Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla
By Katherine Applegate
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Grades K and Up
In Stores October 7, 2014
Since I cried while reading this book, the topic of tears seems a good place to start. Some stories tug on the tear ducts in ways that, while they still make you cry, upon reflection seem a bit calculating. The unexpected tragic death. The unexpected tragic disease. The unexpected tragic tragedy. In Katherine Applegate’s brilliant companion to the Newbery Medal-winning The One and Only Ivan (100 Scope Notes Review), the emotion comes from a place that is honest and earned. Like the novel before it, Ivan is a masterpiece of efficient beauty.
In leafy calm,
in gentle arms,
a gorilla’s life began.
There’s a good chance you know the story. As babies, two gorillas are snatched from their home and taken to Tacoma Washington. One of them, named Burma, didn’t survive long. The other, Ivan, went on to live a lonely life as a shopping mall attraction. After years spent in a tiny cell, Ivan began to gain support from the public, who demanded better living conditions for the gorilla. Ivan was eventually moved to Zoo Atlanta to live out his days in relative peace and companionship.
The spare text is expertly executed. Words in picture books always have to be carefully chosen, but here every word seems essential. Applegate could have strayed into oversimplification, but that’s not the case. Passages like this one…
A man who owned a shopping mall had ordered and paid for them, like a couple of pizzas, like a pair of shoes.
…and this one…
Zoo Atlanta wasn’t a jungle. It was a place with walls. Still, the breeze carried jungle sounds and scents.
…add depth in few words.
His death in 2012 isn’t covered in the text, but is addressed in the informative author’s note – a smart decision that keeps the focus on Ivan’s joyful escape from Tacoma.
The illustrations, G. Brian Karas, are superb. At every turn he seamlessly captures the emotion of the text. The fear of being taken from home, the isolation of being endlessly gawked at, the joy of escaping a lonely existence – it’s all there.
Similar to the finale of Caldecott Honor Me…Jane (100 Scope Notes review), a photograph is used on the last page to great success. It’s a perfect way to draw things to a close, reminding readers that what they read was a true story and giving them a glimpse of what Ivan really looked like.
It will work well with a wide age range, including older students already familiar with Ivan’s story. It might be just as good a nonfiction picture book as The One and Only Ivan is a novel. A companion book that stands tall on its own.
Review copy from the publisher.
Watch the Ivan book trailer: