It’s hard to put into words. Gorilla’s are not complainers. We are dreamers, poets, philosophers, nap takers.
An Overview of the Novel:
"The One and Only Ivan" by Katherine Applegate is the story of a Silverback Gorilla that is being kept in a shopping mall zoo. Inspired by actual events, the story is told from the gorilla's perspective and touches on the thematic topics of bullying, friendship, loneliness, isolation, loss, freedom, loyalty, identity, and animal rights. Because the book was inspired by real events, there are opportunities to explore fact/fiction, as well as the author's influence.
Ivan spends his days with Bob, a stray dog, and a former circus elephant named Stella. The characters are all haunted by bad experiences with humans from their lives before the mall, leading to the acceptance of their current substandard living conditions, and the poor treatment that they receive. When a new character is introduced, a baby elephant named Ruby, a promise is made and everything changes.
This is an excellent novel for teaching students about static and dynamic characters, as well as motif and theme. There are also opportunities to explore connotative and denotative word meanings around the idea of cage vs. domain, which is a topic of discussion among the animals throughout the story.
It was such a beautiful story, I read it in a single day and was unable to put it down. I knew that it needed to be shared, so I read it to a 4th/5th grade summer reading class that I was teaching at the time. They loved it! When the summer session was over I turned the lessons that I had taught into Google Slides that I could share with other teachers.
How are characters transformed through their relationships with others?
What are the responsibilities of the individual / society in regard to animals and their environments?
With wild habitats disappearing worldwide, what role (if any) should zoos have in the conservation of endangered species, research and education?
What does it mean to live in an unnatural environment? Do humans live in unnatural environments?
Pairings: Google Hangout Interview + Online Articles
In this Google Hangout On Air the zoo keepers from Zoo Atlanta talk about "Ivan the Gorilla: Beyond the Book".
"The One and Only Ivan" is a fictional story, but it was inspired by a true story of a Gorilla named Ivan that lived in a shopping mall until public outrage led to his sale and removal to Zoo Atlanta.
This interview leads to some excellent opportunities for students to compare the real Ivan with the character from the novel.
Pairings: Animated Short Films + Online News Articles
This pairing explores the state of an animals mental health when kept in captivity, as well as the term "zoochosis". While it starts out lighthearted, using humor and animation to introduce the topic, this pairing goes deeper into the issues around animals in captivity through the text set of online articles. What I like about this text set is that it doesn't just highlight an issue, but it also shows ways in which people are coming up with creative solutions to address the problem.
The pairing addresses the question: What are the responsibilities of the individual / society in regard to animals and their environments?
Discussion Questions for the Short Film:
What are the most common complaints that the zoo animals have?
What are some of the things that the animals state that they like about their life in the zoo?
How might these animal interviews had been different if animals from a circus or amusement park zoo (like Ivan & Ruby) had been interviewed instead?
What makes a good zoo?
The image below is from the digital lesson for this pairing that I created for the novel. The digital lesson is packaged in Google Slides and is intended to be distributed to students with each student working through their own slide book. You will notice that many of the slides have a "Post Here" link. That link goes to a class blogging site that I set up for this novel. When you make a copy of this lesson and add it to your Google Drive, you may want to edit the lesson and remove those links if you don't want your students posting comments to this blog. I don't mind if you leave the links and they do post there. The way that I have it set up is that I have posted a prompt related to the novel/lesson and the students posts are added to that prompt as comments. One thing that is nice about using the links is that it amplifies your students voice, giving them a bigger audience for their writing and it makes the discussion about the text more social as they could potential be interacting with students from anywhere in the world that are also using the blogging links.
If you aren't comfortable with that format, there are other options.
Pairings: Non-Fiction Text + Website
Have students explore the Owen and Mzee website and watch the Owen an Mzee documentary (12-15 min for each part).
After allowing time for exploration and new learning ask: How does the introduction of a new animal (Ruby) to the domain differ from the introduction of a new animal (a female hippo) in a real life animal sanctuary?
Pairings: Film + Novel
The pairing of this short film called "The Dam Keeper" with the novel engages students in discussion about plot, theme and conflict. Encourage students to go beyond the surface level comparisons that Ivan is like Pig and Ruby is like Fox. How are the characters similar? How is the relationship between Pig and Fox similar to the relationship between Ivan and Ruby? How are they different?
I am an English teacher, Curriculum Designer, and Instructional Coach that is passionate about literature.
In each post I will offer a review of a young adult novel and suggestions for text pairings. These posts will often include links to digital resources for teaching the content referenced in the post, as well as digital lessons (I use Google Docs) which you can download for free. Subscribe to my blog so that you can get an email notification when a new book is highlighted.