The One and Only Ivan

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The One and Only Ivan
The One and Only Ivan cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorK.A. Applegate
IllustratorPatricia Castelao
CountryUnited States
GenreChildren's Literature
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover)

The One and Only Ivan is a children's novel written by K. A. Applegate and illustrated by Patricia Castelao. The book is about a silverback gorilla named Ivan who lived in a cage at a mall. The novel is written in first person from the point of view of Ivan, a gorilla. In 2013 it was named the winner of the Newbery Medal.[1] It has won several other awards and is currently nominated to several reading lists.[2]


The story is placed at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall by the Video Arcade. Ivan, the gorilla, has lived in captivity at the Big Top Mall for 9,855 days by his own tally.[3] He lives in his domain, and is generally content with his life. He watches television, eats bananas and makes artwork that is sold by the owner. Along with Ivan, Stella, an elephant and Bob, a stray dog live also at the mall. Stella is an older elephant who has a chronic injury in one leg and regularly performs in the daily shows. Unlike Ivan, Stella has a long memory, and can remember living other places, like the circus where she was taught many of her tricks. However, Stella would like to live at a zoo, because they have much wider spaces for their domains. Stella believes that zoos are how humans make amends.[4]

When Ruby, a baby elephant is brought to the Big Top Mall to live with Stella and learn new tricks, things begin to change. Stella's old injury causes her to get sick. Just before Stella succumbs to her illness and passes away, she asks Ivan to take care of Ruby and find her a better place. Ivan promises he will take care of Ruby, even though he does not know how he will manage to do it.[5] After Stella's death, Ivan begins to remember his life before the Big Top Mall, and what it was like to have freedom, if only to have stories to tell to Ruby. While Mack, the owner of the Big Top Mall is trying to train Ruby to do tricks, Ivan witnesses first hand the abuse to which she is subjected and starts to decide how to keep his promise to Stella.

When Julia, the custodian's daughter gives Ivan some finger paints, he begins to get an idea of how to help Ruby. He also changes his opinion of the Big Top Mall. He no longer thinks of his area as his domain, but as a cage.[6] Ivan uses his art to make a large picture of a zoo. George and Julia help him by putting it on the billboard outside of the Big Top Mall. When people see the new signs, they begin to protest the treatment of the animals. Investigators are sent to the Big Top Mall, and eventually it is closed down, and Ivan, Ruby and the other animals are taken away to a zoo. Ivan and Ruby are both adopted by the same zoo. Ivan was tested if he really was a silverback at the new zoo. The story ends with Ivan and Ruby adapting to their new habitats and the other animals they will live with.


  • Ivan: An easygoing gorilla who has lived in the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade for 24 years and 3 years living with Mack; the main character. Ivan has spent most of his life in captivity, either living in a human home or at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He remembers little about his life before captivity and has grown content with his life at the mall. As the story progresses, Ivan determines that his life is not satisfactory and he works to save Ruby by having her removed to a zoo.
  • Stella: a senior elephant who used to live in circuses before coming to the mall. Stella has a long memory, and would much prefer to live in a zoo. She extracts a promise from Ivan to take care of Ruby if she cannot.
  • Bob: a stray dog who lives with Ivan in his domain. Bob is satisfied to be a stray dog and has no desire to be adopted into a human home.
  • Mack: the owner of the mall and part-time circus clown; purchased Ivan from poachers who captured him in his home in Africa. Mack is not seen often on screen. He appears to be a generally good man. However, his business is failing and he cannot afford to keep up the mall the way he used to. His actions regarding Stella and Ruby are what finally spur Ivan to try to have Ruby moved to a zoo.
  • George: The mall custodian. George is a good man who cares for the animals and the mall. However, he is conflicted about helping them because he is afraid of losing his job.
  • Julia: George's daughter; inspires Ivan to love drawing. Julia works to help Ivan in his quest to move Ruby and the other animals to a zoo.
  • Ruby: a baby elephant who is new to the mall. Ruby has only recently lost her mother and has never previously been trained in circus tricks. Ruby's treatment at the hands of Mack is what ultimately drives Ivan to try to find a way to save her. She can also tell if people are lying, apparently.


Although The One and Only Ivan is an entirely fictional story, it is inspired by the true story of Ivan,[7] who lived in a similar situation for 27 years.[8] Eventually Ivan was adopted by Zoo Atlanta in 1994.[9]


According to Kirkus Reviews, "Fittingly, Ivan narrates his tale in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery... Utterly believable, this bittersweet story... will inspire a new generation of advocates."[10] Jonathan Hunt wrote in The Horn Book Magazine, "The choice to tell this story in the first person and to personify the gorilla with an entire range of human thoughts, feelings, and emotions poses important questions to the reader, not only about what it means to be human but also about what it means to be a living creature, and what kind of kinship we all share."[11] Carolyn Phelan wrote in Booklist that "The text, written in first person from Ivan's point of view, does a good job of vividly conveying his personality, emotions, and intelligence as well as creating a sense of otherness in his point of view."[12] Writing for School Library Journal, Elizabeth Bird said, "There's nothing twee or precious about it. Just good crisp writing, complex characters, and a story that will make animal rights activists out of the most lethargic of readers. Applegate has penned a real doozy of a book that speaks to the best and worst in all of us."[13]


On April 9, 2014, it was announced that Disney may adapt the book with Allison Shearmur to produce.[14] On May 6, 2016, it was announced that Mike Newell would direct the film, but on March 1, 2018 he was replaced by Thea Sharrock. The script will be written by Mike White.[15] The cast for the film include Sam Rockwell as Ivan, Angelina Jolie as Stella, Bryan Cranston as Mack, Ariana Greenblatt as Julia, and Ramón Rodríguez as Mack's assistant, with Brooklynn Prince, Helen Mirren, Danny DeVito, Indira Varma and Eleanor Matsuura in undisclosed roles. Shearmur, who died on January 19, 2018, will still have a producing credit along with Jolie and Brigham Taylor. The One and Only Ivan entered production on the week of May 1, 2018. [16]


  1. ^ LSCHULTE (2014-01-27). "2013 Newbery Medal and Honor Books". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  2. ^ "The One and Only Ivan". Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  3. ^ Applegate, Katherine ; illustrations by Patricia Castelao (2012). The one and only Ivan (1st ed.). New York: Harper. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4.
  4. ^ Applegate, Katherine ; illustrations by Patricia Castelao (2012). The one and only Ivan (1st ed.). New York: Harper. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4.
  5. ^ Applegate, Katherine ; illustrations by Patricia Castelao (2011). The One and Only Ivan. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4.
  6. ^ Applegate, Katherine ; illustrations by Patricia Castelao (2011). The One and Only Ivan. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4.
  7. ^ "Q & A with Katherine Applegate". Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  8. ^ "Aged, beloved Ivan the gorilla from Tacoma dies at Atlanta zoo". The Seattle Times. 2012-08-21. Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  9. ^ "Celebrating Ivan". Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  10. ^ "THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate, Patricia Castelao". Kirkus Reviews. September 28, 2011. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  11. ^ Hunt, Jonathan (January 25, 2012). "Review of The One and Only Ivan". The Horn Book Magazine. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  12. ^ Phelan, Carolyn (February 15, 2012). "One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate". Booklist. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  13. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (March 7, 2012). "Review of the Day: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate". School Library Journal. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  14. ^ "Disney to Adapt Newbery Medal-Winning 'The One and Only Ivan'". 9 April 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  15. ^
  16. ^

External links[edit]

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