Brief Description: Story of a captive gorilla that lives in a shopping mall in Washington state, as told by him. Based on the story of a real gorilla.
Historical Era: 20th Century
Date Range: 1962-1994
Original Publication: 2012
Suitable for Grades: 3-6th
Target Audience: Chapter Book, Middle Grade
Until I read it, I did not know that this popular, Newberry Medal winning book was based on the true story of a captive Western Lowland gorilla named Ivan that lived in a Tacoma area shopping mall. Just like the character in the book, the real Ivan enjoyed painting. The book also tells the true story of another gorilla named Jambo, who in 1986 stood guard over a young boy who had fallen into his zoo exhibit. Another character in the book is an elephant named Ruby, who may be modeled after Ruby the Painting Elephant, who lived in the Phoenix zoo in the 1980s. Ivan narrates the story himself, in simple free verse form. This is a sad story and might not be appropriate to very sensitive children.
Additionally, the author has written “Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping mall Gorilla,” a picture book recap of “The One and Only Ivan” for younger readers (K-3) that also includes more facts. A HarperCollins Educator’s Guide can be found here.