The One and Only Ivan ★★★★★

11594337 (1)I was so pleasantly surprised by The One and Only Ivan, I just had to give it all five stars. This is what a middle grade novel should be.

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.


In contrast to Mean Margaret, The One and Only Ivan had wonderful characterization. We can see how Ivan sees Stella’s treatment drives him to understand that his “domain” is really a cage. I enjoyed that Ivan’s vocabulary had a tinge of the business man, especially when he talked about his paintings being sold at steadily increasing values (with a frame). It showed how long he’d been at the Big Top Mall and how much he’d interacted with Mack, whose only goal was to bring in money.

The most powerful moment for Ivan is when he begins to recognize his predicament and corrects Ruby when she mentions his domain. But in that moment, Ivan is not defeated, rather he is inspired to aide Ruby, and the other animals at the Big Top Mall.

On a bigger scale, The One and Only Ivan raises the point that we all have the responsibility to look after each other. Ivan cares about Stella and Ruby the elephants, Bob the dog, and Julia and George the humans all in the same way. He treats them kindly and has hopes that they all find happiness and a home. He recognizes that he does not have a lot of power but he uses what little influence he has to bring attention to the treatment of the animals at the mall.

Even though Mack neglected the animals, Ivan still felt bad for him, and somehow responsible for him since Mack had adopted Ivan when he was younger.

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By J. M. Tuckerman

J.M.Tuckerman is a neurodivergent writer with a big education. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, an MA in Writing, and a BA in Writing Arts (specializing in Creative Writing, New Media Writing, and Publication; concentrating in New Media Production), which she somehow managed to earn despite her three very loud and large dogs. Jessica was lucky enough to intern at Quirk Books and Picador, USA while earning her master’s degrees. Her service dog, Ringo, is very proud of all that she has accomplished and hopes to be on a back cover of a published book with her very soon. An avid reader, writer, and lover of young adult and middle-grade literature, Jessica’s bookshelf is overflowing with hardbacks, paperbacks, and a million half-filled notebooks. She is a proud fur-mommy to two lab/st-bernard littermates, a retriever-mix service dog, and one orange little hobgoblin cat, all of whom have made very audible appearances on the Booked All Night podcast.

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