Childrens Book Review of Ivan the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate, G Brian Karas

by DerdriuMarriner

A silverback begins and ends life in grasslands. In between he is a mall attraction and modern artist. Katherine Applegate and G. Brian Karas tell a shop gorilla's story in "Ivan."

Gorillas are animals native to Africa.

Collectors bring lifeless specimens to museums and living specimens to circuses and zoos. They cater to the private sector by providing exotic, novelty, and specialty stores with live specimens. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo claims gorilla populations whose bodies expectedly are dark but whose backs unexpectedly shine silvery from nape to rump.

The silver does not emerge until the silverback’s teen years. Collectors nevertheless favor as more trackable and trainable babies less than a year old. Not all babies have survivalist constitutions.

Survivors generally live longer in captivity than in the wild, as in the case of “Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla.”

In 1994, at the age of 32, Ivan was relocated cross-country, on permanent loan, to Zoo Atlanta, where he transitioned to outdoor life: Always sensitive to damp grass, Ivan preferred to protect his extremities with burlap coffee bags. ~

Ivan at Zoo Atlanta, December 20, 2009
Boulevard Heights, southeastern Atlanta, northern Georgia
Boulevard Heights, southeastern Atlanta, northern Georgia


Hunters caught two six-month-old baby gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They did not indicate the fates of the rest of the tropical forest-dwelling troop. The babies ended up being shipped to Tacoma, Washington. The female expired shortly after being dressed and fed human-style and getting called “Burma” in the B&I Circus Store’s “Name the Babies” contest. Winners got $500 for each owner-determined winning name. The male baby had the name Ivan (1962 – 2012). Ivan lived with B&I’s owners. He loved to:

  • Eat fried chicken;
  • Swing from drapes and lamps.

By age 5, he moved into B&I Circus Store’s 14-foot (4.27-meter) by 14-foot (4.27meter) cement and glass display room previously occupied by:

  • Chimpanzees;
  • Elephants;
  • Seals.


Ivan the gorilla ~ memorial tribute to Ivan: "The Zoo Atlanta family is saddened by the passing of Ivan the western lowland gorilla, 50 years old and a cherished member of our collection since 1994."

Published on YouTube on August 20, 2012 by Zoo Atlanta ~ URL:


At age 13, Ivan’s back became silver-white. The color, his fascination with television, and his finger-painted artwork called more and more attention to Ivan. National Geographic generated even more interest by covering the twenty-eight-year-old’s life in the 1990-produced documentary The Urban Gorilla. Seattle, Washington’s Woodland Park Zoo consequently moved the thirty-two-year-old to Georgia’s Zoo Atlanta in 1994. Ivan needed to transition indoors with mammalogists before sharing 1.5 acres (0.61 hectares) outdoors with western lowlanders.  He never relished:

  • Damp grass, from which he protected his extremities with burlap coffee bags;
  • Wet weather.

He nevertheless remained:

  • Devoted to painting, especially in red and always signed with a thumbprint;
  • Friendly with gorillas and visitors;
  • Loyal to keepers, especially Jodi Carrigan.


Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate ~ illustrated by G. Brian Karas

In a spare, powerful text and evocative illustrations, the Newbery medalist Katherine Applegate and the artist G. Brian Karas present the extraordinary real story of a special gorilla.
Ivan stories



Author Katherine Applegate fictionalizes Ivan’s life in the 2012-released novel The One and Only Ivan by HarperCollins Children’s Books, with:

  • Patricia Castelao’s illustrations and jacket art;
  • Sarah Hoy’s jacket design and typography.

She gives factual updates in biographic format with the children’s book Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, manufactured in China and released in 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Clarion Books. The story’s artistry results from:

  • Diane Allen’s, Alan Berner’s, and Jodi Carrigan’s photography;
  • G. Brian Karas’s jacket and page illustrations;
  • Christine Kettner’s jacket design.

Images and information serve as sources of:

  • Animal welfare;
  • Cultural enrichment;
  • Educational entertainment.

Librarians and teachers thereby target:

  • Ages 4 - 8;
  • Grades preschool - third grade.


Katherine Applegate tells the true story of Ivan in her new picture book

Published on YouTube on February 6, 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ~ URL:



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Ivan the gorilla lived alone in a shopping mall for over 20 years (The Urban Gorilla) ~ poignant segment on Ivan's solitary life at B&I Shopping Mall

Published on YouTube on March 28, 2014 by argofilms ~ URL:

Sources Consulted


Applegate, Katherine. 2014. Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion Books.

Applegate, Katherine. 2012. The One and Only Ivan. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children's Books.

The Urban Gorilla. 1992. DVD. Directed by Allison Argo. Los Angeles CA: Baseline, 2010.


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate ~ illustrated by Patricia Castelao

Winner of 2013 Newbery Medal. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated novel is told from the point of view of Ivan himself.
Ivan's story

National Geographic: The Urban Gorilla ~ includes segment on Ivan as painter

A journey into the world of gorillas living under human care. Meet a remarkable gorilla who paints while in captivity, and visit an innovative gorilla orphanage in West Africa.
Ivan's story
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

In the mist: black t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

In The Mist
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/02/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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