“In leafy calm,

in gentle arms,

a gorilla’s life began.”

So begins the lyrical narrative of Ivan the gorilla’s remarkable true story. Katherine Applegate followed up her 2013 Newbery Award-winning novel, The One and Only Ivan, with this nonfiction picture book about the events that inspired the novel.

She relates some of the facts—Ivan was a western lowland gorilla born in central Africa—in a straightforward style. But with her spare lyricism, she leaves room for the illustrator, G. Brian Karas, to supply essential components of the story. 

From Karas’s illustrations, readers learn:

·       the “gentle arms” in the opening belong to Ivan’s mother gorilla; 

·      Ivan and another baby gorilla are unloaded in America in a truck yard for a shopping mall owner who “ordered and paid for them like a couple of pizzas;” 

·      fully-grown Ivan in his shopping mall cage sees human families, and feels the lack of his own “family to protect;” 

· and the gentle hands Ivan feels in the end of the story belong to a female zoologist.

Applegate engages the reader’s senses. When Ivan is a baby in Africa, we hear the “hoots and grunts and chest-beats” of his father and the poachers’ loud guns. When Ivan is ready to join the gorilla habitat in Zoo Atlanta, we feel the gleaming sunlight, smell the jungle scents, and hear the people’s cheers and the clicking of cameras.

This real-life fairy tale—where early misfortune is reversed for a happily-ever-after ending—is one to treasure.

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