Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate
Clarion Books

Rating: 5 stars

In case you haven't heard, there's this book that has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for 108 weeks called The One and Only Ivan. Ivan is a gorilla who spends his time drumming his fingers and watching passers by at a shopping mall, where he's been sitting in a very small cage for a very long time. The story is fiction but it's based on a true story. There was a real gorilla Ivan who was purchased and plucked from a jungle and placed in...a shopping mall in Washington State.

This picture book, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, is the nonfiction account of Ivan's life.

Brace yourself, because it's not always a fun life to read about. But Applegate, who also wrote The One and Only Ivan, does a great job of unfolding his sad story in digestible bits, and the entire story illustrates one of my favorite maxims: "It all turns out okay. If it's not okay, it's not the end." And Ivan's life does turn out okay in the end. (It's a picture book--it's got to have a happy ending. What a relief!)
He'd grown into a silverback gorilla.
In the jungle, he would have been ready to protect his family.
But he had no family to protect.

Ivan starts his life in the jungle, born to a band of gorillas. He plays with, listens to, and closely observes other gorillas...he learns everything from them. And then one day, he is caught by poachers. He and another little gorilla baby are thrown into a dark crate and shipped to Tacoma, Washington.

Once there, they are treated as exotic baby-pets--everyone thinks these small animals are cute and interesting. But one gorilla baby dies and only Ivan is left. When Ivan grows out of the cute, small phase, his new owner doesn't know what to do with him. Soon, he is placed in a cage in the mall with a TV and an old tire and little else.

He spends twenty-seven years away from other gorillas, in that small cage. (Heart-breaking!)

Finally, after protests and petitions, Ivan is sent to Zoo Atlanta. After helping him adjust to his new environments, Ivan is released into a new band of gorillas. He lives there, happily it seems, until he finally dies at age 50 in 2012--and one year later, The One and Only Ivan won the Newbery.

So why read this book to your child? Is the lesson here simply "animals should stay in the wild" or "poachers should be stopped?" Sure, those lessons are great ones for kids to learn; the jobs in that field are certainly noble ones.

But I think there's a deeper message here about reinventing yourself, or starting a new chapter in life--it's so obvious that Ivan's life was sad and small, but then it changes. He starts a new chapter, and his life becomes big and full. Because a bunch of people cared, took the time, made the effort to help him get to a better place. Maybe some kids (and the grown-ups reading this book to them) can relate. Maybe some kids (and those grown-ups) have felt small or been in dark places, but because they took the time to care about themselves or others made the effort to help, maybe they're in a better place now. Maybe they're in the process of starting a brand new chapter in their lives. Maybe Ivan's story strikes a chord in them and gives them hope.

The One and Only Ivan is "on deck" as Lorelei says for us to read together next--I'll let you know how it goes. (We're reading Wonder now.) She was open to reading it last year, but after reading this picture book, she's very curious and eager to start. That makes two of us.

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