The One and Only Ivan

Written by: Katharine Applegate

Illustrated by: Patricia Castelao

For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about The One and Only Ivan and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!


Spoiler Alert:The summary below contains spoilers from the story that your child may not want to read until after finishing the book!


Ivan is a silverback gorilla on display in a stationary circus at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, and spends most of his time drawing and observing humans that come to see him. He has two close friends that are also in captivity with him, Stella the elephant and Bob the stray dog. When a young elephant, Ruby, arrives, Ivan realizes that there must be a better way to live than this. While he doesn't have to perform in the circus shows, he sees Ruby being hit with a claw-stick to force her to perform and knows that he has to do something. Using his artistic abilities, he creates a large picture of Ruby in a zoo and adds the caption "Home" at the bottom. Instead understanding this as a request for Ruby's transfer, the boss' daughter uses the picture for an advertisement on a billboard. When reporters come and cover the story, they show the claw-stick on television, attracting protestors to the circus. Finally, a woman from the zoo comes to save Ivan and Ruby and they live happily in a zoo, able to interact with their own kind. Ivan's observations about humans and the idea of captivity and freedom gives an interesting perspective on the human condition.



Pre-Reading Activity

KWL Chart

Create a K-W-L Chart and have your child fill in the first two columns with information that s/he knows and wants to find out about the story. S/he can fill in the last column, "What I Learned", once s/he has finished the story.

What I Know

After reading the description on the back cover, let your child think about what s/he knows about gorillas. What is their natural habitat? What do they eat? S/he can also think about any experiences at a circus or what s/he knows about circuses. All of this information will help him/her set the stage for this story. 


What I Want to Know

Include questions that your child might have about the plot, characters and setting. 

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Things to Consider

Tell your child that this is an animal fantasy and discuss what it means (i.e. that the story is about an animal and it is imaginative and has unrealistic elements). Encourage your child to look for elements in the story that show that it is an animal fantasy. While most elements of this story are fantasy, it is based on a real silverback gorilla named Ivan, so ask your child to also point out parts that could be real like his location or the description of the gorilla. Also encourage him/her to take special notice at how he describes humans throughout the story.


Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss what a simile is (a figure of speech that compares two things, using "like" or "as"). Then discuss the line on pg. 2 that reads "Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot." What does he mean by that? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  2. Ivan lives in a stationary circus at the mall. How is this similar to a regular circus? How is it different?
  3. How does Ivan describe humans? What do you think the humans that see him think of him?
  4. Why do you think Ivan became friends with Stella and Bob? How are they similar? How are they different?
  5. How does Ivan become interested in drawing?
  6. How does Ruby's arrival affect Ivan? How do his views on their lifestyle and the circus change after she arrives?
  7. How is the zoo different from the mall? Why is Ivan at first reluctant to join the other gorillas? Have you ever felt as though you didn't belong? Did that feeling ever go away? Why or why not?


Above all, be sure to engage your child in a discussion about the plot line and his/her thoughts and feelings about the book. Ask what s/he likes, encourage exploration related to the book, and every now and again, offer to read parts of the book aloud, just for fun!


Extending the Story

This book is based on the beloved gorilla commonly known as the "Shopping Mall Gorilla" so check out the real story of Ivan the silverback gorilla. Read his story and make note of the new information that you learn about Ivan and compare and contrast the information that you are reading with the story.