HarperCollins, 2012. 978-0061992254
Synopsis: Ivan is a gorilla. But he’s not just any gorilla – he’s the One and Only Ivan of the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade off the I-95. Every day, he gets visitors that look at him through the glass walls of his domain and will pay four dollars for one of his drawings in the gift shop. When visitors are not gawking at him, he spends time with his friends Bob the dog, Stella the elephant, and Julia, the daughter of the cleaning man. Then one day, a new elephant names Ruby comes to the mall and she is small and scared. After meeting Ruby, Ivan begins to see the world through new eyes and starts to dream about a world beyond his home in the mall.
Why I picked it up: It was announced while I was at the ALA Midwinter Conference that this book had won the Newbery, so I decided to give it a read.
Why I finished it: Having read the book, I am sorry that it took me so long to pick it up. The story is beautiful, and Applegate has woven together a magnificent work of fiction about a real life character. Ivan’s world at first seems small, and his indifference to his situation is only realized after he meets Ruby, who sees the world in a much different light not only because she is young, but because she still remembers what it is like to live beyond the walls of a cage. Both Ivan and the narrator see life in the Big Top Mall as normal and this complacency is only explored when Ivan tries to remember his past. The poetic nature of Ivan’s voice draws the reader in to his life, his struggles, and his desire to create both as an artist and a protector. I liked that the formatting was presented in short snippets, almost like real thoughts being put down on a page, and added to the emotional elements of the story. It’s a courageous, life-affirming story that shows us the power of hope and friendship while encouraging us to look inside ourselves and believe in our own dreams, just as Ivan did when he wished for a life outside the mall.
Other related materials: Roscoe Riley Rules series by Katherine Applegate; Animorphs books by K.A. Applegate; Tua and the Elephant by R.P. Harris, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo; The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka; Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea; One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; Arisotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz