"The One and Only Ivan," the story of a gorilla who is kept captive at a video arcade for all to see, won the Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to children's literature on Monday morning.
Written by author Katherine Applegate, who with her husband, Michael Grant, cowrote the bestselling "Animorphs" series, "The One and Only Ivan" is a fictional story that has roots in real life: Applegate based the character of Ivan on a gorilla named Ivan who for nearly 20 years was kept on display in a cage at a Tacoma, Wash., mall.
“Katherine Applegate gives readers a unique and unforgettable gorilla’s-eye-view of the world that challenges the way we look at animals and at ourselves,” said Newbery Medal Committee Chair Steven Engelfried.
The real-life Ivan was finally sent to a zoo in Atlanta, where he died last fall. Applegate, who once tried to visit Ivan at the zoo but was unable to see him because he would not venture forth in the rain, attended his memorial. (Read an article about the real-life Ivan and visit his memorial page.)
Applegate wrote "The One and Only Ivan" in first person from the point of view of the gorilla. "At present, I do not have any gorilla friends," Ivan says. He's become used to the glass walls of his domain and life with Stella, an old elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. He rarely thinks about the jungle from which he came, choosing instead to focus on his art.
"Mack soon realized that people will pay for a picture made by a gorilla, even if they don't know what it is. Now I draw every day," Ivan tells readers. "My works sell for twenty dollars apiece (twenty-five with frame) at the gift shop near my domain.
"If I get tired and need a break, I eat my crayons," he says.
But then along comes a baby elephant named Ruby, who is also imprisoned in a cell at the video store. Ruby slowly enters Ivan's heart and gives him something to care about. "A silverback gorilla is responsible for protecting his family, but here, I've had no one to protect--until now," Ivan says. Over time, the "Ape at Exit 8" emerges into "The One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback"--and he is unable to stomach watching Ruby be mistreated by their owner, Mack, who once truly loved Ivan and had the best of intentions, but who has now become too caught up in his own despair to care for the animals with dignity.
High Praise for "Ivan"
"The One and Only Ivan" has been praised by children's authors, with Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan calling the book "a life-changing story" and Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt saying the story "will break your heart--and then, against all odds, mend it again."
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