In this occasional series, I will be discussing books that a teenage girl (now a fourteen-year-old and soon-to-be-fifteen), Jonelle, instructed me to read. And when I say "instructed me to read," of course I mean "commanded me to read." For those of you who don't know her, she is a highly intelligent, sweet, precocious and fairly bossy young lady.
A large part of the reason why I read this book, and the other works that will be discussed in this blog series, is that I want to understand how teenagers think. These posts will not be a review of the book per se, as much as an exploration of my random thoughts on the book.
How did I get myself into this?
This post is going to be a little different from others in this mini-series for two reasons. First, The One and Only Ivan was first published as a book in 2012. However, this blog post will be based on the Audible audiobook version. Thus, it will include a brief discussion on this audio presentation.
Second, The One and Only Ivan is a fictional novel based upon a true story. There are numerous accounts concerning Ivan, his plight and eventual salvation. Thus, there will also be a brief section on the actual story of Ivan the Gorilla.
People call me the Freeway Gorilla. The Ape at Exit 8. The One and Only Ivan, Mighty Silverback.
The names are mine, but they’re not me. I am Ivan, just Ivan, only Ivan.
Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.
Everyone knows the peels are the best part.
I suppose you think gorillas can’t understand you. Of course, you also probably think we can’t walk upright.
Try knuckle walking for an hour. You tell me: Which way is more fun?
I’ve learned to understand human words over the years, but understanding human speech is not the same as understanding humans.
Humans speak too much. They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say.
It took me some time to recognize all those human sounds, to weave words into things. But I was patient.
Patient is a useful way to be when you’re an ape.
Gorillas are as patient as stones. Humans, not so much.
I used to be a wild gorilla, and I still look the part.
I have a gorilla’s shy gaze, a gorilla’s sly smile. I wear a snowy saddle of fur, the uniform of a silverback. When the sun warms my back, I cast a gorilla’s majestic shadow.
In my size humans see a test of themselves. They hear fighting words on the wind, when all I’m thinking is how the late-day sun reminds me of a ripe nectarine.
I’m mightier than any human, four hundred pounds of pure power. My body looks made for battle. My arms, outstretched, span taller than the tallest human.
My family tree spreads wide as well. I am a great ape, and you are a great ape, and so are chimpanzees and orangutans and bonobos, all of us distant and distrustful cousins.
I know this is troubling.
I too find it hard to believe there is a connection across time and space, linking me to a race of ill-mannered clowns.
Chimps. There’s no excuse for them.
Books Jonelle Made Me Read
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and performed by Adam Grupper.
The One and Only Ivan, written by Katherine Applegate, is based upon and inspired by the true story of Ivan the gorilla and his plight. The author of this YA novel, Applegate, created a fictional environment based on the real-world setting of Ivan the Gorilla. In addition, while the language of the text was written for a young audience, it couches very mature concepts and themes.
It was published initially in hardback in 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers and quickly went on to win numerous book awards in the categories of children and YAs. The Audible unabridged audiobook presentation of The One and Only Ivan (of which this blog post is concerned) was published by HarperAudio in 2013 and performed by Adam Grupper.
Of the eight previous books I posted about in this series (Books Jonelle Made Me Read), The One and Only Ivan was the first one which I noticed had an audiobook version. I must say that this Audible presentation was superb. Mr. Grupper used his voice to vary, not just the character being represented, but the emotional tone of the character as well.
In my opinion, this audio presentation added a depth to the work that I think would have been lacking in the text alone. The overall experience of the work through Mr. Grupper's presentation made the listening experience much more enjoyable and, in a way, more touching and, where appropriate, more dreadful.
Summary of the tale
The One and Only Ivan begins with a glossary of terms explaining relevant animal behavioral terms as well as slang terms created by the animals in the story.
