Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, as well as reading challenges that we have pledged to join this year. Our reading theme for March/April: Grey & Golden, Young & Fleeting – Ruminations on Mortality and Transient Lives.

Many thanks to Iphigene for this gorgeous poster.
Many thanks to Iphigene for this gorgeous poster.

For our reading theme, we are planning to share nonfiction stories related to endangered species or themes connected to mortality. While gorillas are technically not endangered, I thought that Ivan’s life makes one reflect on what quality of life truly means, not just for human beings, but for our fellow creatures.


I am familiar with the novel-in-verse The One and Only Ivan. I own a copy of it, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I thought that this picturebook would be a good way for me to know Ivan’s remarkable journey a little better.

Told in Katherine Applegate’s lyrical text, it begins with the soulful

In leafy calm,

in gentle arms,

a gorilla’s life began.


Born in Central Africa, Ivan was torn away from his family by poachers who delivered him and another baby gorilla to the United States where his life would change forever.

The gorillas had traveled

halfway around the world

to Tacoma, Washington.


A man who owned a shopping mall

had ordered and paid for them,

like a couple of pizzas,

like a pair of shoes.

Those were the words that made my soul ache. Ivan was born and raised in a human household, dressed in human clothing, and made to eat human food until he could not be contained in an ordinary house any longer. He spent most of his life in a cage in the B & I Circus Store in Tacoma – ordered in especially by the owners to attract more customers to the store.


While we could talk about how cruel and how heartbreaking his life conditions had been, I prefer to dwell on the passionate advocacy of the people who met him and stood up for him so that he could live a life that he could claim as his own – not a pet in a store, not a curiosity in a cage, but as a being with quiet, remarkable dignity.

I was particularly impressed by the extensive backmatter found at the end of the story. There is even a brief sharing written by Jodi Carrigan who was Ivan’s main keeper at Zoo Atlanta during the last days of his life.


It makes one think about the things that we take for granted such as our significant power over other creatures – and how we are able to exploit it needlessly or use it for a greater good. I love how through this story, Katherine Applegate has provided Ivan with a new voice. This is a beautiful, luminous, heartbreaking tale told with human thoughts and sensibilities – the same creatures Ivan spent most of his life with, and whom for a time he considered his family.

For teachers who wish to make use of this in the classroom, here is a detailed Teachers’ Guide created by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt which includes discussion guide questions and extension activities. And here is Katherine Applegate telling Ivan’s story. Enjoy!

 Ivan: The Remarkable True Story Of The Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Published by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.


Winner of the 2015 Charlotte Zolotow Award Honor Book

#AWBReads2015 Update: 23 of 35


#nfpb2015 Challenge Update: 17 of 25

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

5 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Remarkable Life of Ivan

  1. We love Katherine Applegate’s books – Thank you for sharing this resource with us.


  2. It’s a wonderful addition to the fictional Ivan book. Glad you enjoyed it, Myra.


  3. I’m glad Ivan’s life has made such a positive impact on so many people’s lives!


  4. This is a wonderful book!


  5. Ivan’s story has impacted many kids. So glad we have the nonfiction text to accompany the novel now. The themes are very important


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