Ivan has lived for most of his life in the Big Top Mall. He doesn’t think much about what it was like before he arrived there; his memory isn’t as good as Stella’s, the elephant who also lives in the mall. Instead, Ivan eats (because the visiting humans like to watch him eat), draws (he is an artist and his creations go for twenty-five dollars), and watches TV. He and Stella chat at night, and they are joined by Bob, a stray dog who loves to sleep on Ivan’s big belly. The Big Top Mall isn’t doing as well as it once was, however, so the owner decides to add a new attraction: a baby elephant.
When Ruby arrives, things start to change. Suddenly, Ivan isn’t as happy in his domain anymore. Now, he can’t help but see that the walls are covered with painted-on scenery and there isn’t much for him to do. And then he starts to remember what it was like before he was at the mall, when he was with his family.
The One and Only Ivan is a heart-wrenching read, but one that is very quick. While it may look like a long novel, don’t be discouraged by it, because there is ample spacing between words and paragraphs, so the pages fly by. Ivan has a great voice and his development through the book makes the reader cheer for him. This is great book report material as it raises lots of issues to do with the way humans treat animals; it’s also based on a true story.
Patricia Castelao illustrated the novel, and the images are a nice addition, offering the extra visual impact that emphasizes vulnerability and isolation Ivan and Ruby feel. It’s a novel that will almost certainly bring a tear to the reader’s eye (although if you’re like me, it’ll be more than one). My only complaint is that it sometimes felt a bit like the underlying message was being drawn too forcefully, but this didn’t happen often, and overall, this book focused more on Ivan and his transformation from easy-going gorilla with no thought of his past to a dedicated being, determined to change his circumstance.