Sunday, January 18, 2015

Best Children's Animal Book, 2014: Ivan

Ivan, The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, by Katherine Applegate (Clarion Books, 2014, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 4-8) (illustrated by G. Brian Karas)

A Great Read

Any book by a Newbery medalist is bound to be a great read and Ivan by Katherine Applegate is no exception.

2014 Children’s Animal Book of the Year

This year, DogEvals decided to select two rather unusual titles for Children’s Dog Book of the Year. Our dog selection for 2014 is Sally Goes to Heaven by Stephen Huneck (reviewed here) but, since that subject matter is a great help for only a certain situation, we also selected a Children’s Animal Book of the Year - another stretch!

Wondrous Words and Playful Pictures

A children’s book is different from books for older readers in that its effectiveness depends on both the words and the illustrations: it is fairly rare that both are as exquisite as in Ivan.
Applegate received the Newbery Medal for her first book about Ivan, The One and Only Ivan, and, here, manages to tell a potentially sad story with sensitivity and hope. The soft-colored water colors and warmly-shaded drawings of Ivan along with the events and locations in his story are friendly enough to be almost cuddly. Either the words or the drawings alone would ‘make’ the book on their own merit but we are fortunate to have both, creating an exceptional book indeed.

The Story

This story of this shopping center gorilla appealed to this reviewer because I had attended college in Tacoma, Washington, during the time that Ivan was living there but had never heard of him (but then, college students are often too busy to live in the real world).

Cute little baby Ivan was ordered and bought like a pizza or “a pair of shoes,” captured (‘stolen’) in central Africa (probably the Congo) and brought to Tacoma to live with a family for a few years. He was treated like a human and even named by the winner of a Name the Gorilla contest.

When he grew too big, Ivan became a mere shopping center attraction, living a bleak existence in a concrete ‘room’ - for 27 years until people realized that all animals, even western lowland gorillas, need enrichment and stimulation, and to live with other gorillas in an environment mimicking their natural habitat.

Free Ivan!

Thanks to the National Geographic and The New York Times, people learned about the plight of poor Ivan and started a Free Ivan campaign that happily resulted in his being moved to ZooAtlanta to live with other gorillas in the grass he started his life in.

The young reader effortlessly learns about gorilla life in Africa in easy words and wondrous drawings: a portion of the proceeds are even donated to the Dian Fossey* Gorilla Fund.
Ivan is a book well worth reading and keeping. I envision future little stuffies named Ivan living long on teen beds, as well-loved as the Velveteen Rabbit!

*See Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, by Jim Ottaviani (First Second, 2013, 139 pages, $20), reviewed here next!

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