voices for the other characters.
Katherine Applegate, probably best-known for the Animorphs series so popular with kids when my son was young (1990s), based Ivan on a real animal - the infamous "Ivan the Shopping Mall Gorilla," who spent 27 years alone in a small cage in a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. I was living in the Seattle area when Ivan was in the news, with a public outcry for a better home for him. He eventually wound up in Zoo Atlanta and died in August 2012, just a few months after this book was published, at the age of 50 from a chest tumor. The real Ivan did in fact fingerpaint.
This book was an excellent choice for the 2013 Newbery Medal. The audiobook is recommended for ages 8-13, grades 3-7. That's probably about the right age range, as some of the themes of the book might be difficult for younger children to handle. The short chapters would make it work well for a read-aloud, and yet should not frustrate struggling readers.
© Amanda Pape - 2013
[The audiobook and a print copy were borrowed from and returned to my university library.]