The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate has just won the Newbery Medal, given by the American Library Association each year to "the most distinguished American children's book published in the previous year."
This year's book is a story based on a real gorilla, Ivan, who lived for many years in a roadside mall in Tacoma, Washington. Eventually pressure from the public came to Ivan's rescue and he went in 1994 to live in Zoo Atlanta. In the book, Ivan is the instrument of his own rescue and that of a baby elephant who has come to live in the mall and who misses her mother and other elephants.
This is a sweet story with a happy ending, but is in no way sentimental. Animals are hurt and die, and though the novel doesn't dwell on that unhappy fact, the story is realistic enough to include this suffering. A zoo is not ideal - it would be well if these animals could live in the wild. But they cannot and Zoo Atlanta is a large and exceptionally well-run sanctuary where animals like the western lowland gorilla and hundreds of other animals are studied and bred and can live in a habitat that resembles their original home.
The story is told in the first person by Ivan himself and his character is slowly but effectively developed. He is not presented anthropomorphically - he is a real gorilla. His need for space and his urge to be with other gorillas are realistically and touchingly portrayed. The book is beautifully illustrated by Patricia Castelao.
The real Ivan, who had lived at Zoo Atlanta since 1994, died last August at the age of 50.