The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
This is an award-winning book that's hugely popular, written extremely well, and it tells a heartfelt and inspiring story. Basically, there is nothing to lose with this one, and plenty to gain. The style of the book is unique too since it reads sort of like a collection of journal entries rather than a series of short chapters. And when I say short, I mean super-short. The entries, or chapters, vary in length from two sentences to two pages and are rarely any longer than that. I will say that this writing style does feel a little choppy at first and the story is rather slow-starting, but definitely stick with it and you'll be rewarded with a truly wonderful literary experience.

It's important to know that the one and only Ivan himself is a real gorilla and though the book is fiction, the overall story of Ivan's existence is true. He was trapped in Africa as a baby, brought to the USA, and kept in isolation as an animal attraction at a rundown mall in Washington state for almost thirty years. Thankfully the real Ivan's story ended happily when he was finally transferred to a zoo in Atlanta where he lived out his last twenty years. Great, he went from one cage to another, you might think. Just read the book and you'll see that from an animal's perspective, a zoo may just turn out to be a pretty sweet place.

Ivan in the book follows the same path, but he gets to interact with some fictional characters who really round out the story. There are Stella, the wise old elephant and Ruby, the "new kid on the block" young elephant whom Ivan is sworn to protect. There's also Bob the stray dog who makes himself a home of sorts in Ivan's domain at the roadside mall. Bob is a wonderful character, full of sharp wit and clever observations.

Here’s a sample of Ms. Applegate’s fine text which I particularly enjoyed. (The “I” here is Ivan since the book is told from his perspective.)

When I awake the next morning, I see a little trunk poking out between the bars of Stella’s domain.

“Hello,” says a small, clear voice. “I’m Ruby.” She waves her trunk.

“Hello,” I say. “I’m Ivan.”

“Are you a monkey?” Ruby asks.

“Certainly not.”

Bob’s ears perk up, although his eyes stay closed. “He’s a gorilla,” he says. “And I am a dog of uncertain heritage.”

“Why did the dog climb your tummy?” Ruby asks. (Bob sleeps on Ivan’s stomach.)

“Because it’s there,” Bob murmurs.

Like I said at the top, the writing is excellent, the story and style are unique, and the book is a fast read. It's been out for a while and I'm pretty late to the party, so many youngsters may already have this one or may have heard it at school. If not, I highly recommend Ms. Applegate's top-notch novel The One and Only Ivan to boys and girls from around 4th grade and up. Just so they can appreciate the subtleties of the story and so they aren't too bummed out when things get a little sad. It's especially great for those who are fond of animals of all kinds, they'll love it for sure. If I haven't made this obvious yet, I should mention that The One and Only Ivan is a talking animals book. But all you parents out there will likely dig it too because it's not cutesy and childish. Ivan the gorilla's story is inspirational, moving, and mature...while still being very approachable and enjoyable. As is this book!

Happy Reading!