Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lessons From A Gorilla #2---The True Story

On January 28, 2013 I, like many others around the world, was unable to attend the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting And Exhibits in Seattle, Washington. I was however sitting in front of a computer screen listening intently to every single word during the Youth Media Awards ceremony. For the first time in my life when the winner of the John Newbery Award was announced I burst into tears.

Katherine Applegate's book The One and Only Ivan (Harper Collins, January 17, 2012) (my review) is one of those books you will always remember reading for the first time.  You will read it more than once.  You will probably also listen to the audio book.  I knew I needed to share it with as many of my students as possible.  When Ivan passed away I wrote a post, Ivan, Katherine Applegate and Mr. Schu, talking about the impact of reading this aloud to our entire fourth grade student population.  Attending the American Library Association Annual Conference & Exhibition Banquet to hear Katherine Applegate give her acceptance speech was definitely a lifetime highlight for me.

On October 7, 2014 Katherine Applegate continued the story of Ivan with the release of a new picture book.  Ivan The Remarkable True Story Of The Shopping Mall Gorilla (Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) with illustrations by G. Brian Karas.  It is a worthy companion making Ivan's story accessible for a larger audience including younger readers.

In leafy calm,
in gentle arms,
a gorilla's life began.

When Ivan's story began he had no name.  He was part of group, a family, of gorillas living their lives in central Africa among the trees of a tropical forest.  As a young gorilla he played with and watched and learned from the other members, sometimes riding on his mother's back.

Before he was old enough to know fear of humans, he and another young female were captured by poachers. They were placed in a crate and taken to Tacoma, Washington.  They had been purchased like things by a man who owned a shopping mall.

At first due to their size they were treated like human babies and children, even given names after a contest was held.  The young Burma did not survive for very long.  Alone and growing larger Ivan was placed in an enclosure at the mall.

His singular life was not that of a normal male gorilla, a mighty silverback.  Within the confines of his cage he sometimes watched TV, played with a tire and finger-painted pictures using his thumbprint as a signature.   After many, many years of this existence people, children in particular, began to protest against his treatment.

After twenty-seven years in this environment in Tacoma, Washington, Ivan was placed in Zoo Atlanta, Georgia.  Under the care of professionals he became accustomed to his new home until the wonderful day he got to see grass and sky and be present in the company of other gorillas.  How fitting that Katherine Applegate dedicates the book

For everyone who loved Ivan

I believe the love for Ivan will continue to grow as others learn his story through this book.

With the same adept use of words found in her Newbery title, Katherine Applegate brings the facts of Ivan's life to light.  Each sentence, simple enough for her audience to understand, evokes understanding and compassion.  Older readers will notice the authenticity of her research.  Here is a sample passage.

Ivan was about thirteen
when his coat began to shimmer
with silvery-white hairs.
He'd grown into a silverback gorilla.
In the jungle,
he would have been ready 
to protect his family.

But he had no family
to protect.

Through multiple character sketches, viewing videos and spending a day watching gorillas in a zoo habitat, G. Brian Karas is able to open this book with the close-up of a baby gorilla being held in the arms of a caring adult as seen on the matching dust jacket and book case.  Sky blue opening and closing endpapers compliment his scenes from the African jungle and to me signify freedom lost and freedom found.  His artwork of the tropical forest continues, framing the title page, verso and dedication page.

Karas alters his background colors, cream, white and taupe, to assist in creating an atmosphere.  His illustrations vary in size to heighten the emotion behind the truth of the text.  A full realistic color palette enhances his artistic style, his use of lines and shading, to create a wonderful visual memory for readers.

Two of my favorite illustrations are very moving.  Both cover two pages edge to edge.  The first shows the tiny baby gorillas inside the crate, the darkness surrounding them, as the journey is made from Africa to the United States.  The other is of Ivan at Zoo Atlanta on the day he first steps outside into his new home.  He is seated his silverback to us, looking over his shoulder.  The contrast between these pictures is evident; showing two sides of humanity.  I'll take the one signifying hope.

Ivan The Remarkable True Story Of The Shopping Mall Gorilla written by Katherine Applegate with illustrations by G. Brian Karas is not only a must read but a must own.  The care taken by these two gifted creators in the field of children's literature is obvious on every single page.  Photographs of Ivan are included on the back of the jacket and cover, at the end of the story and as part of the pages dedicated to the author's note.  The final page is four paragraphs from Ivan's keeper, Jodi Carrigan, at Zoo Atlanta speaking about their relationship and the importance of Ivan's life.

Please follow the multiple links in this post to gather more information about both of the Ivan books, the author and the illustrator.  Of particular importance is the blog post written by G. Brian Karas.  It speaks about his process in creating the illustrations for this book.

I am happy to participate in Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at her blog Kid Lit Frenzy each week.  When I went to link up with the other bloggers, I noted several others talk about this same book today.  Alyson highlighted it last week.  Make sure you read all the wonderful posts.


  1. This book is every where today, and I so wish I had it. I am a huge ape fan and adored the first Ivan book. I know this PB will be so close to my heart, and the more I read about it, I realize how brilliantly done it is. Thank you!

    1. There were several bloggers who showcased it this week. I hope you get a copy soon, Kellee. I know too this book will touch your heart. You are welcome.

  2. Beautiful post, Margie. The entire Ivan story is just amazing. I read TOaOI before I found Twitter and my PLN of book lovers, and I remember thinking "I don't have anyone to talk to about this book." Luckily, I was able to get copies and use it with reading students, but this is a book to be celebrated by all ages. It amazed me last week, as I anxiously read this book, how Katherine Applegate was able to bring those feelings about Ivan back to the surface again. This time with the real story. Just tears at your heart. What a story.

    1. Thank you Michelle. I am so happy you were able to share it with your reading students. You are correct about it being a book for all ages. That's exactly what I was thinking as I read this book. Her writing in this title is as powerful as the middle grade novel. The illustrations of G. Brian Karas pair with it beautifully. Both books are headed for classic status IMHO

  3. Love this post Margie. Thanks for sharing G. Brian Karas' interview. He is one of my very favourite illustrators and I was thrilled when I heard he was going to be the illustrator for this very special book. I love how you highlighted so many important aspects of this story. My students loved that it was dedicated to them (as they loved Ivan) - his story is treasured by so many thanks to Katherine's accounts. I wrote about this title too but really not - I just let my students words talk about the impact of this book. I really appreciate your attention to so many details.

    1. Thank you Carrie. Before I write posts about books I enjoy finding information about the authors and illustrators. I hope you will be able to use the G. Brian Karas' post with your students. I did read your post about this book later in the day. I enjoyed reading what your students had to say. Ivan, through Katherine's books, will continue to touch many lives. Thank you again for your kind comments.

  4. Ivan has been receiving a great dael of much-deserved love recently. I have to read The One and Only Ivan soonest! :)

    1. Every ounce of attention is well deserved. I am going to listen to the audio book again.