The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Our Score


Ivan is a silverback gorilla, captured as a baby and living his entire life in captivity—a featured attraction in the third-rate Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. With his artistic talents (drawings by Ivan sell for twenty bucks apiece), life is bearable. Plus, he has two good friends, Stella the elephant and Bob, a stray dog who enjoys leftover scraps from Ivan’s domain.

The arrival of a baby elephant changes everything. Ruby’s grief in captivity stirs Ivan’s memory, and when tragedy strikes this little circus family, Ivan is determined to find a better home for Ruby.


  1. Ivan’s predicament and how he solves it teaches children to think outside the box.
  2. The book unashamedly promotes animal rights. While there are no evil villains, the owner of the arcade struggles to maintain his business, and as a result, the animals are not well cared for. Applegate rightly shows how horrible it is for animals to live in such conditions.
  3. The second half of the book had me cheering Ivan on as he attempts to execute his plan to save Ruby. Your kids will do the same.
  4. The novel is written in charming, simple prose as if a gorilla really could write his story in book form.


While I admire the author’s passion for animals’ well-being, I found the first half of the book totally depressing. So much so that I almost stopped reading. Ivan philosophically accepts his crummy life and has no hope for freedom, fully expecting to stay in his domain all his days. He refuses to use the word “cage.”

Discussion Questions

You may have a sad, thoughtful child on your hands when you read this book together. I don’t recommend it as silent reading for anyone under ten. A  current of despair runs under the setting. Natural questions will generate discussion. Possibles:

  1. “Why is Stella’s leg injured?”
  2. “Why doesn’t Bob have a home?”
  3. “How did Ivan end up in the arcade?”
  4. “Who is the nicest human in the story?”


Once the reader accepts Ivan’s depressing conditions, they gain the satisfaction of a happy ending. All the characters—human and animal—end up in happier circumstances. The reader will close the book with a smile.

Linda Samaritoni
Linda Samaritoni, writing as Linda Sammaritan, has her feet firmly on the ground and her mind reaching for heaven. Each day is an adventure on her journey with Jesus. After a career teaching middle-graders, Linda loves to write contemporary and historical stories for the same age group. She also loves to jot down metaphors within spiritual ideas. Check out her other blog and author website

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