My son came home from school and told me, “Mom, I am reading the best book and you really need to make a unit for it!” Not a crazy comment by any means, but from my son it is a bit out of the ordinary because he is a reluctant reader. It takes a really, really good book to hook him into raving about it! There really isn’t higher praise for a book than that!

In a world filled with digital distractions and fast-paced lives, teachers face a unique challenge in engaging their students. Literature can be a powerful tool to not only foster a love for reading but also to cultivate empathy and critical thinking. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is a novel that brilliantly accomplishes this, making it a must-read for any classroom.

I also have to say my son was right, it is a really, really good book! I am a huge animal lover and love animal stories so of course, there’s that, but I also really enjoyed the poetic way this story is told through the eyes of Ivan, the shopping mall gorilla. I was also astonished to learn that this story isn’t totally fictitious. There was a real Ivan who lived in a shopping mall in Washington State for 27 years!

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Benefits of Using The One and Only Ivan in Your Classroom:

  • Contains Themes of Empathy and Compassion: The One and Only Ivan revolves around the life of a silverback gorilla named Ivan who lives in captivity at a shopping mall. This heartfelt story is a powerful platform for teaching empathy and compassion. As students follow Ivan’s journey, they will learn about the importance of understanding and caring for the emotions and experiences of others, whether human or animal.
  • Encourages Great Discussions about Animal Rights and Ethical Dilemmas: This novel delves into complex ethical dilemmas surrounding animal rights and captivity. The discussions that emerge from reading The One and Only Ivan can help students become more aware of the issues surrounding the treatment of animals in captivity, inspiring them to engage in critical thinking and form their own opinions on the matter.
  • Ties to Real-World Connections: Teachers can use the novel to connect the fictional world to real-life events and situations. It provides an opportunity to explore the history of animals in captivity, discuss contemporary issues like zoos and wildlife conservation, and even visit a local zoo to see the principles of the story come to life.
  • Incorporates Diverse Characters and Themes: The One and Only Ivan introduces a diverse cast of characters, each with their own unique personalities, struggles, and dreams. This diversity allows teachers to explore themes of identity, friendship, and teamwork, making the book relevant to students from various backgrounds.
  • Utilizes Language and Literary Elements: Katherine Applegate’s beautiful prose and literary devices make the novel a perfect fit for teaching language and literary analysis. Teachers can use the text to discuss figurative language, symbolism, character development, and narrative techniques, enhancing their students’ reading and comprehension skills.
  • Gives Opportunities for Multidisciplinary Learning: The novel can easily be integrated into various subjects, making it a valuable resource for cross-curricular learning. Science classes can explore animal behavior, biology, and ecology, while history classes can discuss the evolution of animal rights and ethics.
  • Is Award-Winning, Highly Acclaimed, and Universally Beloved: The One and Only Ivan is not just any book; it’s a Newbery Medal winner in 2013 and a New York Times bestseller. Its critical acclaim and success in the literary world testify to its quality and impact on readers of all ages. I have yet to find a student or adult that doesn’t adore this book.
  • Promotes a Love for Reading: Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of using this novel is that it can ignite a passion for reading in your students, as it did in my son. Once they become captivated by the story of Ivan and his friends, they may be inspired to explore more books, both by Katherine Applegate and other authors. There are now sequels to the book with The One and Only Bob and The One and Only Ruby for students to explore.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is a literary gem that should find its place in every classroom. With its themes of empathy, ethics, and diverse characters, it not only enriches students’ minds but also encourages critical thinking, discussion, and a lifelong love for reading. By incorporating this novel into your curriculum, you’ll be providing your students with a profound and memorable educational experience that will stay with them long after they leave your classroom. Add this remarkable book to your reading list and watch your students’ minds and hearts open to the wonders of literature and the world.

I offer a novel study for The One and Only Ivan that not only incorporates comprehension and vocabulary activities, but also non-fiction aspects for students to learn about Silverback Gorillas, elephants, animals living in captivity vs. the wild, and of course the story of the real-life Ivan! I hope that your students can walk away from this book with their hearts filled with as much excitement as my son’s was.


See what people are saying about The One and Only Ivan Novel Study by The Teaching Bank!


Please check out the completed The One and Only Ivan Novel Study that contains both a printable and Google Drive™ compatible format available in my store.

Try a free sample of the novel study for The One and Only Ivan 


You can purchase this novel study at the following locations:

Sally Kneifl, who teaches in the Umoⁿhoⁿ Nation Public Schools in Macy, NE, was the winner of my giveaway of a class set of The One and Only Ivan books, the novel study, and a gift card. Sally wrote to me to share the deep and positive experiences her students had reading this book.

“I wanted to thank you again for the books that we received from you, The One and Only Ivan, and share the activities that we did to culminate the unit.

Students wrote a short summary, some facts that they learned about the real Ivan the gorilla and gorillas in the wild, as well as their favorite part of the book. I found a book called “Actual Size” by Steve Jenkins.

We researched the true story of the real Ivan.

The students completed a WebQuest about Gorillas and they learned many facts.

The author Katherine Applegate mentioned the documentary about Ivan, so I ordered the National Geographic special “The Urban Gorilla” which featured Ivan.

The students created a display on the hallway wall where other students can learn fun facts and compare their hands, feet, height, and arm length to a life-sized gorilla.

The librarian is also reading it to the younger kids, so it didn’t just impact my grade levels…it is going to impact the entire elementary and middle schools. I love hearing the students talk in the hallway when they are sharing their writing and they know all of the information about Ivan or gorillas, and they are explaining it to the High School students or our Special needs students. Any chance for my students to feel smart or have pride in their work…I will take it. It is always a struggle at our school. Thank you again…you blessed many.” -Sally Kneifl

You can find the Urban Gorilla documentary that Sally mentioned within my The One and Only Ivan Novel Study and Actual Size by Steve Jenkins by clicking the image below.

Thank you, Sally, and the students from the Umoⁿhoⁿ Nation Public Schools for sharing their work and joy with me!

Are you interested in reading about and sharing ideas with other educators on using children’s literature in your classroom? My goal is to bring together teachers and homeschoolers who teach grades 3-8 and use novels with their students. I’d love for you to join me to learn, share, and grow together!

Click here or the image below to join my Facebook group, Book Talk with The Teaching Bank!

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