Study Guide

The One and Only Ivan

By Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan Introduction

Ever been grounded? How about sent to your room? Even if you've kind of earned it, and even if it's only for a little while, it still feels terrible to be stuck inside, unable to roam freely through the world. Ivan—the main ape in The One and Only Ivan—experiences this in spades, trapped inside the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade for twenty-seven years.

And for the record, he definitely didn't earn this fate.

Katherine Applegate's 2012 novel takes the real life story of Ivan the gorilla, adds a bit of imagination, and leaps into the great ape's head to tell the tale of one four hundred pound creature kept in captivity. The tale is so gripping that the book won the 2013 Newbery Medal and became a New York Times bestseller. Not exactly chump change for a book about a chimp… er, gorilla.

In case you're thinking gee, I'd rather not spend time in an ape's brain, worry not. Ivan is as articulate a narrator as they come, and a bit of a poet to boot. So whether you go to the zoo every weekend or prefer to curl up with Shakespeare, The One and Only Ivan probably has something in it for you.

What is The One and Only Ivan About and Why Should I Care?

Here's why you should care: Gorillas are people, too.

Okay, not technically—but what we're getting at is that this book takes a good hard look at the human practice of capturing wild animals, digging deep into what this means for, well, the animals. And part of what emerges is a clear sense that animals matter, you know, just like we do.

Ever been to the circus? How about the zoo? Made a trip to your local nature center? The One and Only Ivan doesn't come right out and say that animals can't ever have happy lives in captivity. What it does say, though, is that how we treat the animals we keep in captivity really matters. They might not be people, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve comfort and consideration. And after spending time with Ivan, well, we're pretty sure you'll agree.

The One and Only Ivan Resources


Save the Gorillas
Got gorillas on the brain? Eager to get involved and try to make a better world for "our closest cousins"? The World Wildlife Federation is the website for you then.

The Great Ape Project
The Great Ape project helps protect Ivan and other primates—even chimps (just don't tell Ivan).

Say It Ain't So
Gorillas are endangered species, Shmoopers. For more about what threatens them, along with some interesting facts about them in general, click on through.

The Pros and Cons of Zoos
If you're sitting like a lemur on the fence about whether or not you think zoos are good places for animals, this might give you a little more to chew on.

Ivan in Atlanta
When Ivan joined Zoo Atlanta, he finally joined a community that really cared for him. So much so, in fact, that they even made him his own page on their website. It's your one stop shop for all things Ivan.

"The Cruelest Show on Earth"
This article from Mother Jones goes behind the scenes at the circus. Warning: What they find isn't for the faint of heart.

Movies or TV Productions

The Urban Gorilla
See a clip of the documentary film that helped get the real Ivan out of the mall and into the zoo. It's sad to see, though at least the person who teaches this Ivan to paint tries to sell his art to improve Ivan's living conditions, instead of just to line his own pockets.

Articles and Interviews

Grab a Tissue
Here's a very touching obituary for the real life Ivan following his death.

How Do You Know You're a Big Deal?
Even NPR memorialized Ivan when he died. If that doesn't mark him as important, than we don't know what does.

Oh Yeah… Applegate
As much as this is Ivan's story, it's also author Katherine Applegate's. Here an interview with her here.


Applegate Takes Your Questions
Applegate answers readers' questions in this video, and doles out some solid advice about how to become a writer.

Ivan at the Zoo
Grass! Trees! Other gorillas! Looks like a pretty good spot for a gorilla to retire to if you ask us.


Free Ivan Protest Images
People really did rally to get Ivan out of the mall, and this link has a few images of their posters and such.