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Books for Tweens: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Stella goes through books like I imagine most kids go through cheerios. You’ll find four or five hoarded under her pillow case, others scattered about on her bedside table with an overflow pile on the ground beside the bed. Her massive, double-sided bookcase is already filled and she’s reluctant to part with any of them.

I used to indulge her taste for books with constant trips to Chapters. But between the cost and the sheer volume of books accumulating in her bedroom, the library has become more and more appealing. Each trip, she’ll come home with about seven novels and two cartoon collections (she likes old-school Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes).

For novels, she likes fantastic tales about anthropomorphic creatures off on adventures of mythic proportions. Her head is always off in the clouds … dragons, and lions, and treasure, oh my! (I’ve been secretly smiling at the gentle chastising her teacher sent home about her reading under her desk instead of focusing on her school work.)

On our last trip to the library, she veered off to her usual corner to hunt for more books in the Percy Jackson series, while I browsed in the “new arrivals” section. It was there that I found The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate.

Book cover for: The One and Only Ivan

Published in 2012, Applegate’s gorilla character Ivan is the first-person narrator for this tale. It is a bittersweet tale, summarized on the author’s website as follows:

“Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.”

Stella inhaled this book. By the morning after the library visit, she’d finished it and told me she could unequivocally recommend it here on Coffee with Julie. Here are some of her comments:

  • “I found it very interesting to see Ivan’s point of view, living in a cheap zoo that doesn’t even keep care of the animals.”
  • “It made me feel happy that humans now understand that animals need better living conditions.”
  • “I found it unique, it didn’t really remind me of any other books I’d read.”

The Tween rating is 5 / 5  stars 

To find this book: Available in most book stores. Published by Harper Collins Canada. I picked up our copy from a local library. The Common Sense Media guide recommends this book for age 8 and up (my daughter is 10 years old), and their cautions for parents can be read here.

P.S. If you’re looking for other book recommendations from Stella, you can find them here.


  1. Dac Nielsen says:

    I’m always on the hunt for new books for my kids. Thanks…

  2. (trying again…first comment didn’t appear!)

    Hi Stella!

    that sounds like a great book! my son is about the same age as you (turned 11 today actually) & he is really enjoying the Percy Jackson series at the moment!
    Personally, I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan and have read all 7 books 3 times!

    We love our local library too.  Our library also has a used book store where I pick up great titles for $2. My favorite recent read was “The Book Thief”… an amazing story!  it is found in the “young adult” section but I think it is way more “adult” than “young”. Your Mom should read it!  I read it twice I enjoyed it so much!

    thanks for the recommendation and i look forward to more from you!

  3. Great!  I bought this for my niece back in May for her birthday!  Nice to see a review!

  4. I facilitate a book club for my nine year old daughter and nine of her friends.  We are currently reading “The One and Only Ivan” and it is a huge hit!  I can’t wait for our group discussion, as little makes me happier than seeing this group of girls get super excited about a really great story! 

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