We’re reviewing The One and Only Ivan this week. This is one of my (Benji’s) all time favorites, and a book that rocked my world back in 2012. I was really excited when Jake agreed to do it next, so let’s just jump right in with the reviews.

ivanJake’s Review: The One and Only Ivan is the book that won the Newbery Award in 2013 because of Benjiman Samantha Martin. Way before it even won, he was talking this book up and down, forcing all his students to like it, and slapping it in my face every time we had a conversation. All facetiousness aside, this is one of Benji’s favorite Newbery winners ever and possibly his favorite (not sure). And now it is one of mine.

Based on a true story, Ivan is the story of an artistic gorilla living in a tiny cage in a rundown mall, right off an exit on a busy interstate. Though its popularity fluctuates, this mall is constantly fighting its inevitable closure by introducing new spectacles, such as the One and Only Ivan. Ivan was first brought to the mall as a baby. Cute and furry, he brought much attention to the mall, but as he ages, his fame begins to decrease, and the mall’s manager, Mack, is forced to find new ways to revive the mall’s reputation. Thus, he buys Ruby, a baby elephant. Ivan makes a promise to a friend that he will find a way to help Ruby escape the fate of every animal living there: a lifetime of tiny cages and inhumane living conditions.

It’s hard to say much more without giving some of the best parts of this story away. Suffice it to say that this story houses some of the most unique and loveable characters ever found in children’s literature. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is the reader’s ability to read Ivan’s colorful, comical, and innocent thoughts as he reflects on his life and his identity as a silverback gorilla (a strong protector in the wild but confined and domesticated in a mall cage). Key to this novel’s success, however, is its style. In fact, I would argue that the style in which this story is written is its most attractive feature. It always reads like a poem, even when it consists of long bits of dialogue and detail. Sometimes, a page may only consists of a few lines, yet it seems these pages seem to say the most, leaving room for the reader to grasps the meaning behind so few words.

To sum this all up: Benji was right. It deserves five stars. It is a beautiful, feel-good story that touches hearts. I want a shirt that says, “Team Ivan!”


Benji’s Review: This is probably going to be the hardest one for me to review. Like I said, it’s one of my favorites, and this was like the third time for me to read it quietly to myself. I’ve read it out loud to six different classes. (I only see the students once a week, so I don’t read many complete novels out loud. This book was one that I felt like I needed to share during the 2012-2013 school year. It took me from October to February.) Right after Ivan won the Newbery in January of 2013, I was overflowing with feelings, so I wrote a post on my other blog titled, “What Ivan means to Me.” I think it best describes how I feel about this book. I’ll just cut and paste the text here:

I declined to read The One and Only Ivan the first time I had it in my “to read” stack. The gorilla thing didn’t really entice me at that moment. I put it aside, and picked up something else (probably something mediocre.) I was working at a public library in Virginia then and had tons to read, and was trying to focus on Young Adult.

Then a big change happened. I got a new job in Alabama at a private school as the Elementary librarian. That meant I could read less YA and more middle grade novels (which I enjoy much more anyways) Ivan was one of the first books I read while working here. While I was reading it, I was blown away. I laughed, cried and thought the whole time about how I needed to get this book into my students’ hands. This book was something special.

15 minutes after I finished reading it in my office, three third grade girls came to visit the library. I told all three of them that they had to read Ivan immediately. One of them took it, and the other two got on the waiting list. I knew I had to get more copies. That night, I went to Books-a-million and got their only copy. I informed the bookseller that they should have more than one in stock because this book was the next Newbery winner.(I was already that confident.) The bookseller just said ok, and I left. I tried to find another copy in Montgomery, unsuccessfully. My brother sent me a third copy in the mail from Virginia.

I had been reading  chapters from various novels to the 4th and 5th graders during library time, but they started requesting that I read one entire book to them instead of small parts of several different books. I was hesitant because I only see the students once a week, and it lakes a LONG time to finish anything of significant length, but I gave in and started reading Ivan to them. At times they are fidgety, and at times I can tell they have zoned off, but during the “good” parts, (Those of you who have read it know which parts I’m talking about) they sit as quiet as can be and hang on to every word.

Yesterday, watching the ALA Youth Media Awards, I was nervous. I knew that Ivan deserved to win the Newbery. But I’ve thought that about other books in the past that didn’t even get honors (cough Okay For Now) I sat through all of the awards. I cheered when Seraphina won the Morris and when Pete the Cat got a Geisel honor. I was very Happy when Extra Yarn got a Caldecott honor and This is not My Hat got the award, and then as it always does, the Newbery came last.

My principal came in when the Newbery presentation started.

“Is this that book award they do every year?” he asked

“The Newbery. Yeah.”

“Who’s going to win?”

“Ivan. Ivan. Ivan.” I had been repeating it under my breath before he came in, so I just took up the chant again as an answer to his question.

“Ivan. Ivan. Ivan.”

BombThree Times Lucky and Splendors and Glooms all received  Newbery honors. Three  great books that I really liked. I was actually kind of afraid  Bomb would steal the whole show.  So this was it. Ivan was either going to take home the gold or be totally ignored by the committee. I was either going to be exuberant or extremely disappointed. I know it sounds ridiculous for an adult to get that worked up about a children’s book award, but I do every year, and this year in particular, I was very nervous.

Ivan. Ivan. Ivan.

And then it happened. The One and Only Ivan won the Newbery Medal. I jumped up and cheered.

My principal said that he needed to get me to start picking football games for him. I don’t think he understood. It wasn’t prediction. Not really. There was really only one book that stood head and shoulders above the others this year, and the committee just revealed (at least to me) what was already obvious, that The One and Only Ivan is a phenomenal book that, like Charlotte’s Web  and The Tale of Despereaux, will be around as long as kids are reading books.

Today, the first girl who read Ivan, the one who checked it out right after I did, came to the library and saw the Ivan cover with the new shiny medal set as my ipad background. I talked to them about the Newbery last week, so she knew it was coming.

“Did Ivan…win?” she asked.

I smiled and shook my head yes and she did a happy dance.

I showed all of my 3rd-5th grade classes the replay of the awards ceremony. In every 4th and 5th grade class, when Ivan was announced, the students all stood up and cheered. “That’s our book! The one we’re reading!” they shouted.

Whenever I think of Ivan from now on, I’ll think of that lovable gorilla, and Bob that funny dog, but I’ll also think of a group of cheering kids, happy that their book had won the Newbery Award.

That’s what I posted in January of last year.

Ivan remains very popular here. This past school year, it was the number five circulated book in my library, which is huge. There’s not another Newbery winner even close to doing that right now.

I’ve talked a lot about the book, but haven’t really said what I liked about it. I love the characters. Animals and humans. Mack isn’t good or bad. He’s just human, and I love that. I love the themes of the importance of story-telling, and the courage to try to change things even when it seems hopeless.

In short, I love everything about The One and Only Ivan. Jake was right. It’s probably my favorite Newbery.

Of course, I give it five out of five Newbery Pies.

***********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************Newbery Newbery extras.

This is a little long, but if you have a minute, watch Katherine Applegate’s Newbery acceptance speech. If you can make it through without crying, you’re stronger than I am. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQM-geB-LnE