Publication Date: January 17, 2012
Ivan is a great silverback gorilla in a zoo at Big Top Mall off Exit 8. He's been there for years and once drew huge crowds.
But as the years went by, Ivan was no longer the main attraction. Fewer and fewer people came to see him and buy the drawings he loves to create.
One day, a baby elephant named Ruby is brought to the zoo, and for the first time, Ivan knows what it feels like to have someone to protect.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read: March 22, 2018
I had heard so many good things about this book for years. So many people say that this is one of the best Middle Grade books they've ever read, and that it also has an incredibly important and powerful message. When I saw this in my school's library, I knew that I had to borrow it for Spring Break.
When I started it, I had no idea that it was written so simply, yet so powerfully. Katherine Applegate must have gone through a ton of editing to make each sentence so powerful and simple at the same time. This easy writing style led me to fly through the first 90 pages in a few days, before I stopped because I ended up watching a LOT of Hulu and Netflix. I decided to pick it back up because I had some time in between classes and ended up finishing the rest of the book in one sitting.
I didn't cry, you did.
I've already said that the writing style is so powerful, but I don't think you realize how hard it is to make a simple sentence pack as much of a punch as an elaborate sentence. The writing is easy enough that young children can understand what's happening without any problem, but also meaningful enough that adults get the deeper background that some kids might not understand until they're older.
The characters are so lovable and wonderfully rounded. It's not always easy to make animals human enough to convey a point without losing their animal side. Each character has something that makes them stand out, adding a little something special to the story. I was able to connect to each of the animals in a different way, and with the exception of one human character, I thought that they were equally balanced within the story.
There are definitely several strong themes of home, friendship, and family in the story. Each of the animals has their own sense of what family and home is, but there nothing is written as if family can mean only one thing or another. Everyone's view is valid and special to them.
Obviously, I cried at the end of the book. It was so well done and perfectly executed. The ending hit me really hard and I had to sit in my chair with tears streaming down my face while hoping that my roommate didn't come back to see me looking like a mess.
I really enjoyed reading from Ivan's POV. Applegate was able to capture his voice really well and balance it perfectly between being animal and being human. He was a great protagonist with a wonderful story to tell.
Ruby made me so happy when she came into the story. The childlike innocence that she had made her such a lovable little elephant. I only wanted what was best for her.
Personally, I think that all zoo animals should have a friend like Bob. You can't ask for anything more than a little dog who sleeps on your belly and gives you advice about trusting humans.
Stella is perhaps one of the more underrated characters of the book, as I've never really heard anyone talk about her before. She's such a strong female character/elephant, and I think that all readers can learn something from her.
5 stars. This has made it onto my list as a new favorite. I'll probably recommend this to every education major I know (my best friend included) and people who are looking for good Middle Grade books. If you've had any reservations at all about this, PLEASE pick this up because it's such a good book!