The One and Only Ivan
The tale itself opens with Ivan considering himself, his fellow creatures in the circus, the humans, as well as the more than 9800 days - around 27 years - he has spent in his "domain" a.k.a. enclosure, a.k.a. "cage" in "The Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade."
Billboard of Stella, Mack and a ferocious Ivan
While the reader can see this as the indictment of humanity it is meant to be, Ivan innocently accepts this situation.
Ivan's closest friends are Stella, an aging elephant; Bob, a runaway dog (who doesn't even belong in the circus); and Julia, the circus mall's janitor's daughter who helps Ivan realize and then explore his artistic nature.
Each day is much like every other, until a new arrival at the circus shakes everything up–a baby elephant named Ruby. Only Stella, the older, female elephant is not excited by the new arrival. Only she truly understands the implications of a new baby elephant in the circus; that it will most likely spend the rest of its long life in a "cage." And the indictment against humanity becomes a little more damning. Yet, Ruby's innocent nature is the only voice to speak to the kindness of humans. The animals come to realize that there are good humans and bad humans.
The animals are confronted by mortality and death with the passing of Stella. They meet it with dignity and honesty. The author handles this sensitive, emotionally charged subject matter with grace and innocence and this comes across wonderfully in the audiobook narration.
To comfort a grieving Ruby[i], Ivan relates the tale of his youth and how he came to be in the circus.[ii] Ivan uses his artistic skill to inspire humans to help Ruby.[iii] And it is Julia who is the first to realize what Ivan has intended. His great art project is to cover a billboard with a message meant to save Ruby. This leads to a popular movement to free Ruby and in turn, Ivan.
Even though Julia and her father suffer for it, they are successful in getting Ruby, Ivan and the animals moved to a good zoo to have a better life. Following the story, there is a brief history of Ivan and his ultimate fate. Just as a glossary of terms prefaced the story; so too, did this true history conclude the novel.
The Real Story (in brief)
Ivan's story has been well documented in newspapers, print and video.[iv]
Ivan was believed to have been born sometime around 1962. In 1964, he and his companion (sister?), Burma, were captured in the former Belgian Congo in Africa.
Ivan, on the right, is pictured here in 1964 with his female companion, Burma, who also purchased by E.L. Irwin. (Photo Tacoma Public Library)
Shortly thereafter, the two were taken in by Earl Irwin, owner of Tacoma's The World Famous B & I Circus Store which had "a history of owning many different animals over the years which included lions, bears, seals, elephants, chimpanzees, leopards and other animals, in effect a small zoo which was common at that time."[v] Burma died shortly after arriving in the U.S.; Ivan was very sickly.
The Johnston family operated the pet store at the mall and took Ivan into their home when he arrived in Tacoma.
Ivan is the one in the middle.
He was treated as one of the Johnston's children. For more than three years, Ivan lived as a human child.
Larry Johnston sleeps with the infant Ivan in their Tacoma home, circa 1965. (Courtesy of the Johnston Family)
However as he grew older, Ivan became big and scary. Advised by others, the Johnstons moved Ivan to their store and confined him in an enclosure.
Ivan would remain there for the next 27 years.
By the 1970s, attitudes towards animals in captivity began to change. As a result, by 1980, most animals in the shopping center had found new homes. All except for Ivan, "zoos did not want an older, solitary gorilla."[vi]
A popular movement to have Ivan relocated to a better habitat began in the late 1980s.
In the late 1980's, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society, an animal rights group based in Lynnwood, Wash., began picketing the mall and calling for Ivan's transfer to a zoo, saying that it would be a humane act that would benefit science.[vii]
This "free Ivan" movement received a big boost from the 1991 National Geographic documentary, The Urban Gorilla.
Ivan peers through a window in the B&I shopping center in 1993. Before residing at the shopping center, he lived as a member of a Tacoma family. (Alan Berner The Seattle Times)
As a result of the protests and economic realities, sometime between late 1994 and early 1995, Ivan was moved to Zoo Atlanta where he would lived out the rest of his days.
