The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

This Newberry Award winning chapter
book is told through the eyes of Ivan, a
silver back gorilla who has been living
in captivity for 27 years. The book
begins with Ivan living at the Exit 8
Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, along
with Stella, an elephant and Bob, a
stray dog. Ivan tells his story through
flashbacks of where he has been,
challenges he faces, and his hopes for
the future. When the owner of the
Mall brings in a baby elephant named
Ruby, Ivan understands what captivity
really means and begins to work to find
a better way of life for himself and his friends.

Discussion questions:

  1. Who are the main animal characters in the story? Why are they
    important to Ivan?
  2. How does Julia try to help Ivan?
  3. How does Ivan learn about the outside world? What do you think is the
    most important thing for him to learn?
  4. How does the arrival of Ruby change things for Ivan? What does he
    promise Stella?
  5. The idea of belonging is important in this story. Discuss the idea of
    belonging from the view point of each character. Compare that to what
    belonging means to you.


  1. Make an anchor chart showing the 4 places Ivan has lived. Help class
    brainstorm details of Ivan’s life in each place. When finished, use
    the anchor chart for additional activities. Students may write their
    responses on sticky notes to add to the chart.
  2. Go online to learn about the real Ivan, who inspired this book, and find
    out how he adapted to life at Zoo Atlanta.
  3. Allow students to research mountain gorillas, their natural habitat and
    what can be done to help them. Go to to find out
    what is currently being done to protect these animals.