What an adorable book. This 2013 Newbery Medal winner by Katherine Applegate tells the story of Ivan, a gorilla who has been trapped in a mall’s zoo for almost thirty years. Ivan is an artist, and he loves portraying the things in his cage: bananas, candy bar wrappers, beetles. He has learned to forget his life in Africa and focus only on being the best silverback in captivity that he can be. His companions–Stella, a former circus elephant, and Bob, a stray dog–are not as forgiving toward humans as Ivan is, and when a baby elephant named Ruby joins their ranks, in the hopes that she will boost the mall’s number of visitors, Ivan makes his companions a promise that he will free her from their life in a cage.
Ivan has human acquaintances, too. Mack is the owner of the mall, and the one who raised Ivan and placed him in his strange menagerie meant to attract shoppers. Julia is the janitor’s daughter and a fellow artist. When Ivan comes up with a scheme to free Ruby, he relies on Julia’s help, even though Bob and Stella warn him that humans are not to be trusted.
This whole book is written from Ivan’s point of view, and it is So. Cute. The sentences are phrased just the way you might imagine a thirty-year-old gorilla might say them–simple, understated, and serious. Ivan is used to watching TV and making art to sell to mall-goers, but part of him wants to remember his former life in his gorilla family. His current, ragtag family is also adorable. Although Ivan, Stella, Bob, and Ruby are all alone, they band together to keep each other encouraged and safe. Believe it or not, this book is based on a true story–although Ivan recently died, you can read all about his story on the Atlanta Zoo website. Kids of all ages should enjoy this book, as it is written simply enough even for younger readers. (There is an animal death, though, so be forewarned.)
Rating: Pretty Darn Good