Dear Ivan

Last year I read my class Katherine Applegate‘s The One and Only Ivan. We fell in love. Ivan’s words (via Katherine) and his story had such an impact. When I heard that there was a picture book to be published in the fall written by Katherine and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, I showed my students the book trailer. Well, . . .

“You have to buy that book!”

“Will you read it to us?”

“Even if we aren’t in your class?”


This year I have been able to keep 80% of the students I had last year – looping a Grade 2/3/4 into a 3/4. When Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas was released, I made a special trip to the bookstore. I read this gorgeous picture book to my students multiple times. We have certain lines memorized.

 Dear Ivan There's a Book for That

We then watched the video of Ivan in the shopping mall that I found on Mr. Schu’s blog.

Some of us cried. We read the story again. We started writing letters to Ivan. I showed the children a video of Ivan at Zoo Atlanta. We watched it more than once. We added to our letters.

Yes, we know that Ivan passed away in 2012. But Ivan has sat with us in our room. He has made us laugh and made us pause. We have sat in silences thinking. He has been our hero and we have wanted to protect him. His story has prompted discussions of animals in captivity, of human cruelty, of just “why?” Lots of conversations. Thanks To Katherine Applegate and all of those who have loved Ivan, we love Ivan too.

Writing to him felt like the right thing to do. Reading the letters later? Well, wow. It was certainly the right thing to do.

 Dear Ivan There's a Book for That

Portions of my students’ letters:

Ava writes:

Dear Ivan: I wish I could actually see you in real life and your silver back. I’m sorry that you spent 27 years in a shopping mall all alone.

Noella writes:

Dear Ivan: Were you sad in the shopping mall? Was your cage rusty? Were you sad for your sister? Were you happy in the zoo?

From Andrew:

Ivan, what did the zoo feel like? How much did you eat? What did you feel like when you first went to the zoo? How did it feel to be trapped in a cage? How dark was your cage? How did it feel to have no one to protect? How did it feel to be lonely?

From Rebecca:

Dear Ivan: I really liked your painting Ivan. I am so sorry for your sister. You were so smart Ivan. I am impressed of the things that you do. I am happy that you are in a zoo. I am happy for your freedom.

Jorja writes:

Dear Ivan: Your cage was grey and the jungle was green. There were other gorillas and you looked happy. You looked happy in the zoo too. You looked calm and relaxed. I was sad when you died.

From Kevin:

Dear Ivan: I know you’re gone but we still have your books. I felt sad when you were in the shopping mall because it was dark and there were no friends and no love. There should have been grass and gorillas to play.

Brian writes:

Dear Ivan: I feel really sad for you and I really want to see you face to face. When I miss you, I get really emotional and I hope you were happy when you were in the zoo. When you were in your cage you felt empty inside and you need compassion and love. I’m really sorry for your sister Tag. You looked all majestic with your big black coat at the zoo. You were looking at the world instead of people looking at you. I love you Ivan

From Gracie:

Dear Ivan: I didn’t realize how empty and alone it was in your cage until I watched the real video. I love art and I wanna be an artist. You’re the most interesting and fantastic artist I’ve ever seen. I hope you had a good life Ivan. When I watched you at the zoo, I was filled with joy. Here’s what I saw: You looking around like you were impressed with the world. I know that it is hard to read a gorilla’s emotions but I bet you were very happy. Did you think you wasted your life or did you know you were gonna live happy every after?

Even though this post doesn’t talk in detail about this gorgeous nonfiction picture book by Katherine Applegate and G. Brian Karas, I hope it calls to you (if you have yet to read it) to experience Ivan’s story. Then, of course, find someone to read it to. This story is meant to be shared.

NFPB 2014

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2014. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

My goal is to read 65 nonfiction picture books for 2014. Progress: 111/65 complete!

20 thoughts on “Dear Ivan

  1. Loved reading about your students’ love for Ivan and all the ways you’ve extended their learning. One and Only Ivan was certainly the favorite book in my Children’s Lit class last semester. I’ve got the PB but haven’t read it yet to my son. This week for sure! I gave his 5th grade teacher a copy of Ivan and suggested it (and Wonder) as read-alouds–both huge hits. I know my son is going to be interested in learning more about Ivan.

  2. I imagine that your students will never forget this, Carrie, the community built upon Ivan’s circumstances, the love they feel for this dear story, and gorilla. So glad this new picture book has arrived too so that all ages can learn about Ivan, and maybe learn to spread that love to many other animals.

  3. I was so excited to get home last week and read this book. Just so amazing. I just shared it with some of my 4th gr reading students this week and they loved it, so moving. I walked past another 4th grader, who I read TOaOI with this summer and she stopped in her tracks, pointed to the book and said, “Is that what I think it is???” I was so happy to pass it off to her!

  4. Thanks for retweeting this terrific post. We’ll be sure to check out the video links too. Thinking of ways we might use Ivan for personal narratives… thanks again.

  5. Such a beautiful tribute to Ivan, dearest Carrie. What you wrote “We have sat in silences thinking.” moved me, as well as the letters written by your students. Sensitive, insightful kids. You’re lucky to have them. 🙂

  6. I got all weepy reading these letters. Our copy of this book arrived in the library this week. My library monitors and I got all mushy gushy about it, but I haven’t had time to read it yet. I’ll pull it out and read it ASAP,

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