MIDDLE GRADE REVIEW: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

by Katherine Applegate
Harper, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-199225-4
MG Animal Fantasy
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from purchased copy.


Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.


Applegate was born in Michigan in 1956. Since then she has lived in Texas, Florida, California, Minnesota, Illinois, North Carolina, and after living in Pelago, Italy for a year, she has moved back to Southern California. She has an eleven year old son named Jake Mates, although she says the Animorph leader is not named after him. In 2003 she and her husband, Michael Grant, her co-author on many projects including Animorphs, adopted their daughter, Julia, in China.

Following the end of Animorphs, Applegate took three years off. She is back at work and has written a picture book called "The Buffalo Storm," a middle reader novel called "Home of the Brave," and an early chapters series "Roscoe Riley Rules" with Harper Collins. Her book "Home of the Brave" has won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, the Bank Street 2008 Josette Frank Award, and is a Judy Lopez Memorial Award honor book.


 I'd heard so many good things about this book that I was eager to read it. And now that I have I have to agree with the wonderful things that I've been hearing.  I loved it.  Not only was the writing lyrical and beautiful to read, but the characters were heart-warming and sweet. The story revolves around Ivan, a silverback gorilla who lives in a mall where he performs with other animals in a small circus-like show.  His best friends are a small stray dog named Bob and a former circus elephant named Stella.  Their pretty routine life is interrupted with the arrival of a baby elephant named Ruby. Stella is determined that Ruby will not spend her life in a cage and so Ivan promises to help Ruby get out of this dead-end life.  But how on earth is he going to do it? He is after all just a gorilla, or is he? 

This is definitely a story that makes you go, "ahhh" afterwords. But I personally love happy endings however realistic or unrealistic they may be.  One needs to keep in mind however that this is animal FANTASY and as such is bound to have elements that are more believable than others. I prefer however to give the characters the benefit of the doubt and animals are much better at communicating than we as humans sometimes believe. As for intelligence, I've long believed that animals are far more intelligent than they are often given credit for.  Plus, I love animals stories, so for me I found the story more than believable enough and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  This one would make for great shared reading as well. I can't recommend this one highly enough.


  1. What an interesting book! I don't like animals in cages unless they have big wide open spaces and lots of fun stimulation. It sounds like this book can relate to children/people who are not living their full potential by discovering it and breaking free of their self-imposed cages. Visiting from the Kid Lit hop.

    Tina @ Amanda's Books and More

    1. I know what you mean. On one hand I love seeing these beautiful animals close up, but on the other hand I have a hard time seeing these wild animals cooped up when they should be free. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I've seen this book around, but the cover makes me think it might be really sad. Also, my son loves the author's series, Roscoe Riley Rules. (I'm here through the kid lit blog hop.)

    1. There are definitely some sad parts to this story, but there are also some really sweet parts as well. Ultimately it is a story about hope and friendship. Thanks for visiting.

  3. I'd heard the title before but hadn't read a description, so I'm glad you chose this book to share in the Kid Lit Blog Hop this week!

    1. Thanks for stopping by. This really is a great book.

  4. Hello Heidi,
    I have this book on my TBR list. Now I definitely want to read the book after your glowing review. Thanks for hosting the KidLitBlogHop.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Hi Heidi, Thanks for co-hosting the Kid Lit Blog Hop once again. I had this book as an option for a winner in the Summer Reading Book Giveaways. Glad to hear it was so great.

    I'll never forget being at the Calgary zoo and being beside these 20 something boys who were throwing rocks at the gorillas in their enclosure below (trust me, they got an earful). But what struck me was the way the gorillas reacted - they were looking up shielding their faces with their hands and arms. It was heartbreaking to actually see the reaction in their very animated faces. They were not angry, but frightened and it was so sad. Fell in love with gorillas that day.

  6. I like happy ending too and this book sounds good. Thank you for the review. I'm visiting you from the Children's Lit Blog Hop.

  7. I love the fantasy of an animal being able to talk, and more importantly, kids do too. There's a belief in the children's writing sphere that publishers don't want "talking animal" books. I suspect that's because there are many less than stellar manuscripts submitted, but I do think it's a shame, as maybe there is a wonderful book out there we won't get to read. This one sounds great!


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