Hello everyone! I just wanted to give you a taste of the kind of thing that I’m doing in one of my MLS courses. This week we were assigned to read a Newbery Award winning book and I chose The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I won’t get into all the requirements for our discussion posts, but this is my finished assignment. (Note: This post was intended to be read by others who had already read the book thus, there are spoilers).
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate details the life of Ivan, a silverback gorilla living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. At the beginning of the book, Ivan seems content with his life. He has a nice domain with a painted jungle scene on one wall. He has friends and a TV and a tire swing. But when Ruby—a new elephant—arrives, he starts to realize that he may not be as happy as he thought.
Giving the animals human characteristics helps the reader to relate to them. Kids especially will relate because they probably understand as much as Ivan does about adult humans. His narration is always very simple and literal: “It’s almost morning when I hear steps. It’s Mack. He has a sharp smell. He weaves as he walks. He stands next to my domain. His eyes are red. He is staring out the window at the empty parking lot” (147). Ivan doesn’t understand that Mack is drunk, but he describes what he sees and smells. Mack smells different, he’s not walking straight, and his eyes are red. In the same way, a child could notice these same things about an adult and also not understand what they mean.
Ivan goes on to experience other things that children often experience: moving, losing old friends, and trying to make new ones. When Ivan first arrives at the zoo, he feels lonely, afraid, and questions his identity. “I have no visitors here, no sticky-fingered children or weary parents. . . . I wonder if I have stopped being famous” (265). He also finds it difficult to make friends with the other gorillas at first. Over time Ivan begins to get used to his new habitat. He still misses his old home, but he’s happy where he is. Children will be able to see that even though Ivan is in a new place, he is still able to be happy.
Many authors have used animal characters with human characteristics as the focus of their book. Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater is another Newbery Award winning book where animals are raised outside of their natural habitat. In the book, Mr. Popper trains his penguins to perform and put on shows. Another book about animals with human qualities is The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. Louis, the main character, is a swan who learns how to read, write, and even play the trumpet.
While The One and Only Ivan is a fictional story, the author explains that this story is based off of a gorilla named Ivan who was raised alone in captivity for twenty-seven years. He was eventually moved to Zoo Atlanta where he lived until 2012 when he died at the age of fifty. His story can be found at the Zoo Atlanta website. Knowing that a real gorilla lived some of the same events as the fictional Ivan really helps to bring the story to life.