Ivan in later life.
Ivan the Gorilla died August 20, 2012 at Zoo Atlanta.
When Jonelle asked me to read this work, I was happy to do it initially. However, once I began to look into the subject matter, I grew uncomfortable. I have some difficulty dealing with cruelty to animals, even when unintentional. I was really nervous about listening to this audiobook version. And I was sure that I would be in tears before the end.
I was right.
Applegate, Katherine. The One And Only Ivan. Audible Edition. 2013.
"A Gorilla Sulks in a Mall as His Future is Debated." The New York Times. 17 October 1993.
Applegate, Katherine. "The Book." The One And Only Ivan. 2014. Accessed 10 January 2018. http://theoneandonlyivan.com/book/
Argo, Allison. "The Urban Gorilla - ArgoFilms.com." Vimeo. 28 February 2014.
Berner, Alan. "Ivan the gorilla to be honored with sculpture at Point Defiance." The Seattle Times. 22 May 2016. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/northwest/ivan-the-gorilla-to-be-honored-with-sculpture-at-point-defiance/
Boss, Kit. "'The Urban Gorillas': An 'Unnatural History' Film." The Seattle Times. 09 March 1991.
Doughton, Sandi. "Aged, beloved Ivan the gorilla from Tacoma dies at Atlanta Zoo." The Seattle Times. 22 August 2012. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/aged-beloved-ivan-the-gorilla-from-tacoma-dies-at-atlanta-zoo/
Hickman, Matt. "Ivan, the shopping mall gorilla, is memorialized with 3-D-printed statue." Mother Nature Network. 27 October 2016.
Irwin, Ron. "Ivan's Story." Beloved Ivan. 2018. https://www.belovedivan.org/ivans-story/
"Ivan the Gorilla." PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Society). 2018.
"Meet Ivan." Zoo Atlanta. 2018. Accessed 10 January 2018. https://zooatlanta.org/animal-legend/ivan/
"Meet 'Ivan': The Gorilla Who Lived In A Shopping Mall." NPR. 13 June 2013.
Mischenko. "Ivan the Gorilla (1962-2012)." ReadRantRock&Roll. 19 March 2017. https://readrantrockandroll.com/2017/03/19/ivan-the-gorilla-1962-2012/
Provenza, Nick. "The News Tribune: Ivan the gorilla dies at Zoo Atlanta." The Seattle Times. 21 August 2012.
Sailor, Craig. "Last keeper remembers Ivan the artist, Tacoma's gorilla auteur." The News Tribune. 19 September 2016. http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article102799052.html
"Tacoma’s Ivan the gorilla featured in home movies." The Bellingham Herald. 29 April 2016.
Wikipedia. "Ivan (gorilla)." Accessed 10 January 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_(gorilla)
Wikipedia. "The One And Only Ivan." Accessed 09 January 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_One_and_Only_Ivan
Wikipedia. "The Urban Gorilla." Accessed 09 January 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Urban_Gorilla
[i] In which I firmly believe the reader / audience is meant to have a strong association with Disney's Dumbo.
[ii] This tale closely parallels Ivan's real life upbringing and fate to that point.
[iii] Similarly to the story Charlotte's Web, where one creature uses its artistic skill to inspire humans to save another creature.
[iv] I was pleasantly surprised by how closely the story paralleled the actual history of Ivan.
[v] Irwin, Ron. "Ivan's Story." Beloved Ivan. <https://www.belovedivan.org/ivans-story/>
[vi] Irwin, Ron. "Ivan's Story." Beloved Ivan. Accessed 14 January 2018. <https://www.belovedivan.org/ivans-story/>
[vii] -. "A Gorilla Sulks in a Mall as His Future Is Debated." The New York Times. 17 October 1993. Accessed 13 January 2018. <http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/17/us/a-gorilla-sulks-in-a-mall-as-his-future-is-debated.html>