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Thursday, October 30, 2014

IVAN:The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2014. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"The one thing Ivan didn't
need to learn was how to eat.

The more he ate,
the more he grew.

The more he grew, the less
he could live a human life
in a human house."

First, let me tell you that I have loved The One and Only Ivan from the first time I read it (and for each of the next five times). I have a few copies left for giving, even after having given a number to both children and adults. It is a story that is remarkably well written, and full of everything you would want in a memorable read. As happens with a story that you have strong feelings about, I was a tad nervous when this book arrived in the mail. I know that Katherine Applegate is a gifted writer. I know that Ivan meant a great deal to her; but, I wondered how she would tell his poignant story in a 32 page illustrated book of nonfiction. I need not have worried one bit!

Ms. Applegate tells Ivan's story with all of the love and honor she showed in her fictional account of  his story. She captures the essence of his character using a third person voice that is well-suited to this nonfiction look at his life. She begins where he began. Born in Africa and raised in a family group of lowland gorillas, Ivan thrived. He learned what his family had to teach him, watching and imitating the older members of his troop. He had no knowledge of humans until:

"Poachers with loud guns
and cruel hands
stole the little gorilla
and another baby."

While Ivan's life was unusual when he first arrived in Tacoma, Washington, he was happy. He learned much about sharing this new reality with his human caregivers. When he grew too big to be kept in their house, he was moved to the mall and for many years he watched people watching him. His life was limited to a cage, and a few distractions.

Eventually, people began to protest his captivity and his life without benefit of family and freedom.
Twenty-seven years after his arrival, Ivan was moved to Atlanta where he was carefully cared for, and slowly assimilated into a more normal life for a grand and gentle silverback.

"In leafy calm,
in gentle arms,
a gorilla's life began

G. Brian Kara creates emotional and telling illustrations to match the changing tone of the story, and to bring Ivan to readers with the many joys and sorrows of his long life. An archival photo of Ivan, and an author's note are included  to give readers a summary of his life story, and to make a plea for more humane treatment of all animals.



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