Middle Grade Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

Normally, I would post a new blog on a Monday, but today is a very exciting day and a perfect fit for this book review. The One and Only Ivan is now a movie and is being released TODAY on Disney+, and I thought the timing was perfect!


The One and Only Ivan

Author/ Illustrator:

Katherine Applegate

Year published:



Story of friendship and perseverance as told through the eyes of a gorilla.


Ivan is a gorilla who lives in a mall circus. He spends his days watching television, talking with his friends, Stella–an elephant, and Bob–a stray dog, and painting.

When a new arrival shows up at the circus, she makes Ivan question his home. Suddenly, everything changes, and it’s up to Ivan–and his art–to make the change happen.


This book won the Newberry Medal, and rightly so. It’s beautifully written, takes complicated subject like animal cruelty and makes it simple enough for children to handle, while also dealing with other themes like friendship, identity, morality, and the power of communication.

Right from the beginning Applegate sets the voice in her simple yet powerful words:

I am Ivan. I am a Gorilla.

It is not as easy as it looks.

Katherine Applegate

She absolutely nails the point of view, voice, and tone for this book. The writing is incredibly simple, yet strikingly beautiful and perfect for Ivan. The pace never slowed for me, even though the book wasn’t packed with action.

I highly recommend this book both for in the classroom and at home.

Possible issues:

The biggest issue is the theme of animal cruelty, and while many children could handle how she approaches the subject, a sensitive child might struggle.

Classroom application:

The book is a great tool in teaching empathy, and point of view in a reading or literature class.

I could also see integration with other subject areas:

  • In science, with a unit on animals, specifically primates.
  • In social studies, a look at the history of the circus and use of animals.
  • In art, painting. Ivan is an artist and it would be really cool to connect it.

Go read the book and then go watch the movie! You won’t be disappointed.


Picture Book Review: Fresh-picked Poetry
Picture Book Review: Diary of a Spider


One thought on “Middle Grade Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s