Book and audiobook review: The One and Only Ivan

Title: The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
Format: Single book, audiobook
Audiobook narrator: Adam Grupper
Audiobook length: 3hrs 46min
Age Group: 10

There once was a 400lb western lowland gorilla named Ivan, who lived in a concrete cell in the middle of a shopping mall. For 27 years, he entertained human shoppers and gawkers, but had no contact with others of his kind.

It is from these dire, real-life circumstances, that author Katherine Applegate spins a soaring and unforgettable tale.

In the novel, the fictional Ivan muses about an often-dreary life in his 40′ x 40′ domain. What keeps him going is the companionship of a small menagerie of friends, his love of painting, and other amusements like rolling and throwing poop-balls at window-watchers. With the arrival of Ruby, a baby elephant, life takes on a new purpose, and Ivan must urgently prove whether he has what it takes to be the true silverback of his adopted troop.

Narrated by Ivan in first person, the writing is spare, gently humorous, and poignant. Each sentence stands alone as a brief paragraph, with plenty of white space as if to literally allow someone to read between the lines. And between those lines, you will find a life-affirming story about the power of friendship and art. It also conveys hope for humanity’s relationship with its fellow creatures.

This Newbery Medal-winning book is excellent for discussion (kids bookclubs, family read-alouds, etc.). Children who love animals will be riveted. One of my kids, who loves reading action-packed books, could not get into it, but my other one, who loves animals, loved it.

As for the audiobook: if you listen to just one audiobook this summer with your kids, make it this one. Narrator Adam Grupper’s voice felt a bit mechanical at first, but as the story took hold, his voice relaxed and grew into the characters…I felt I could almost see the great silverback right there in front of me, his majesty evident even in his concrete cell, narrating his incredible tale.

Audiobook access: The links above are through Audible at Amazon.com. Depending upon where you live in the world, you can likely also access these audiobooks for free through your public library and other resources that I am blogging about, like Hoopla.

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