Friday, May 31, 2013

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Summer reading has begun!  I love summer reading with my kids and they love to hear me read to them.  Of course I only pick books that I am also interested in reading, some I've previewed and some are new to all three of us.  The first book this summer was The One and Only Ivan  by Katherine Applegate.  I saw this book reviewed in several places and the reviews were all very positive. 
The One and Only Ivan is a fictional story based on real life events.  Ivan is a real gorilla who was captured as an infant in the Congo.  He lived for nearly thirty years in a circus themed shopping mall in Washington state.  After public outcry brought attention to the far less than ideal living conditions of the animals, Ivan was moved to a real zoo, Zoo Atlanta, where he lived with others of his kind to the ripe old age of 50.  He died just last August 20th.   
The fictional story is told from Ivan's point of view.  Ivan describes the mall, it's visitors, and his friends, both human and animal.  These friends include a small dog who claims to be a homeless wanderer, an elderly female elephant and, new to the mall, a baby female elephant.  As for Ivan's experience with humans, there is Mack, the mall owner, George, the mall janitor, and Julia, George's daughter.  Ivan tells the story of his long journey from Africa, the family he lost there, and how he came to live in the mall. 
One of the things I loved about this book is that Ivan can perfectly understand the humans.  He is disappointed that he cannot make them understand him.  When I was in elementary school, our class went on a field trip to the zoo.  They have since remodeled into a beautiful primate exhibit.  The day of our field trip, however, we were walking through the interior of the exhibit where we could see into the gorillas' inside habitats.  One gorilla was sitting with his back to the glass, ignoring the visitors.  My mother looked at him and said, "Wow.  He looks like he could break right through that glass if he wanted to."  Immediately after she said this, the large gorilla turned toward the glass and gave it a very loud hit.  We all jumped a good two feet in the air.  It's a funny story now, but it does make one wonder if that gorilla had understood her and was just confirming that yes, he could break through if he wanted.
As we have well established here, I am a crier.  This book more than accommodated me in that respect.  Reading aloud to my children, I occasionally had to stop for a tissue or three.  Neither my 6-year-old nor my 9-year-old joined me in my tears, but they both agreed that the situations were sad.  I think this is a wonderful book for teaching children compassion.  It also gives children a view of the outside world they may not have previously experienced.  I had to explain poaching and the grotesque market for the animal's body parts.  They were astonished that someone would want a gorilla hand in their home as a decoration or an ashtray.  I share in that bewilderment.  I also explained to them that even in our own country, animals are not always treated humanely.  I was able to ask them questions such as, "If you were an animal do you think you would like living in a cage?"  "Do you think that animals should be cared for and allowed to live in the most comfortable conditions possible?"  I also explained the difference in a Good Zoo and a Bad Domain (as does Ivan in the book).  This was the perfect book to begin our Summer Reading and I would absolutely recommend you add it to your list. 
We love Ivan.

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