The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Reviewed by Jennifer


Content Ratings based on a 0-5 scale where
0 = no objectionable content and
5 = an excessive or disturbing level of content

Guide to Rating System






2013 Newbery Medal Winner

Ratings Explanation

Violence: Ivan remembers that his mother and father were shot by humans who then cut off the gorillas’ hands, feet and heads. An elephant hits a trainer with her trunk. The trainer threatens the elephant with a claw-stick.

Adult Themes: The animals in the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade are not generally mistreated, but they live in a very restricted area. As stated above, humans are responsible for killing animals and taking others from their natural habitat to live in captivity. Stella states that the circus trainers chained Ruby’s feet to the floor 23 hours a day.


The One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback, enjoys observing the humans who come to the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade to watch him through the glass. He understands their words and knows that they talk too much. “They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say.” They buy the paintings Ivan makes with his crayons, usually he draws bananas, and they sell for twenty dollars apiece (twenty-five with frame) in the gift shop. It’s a solitary existence of observing, eating, drawing, talking with Bob the stray dog or Stella the elephant,  watching T.V., and sleeping, but Ivan’s life changes forever when Ruby, a young elephant, arrives at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Ruby asks Ivan all kinds of questions about his past,  his family, and his life in the wild before he came to live at Exit 8. Ivan almost never thinks about his life before, but somehow when Ruby asks, he wants to answer.

As Ivan slowly remembers his own past, he sees clearly what Ruby’s future will be, and the Mighty Silverback, defender of the gorilla family, finally has another creature to protect .

I read this book aloud to my family and it was a huge hit. It really deserved the Newbery Medal this year. It is written for a young audience, but is certainly enjoyable for readers of any age. For older readers, Ivan could prompt a discussion on the responsibilities of humans toward animals. Are zoos humane? Should animals be left in the wild? These questions aren’t what the book is about, necessarily, but interesting to talk about within the context of Ivan’s story. Art’s potential to bring about change is also a good topic for discussion. The contrast of a powerful animal that could literally rip a human limb from limb using a peaceful medium to effect change was really beautiful. Applegate’s writing is sparse with some chapters only comprised of a few words, but it is perfect in light of the loquacious humans Ivan  encounters. Highly recommended for any age.


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