• Happy birthday Mitchell Sharmat (Gregory, the Terrible Eater)and Barbara Reid (Fox Walked Alone).
  • It’s the birth date of Evelyn Sibley Lampman (1907-1980), The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek.
  • Happy birthday to the original Yankee Stadium, first opened in The Bronx, New York City, in 1923. The facility, known as “The House that Ruth Built” was demolished last year. Read Ballpark: The Story of America’s Baseball Fields by Lynn Curlee.
  • In 1924 the first crossword puzzle book is published. Read The Puzzling World of Winston Breen and The Potato Chip Puzzles, both by Eric Berlin.

April has been designated Pets Are Wonderful Month (PAWS), which all pets are, of course. As I write, my dear Lance snoozes not far from my feet. They provide inspiration and attention. People have kept all kinds of animals, as pets or objects of curiosity, over the years. And the treatment of these animals lies at the heart of a new book by Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan.

Ivan, a silverback gorilla captured in the wild, lived as a house pet for a time and was then transferred to a roadside shopping mall where he became a visitor’s attraction. He stays in a small, caged area, next to the elephant Stella, who tells him stories. Just as Michael Morpurgo did in War Horse, Applegate tells the story completely from the point of view of an animal, Ivan. Although this is a difficult writing choice for an author, Applegate has carried out the idea with great finesse.

Like many gorillas, Ivan understands a great deal of human communication, and he loves to create art. Some of his rudimentary paintings sell in the gift shop. But he also paints for his own pleasure and hides these drawings in his cave. When a baby elephant Ruby comes to the compound, and Stella dies, Ivan vows to care for her and save the child. And so he uses his communication skills to convince some sympathetic humans that he and Ruby deserve a better fate.

With detailed black and white drawings by Patricia Castelao, The One and Only Ivan creates several compelling characters, most of them animals, who become quite dear to the reader. Ivan and Stella’s stories of being captured in the wild and losing their families are told in a very moving way. Inspired by the real story of Ivan, a gorilla who lives in the Atlanta Zoo, The One and Only Ivan raises all kinds of issues about the appropriate treatment of wild animals in human zoos. For that reason it has already been tremendously successful in book discussion groups for readers ages eight through twelve. It also makes a fabulous book to read aloud to this age group.

As a book The One and Only Ivan gives me reason to celebrate: it is crafted with great creativity, an original approach, and has something to say to children. Books for children are clearly not an endangered species; The One and Only Ivan proves that they are alive and well!

Here’s a passage from The One and Only Ivan:

Ruby stands alone. The bright lights make her blink. She flaps her ears. She makes her tiny trumpet sound.

The humans stop eating their popcorn. They coo. They clap.

Ruby is a hit.

I don’t know whether to be happy or sad.


Originally posted April 18, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Social Conscience
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The One and Only Ivan
One year ago: Paul Revere's Ride


  1. leda says:

    I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle this one, Anita. Elephants dying? Elephants and a gorilla in tiny cages? Ouch. But if you loved it, I’m sure I will.

  2. G. Perry says:

    I’m reading it now. I don’t know tho. Every time I watch Lassie Come Home with Roddy McDowal, I can get embarrassingly sad..

    We’ll see.


  3. Diane says:

    Is Marjorie Weinman Sharmat or Mitchell Sharmat the author of Nate the Great? I saw in your birthday section for today that it was listed as Mitchell.
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading The One and Only Ivan.

  4. Anita says:

    Diane: He extended the series with some books. To avoid this kind of confusion, I’ve listed his best-known title, Gregory, The Terrible Eater, by his name.

  5. Connie Rockman says:

    Just catching up with the Almanac after a week of traveling. I loved this book, too, and was privileged to write a discussion guide for the publisher. It’s definitely a book that breaks your heart, then puts it back together again. So glad you highlighted it, Anita:

  6. Anita says:

    Connie: Thanks so much for the link to the discussion guide.

  7. Judy Freeman says:

    What a fabulous Newbery this is. Kids and grownups–parents, teachers, librarians–are reading this and adoring it. Ivan is such a compelling and believable character for kids. The real Ivan, age 50, living at Zoo Atlanta, died this past summer. He had surgery and never came out of the anesthesia. But he lives on in YouTube videos.

  8. Mary Aviles says:

    I absolutely loved this book. My third grader read it to me a few months ago and it had me both laughing out loud (the me-balls discussion) and openly weeping. Wonderful, wonderful story.

  9. S.Matt Read says:

    Very moving story. I was struck by how quiet it was, how you could feel its tender moments like hearing the dropping of a pin.

  10. Gabby says:

    I recently saw this on sale and immediately picked it up for the future enjoyment of my 6-year-old. I cannot wait to read it with her! (I’m hoping SHE’LL read it to ME.) I am so impressed with Katherine Applegate. I’d never read anything by her until I just finished “Home of the Brave.” Her narration – in beautiful, powerful verse – from the point of view of an 11-year-old Sudanese boy transplanted to Minnesota, was completely believable and told such an important story. I look forward to reading more by this obviously gifted author!

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