Kid Lit Review of “Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla” by Katherine Applegate


This award-winning author and illustrator together share the true story of Ivan, a gorilla captured as an infant in central Africa and brought to a mall in Tacoma, Washington to entertain shoppers. Originally, another baby named Burma was taken along with Ivan, but she died soon after their arrival.


Ivan lived in a home like a human child for his first three years, but as he got bigger, he was transferred to a cage in the mall. He seemed lonely and bored and both children and adults began to write letters in protest over his situation.


Finally, after 27 years of life in a cage, Ivan was sent to Zoo Atlanta, a facility housing the nation’s largest gorilla population in a 1.5-acre natural habitat. The story ends with the line: In leafy calm, in gentle arms, a gorilla’s life began again.”

Ivan at Zoo Atlanta

Ivan at Zoo Atlanta

An afterword explains that Ivan was afraid of the other gorillas at first, but finally seemed to get comfortable.


[The illustrator shares in an interview that in researching Ivan for this book, he watched the video from Zoo Atlanta of Ivan stepping out onto grass for possibly the first time since his capture. He writes “It was a brief moment but in it I could see his expression and what he might have been feeling – confusion, mistrust and fear, but ultimately trust and hope because he took that second step.”]
Eighteen years after his arrival in Atlanta, Ivan died in 2012 at the age of fifty.

You can learn more about Ivan in a slide show at the Zoo Atlanta website, here. And you can watch the book trailer, below.

The illustrations by G. Brian Karas are phenomenal. Though rendered in a child-like style, the warm, earth-toned watercolors show a wide emotional range.

Evaluation: This is a wonderful book that will foster further understanding about the perils of captivity for wild animals (as well as the perils of the wild from whence they come). The authors hope we can learn that all living things are interconnected, and thus treat all of them with respect.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014


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6 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla” by Katherine Applegate

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    This looks fabulous but it breaks my heart that such a magnificent creature was kept in a cage for so long.

  2. oh! This looks wonderful and sad.

  3. This is a very good book…but I cried after reading the whole book,especially for the creature 😦

  4. stacybuckeye says:

    Very cool story. Just vistied the zoo today and were talking about how long gorillas lived.

  5. Rachel says:

    There is a middle-grade book about a gorilla called The One and Only Ivan. I haven’t read it though. I wonder if it’s about or or based on this gorilla?

  6. Rachel says:

    Just looked it up and it’s written by the same author so I bet it is.

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