ABOUT THE REAL IVAN- The One and Only Ivan is a work of fiction, but the inspiration for this imagined tale lies with a true story. Ivan, a real gorilla, lived at Zoo Atlanta, but on the way to that happy ending, he spent almost three decades without seeing another of his own kind. Ivan was captured as an infant in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His female companion, reported to have been his twin, died en route to the United States or shortly thereafter, and Ivan was raised in a home until he became unmanageable. At that point he was added to an odd collection of animals housed at a circus-themed mall in Washington state. Ivan spent twenty-seven years of his life alone in a cage. Over time, as an understanding of primate needs and behavior grew, public discomfort with Ivan’s lonely state grew as well, particularly after he was featured in a National Geographic special entitled “The Urban Gorilla.” A public outcry followed, including heartfelt letters from children. In 1994, when the mall where Ivan lived went bankrupt, he was placed on permanent loan to Zoo Atlanta, which houses the largest group of captive western lowland gorillas in the nation. Ivan became a beloved celebrity at Zoo Atlanta, where he lived contentedly with other gorillas, although he never sired any offspring. He was known for his paintings, which were often “signed” with his thumbprint. Ivan died on August 20, 2012 at the age of fifty. Ivan and Kinyani were real gorillas—and so, by the way, was Jambo, whose story is recounted in the book. But all other characters and situations in the novel are entirely the product of my imagination. When I started to write about the grim facts of Ivan’s solitary existence, a new tale slowly began to take shape. At least on the page, where anything is possible, I wanted to give Ivan (even while captive behind the walls of his tiny cage) a voice of his own and a story to tell. I wanted to give him someone to protect and the chance to be the mighty silverback he was always meant to be. —Katherine Applegate
Discussion questions Chapter 1 1. What does Ivan mean when he says, “In my size humans see a test of themselves” (p. 4), and “I am too much gorilla and not enough human” (p. 7)? Why does the sign for the Big Top Mall show Ivan as angry and fierce? Why doesn’t Ivan express any anger in the beginning of the story?