Ivan9780062283474_p0_v2_s260x420Katherine Applegate’s 2011 Newbery winner deserves its praise.

When I started this book, my heart hurt and I said aloud, “Oh, no. Is this one of those books where the animals get so abused and neglected that I can hardly stand to keep turning the pages?” And for awhile, I barely could.

Actually, when I started, I thought Katherine Applegate was the same author as Kathi Appelt who wrote The Underneath, which is beautifully lyrical and magical and won a National Book Award,but is so tragic that by the happy ending, my heart was too beaten down to rejoice. It just hurt, and I’ll never be able to read that book again.

So when I started The One and Only Ivan, I thought this was the same author (and apologies to Kathi Appelt for saying that) and feared I was in for the same kind of downward spiral of animal misery. And in some ways, that’s true: a story must have escalating conflict to keep us whizzing through the pages, and if the animals aren’t in trouble, there’s no story. However, Ivan has resilience of soul and an intelligent creative problem-solving ability that never lets us quite lose hope, even in the most tragic moments of the book. It’s beautifully done, and based on the story of a real gorilla, it forces anyone who thinks animals don’t have feelings to think again.

One of the magic realism aspects of the book is the ability to communicate–in English–between the various species of animals. It’s entirely believable and Applegate never pushes us to believe they can speak English to humans. It seems entirely plausible that gorillas, dogs, and elephants can talk to each other and understand their humans even if humans are too dense to pick up on the animals’ communication.

I read this book the same week I watched Rise of and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. All these apes are sentient beings, and the stories bled into each other in my head and my heart.

So I concur with the Newbery Medal here. I’d recommend this book to anyone, but not a child so young that the abuse and neglect can’t be talked through.

And my last comment: there’s always the way in which my big wonderful Newfoundland Freya reminds me of these intelligent, communicating animals.

Applegate, Katherine. The One and Only Ivan.  HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2013.


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