Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Trifecta for Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

Hello, G. Brian Karas! Happy Tuesday! The Nerdy Book Club, Colby Sharp, and I are deeply honored to celebrate the release of Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla with you, Katherine Applegate, and Anne Hoppe. 

Please tell us about the day you received Katherine Applegate’s brilliant manuscript for Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

G. Brian Karas: It wasn’t like a holiday or a birthday when a gift might be anticipated. It began like most days. I didn’t know that something really good was headed my way until I got a call from my agent, Brenda Bowen.  As soon as I heard her say “Anne Hoppe and Katherine Applegate” I knew it would be really really good.

I know authors and illustrators are usually kept apart, but did you and Katherine communicate at all while you were working on the illustrations? 

G. Brian Karas: We did, by email. I understood the big responsibility I was given and that I couldn’t afford to get it wrong. I wasn’t shy and asked Katherine to please share what she knew and learned of Ivan and his story. I typically consider that research part of my job but feel this book was made richer by those combined efforts.

What research did you conduct in order to start working on this project? Did you study photographs of Ivan? Visit zoos? Watch videos? 

G. Brian Karas: Time was not on my side so I made the best of what was available to me. Whenever possible I like to go directly to the source but I couldn’t for this book. I wasn’t fortunate to have ever met Ivan. I had no first hand experience with gorillas and a trip to his African home was not feasible with such a tight deadline. A visit to the Bronx Zoo’s Congo Gorilla Forest, while not the lowland forest he came from, was extremely helpful. I saw gorillas move with grace and power, watched them interact socially with each other and looked into their soulful eyes. It may have been a crash course in gorilla-ness but it was quite valuable.

Katherine generously shared much of her background material. Photographs and accounts from people who knew him filled in many of the blanks. There was a video in particular from Zoo Atlanta – of Ivan stepping out onto grass for possibly the first time since his capture. It was a brief moment but in it I could see his expression and what he might have been feeling – confusion, mistrust and fear, but ultimately trust and hope because he took that second step. 

What do you hope young readers take away from Ivan’s story? What did you take away from it? 

G. Brian Karas: The power of empathy.

Hope that we as people can understand and respect how all living things are interconnected, and that we can set things right.

Please complete these sentence starters. 

School libraries are where dreams are born.

Reading is joy, fun, a connection, a sanctuary, liberation, human beings’ greatest achievement (I could go on and on) …

Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate
is a gift to us all.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what the “G.” stands for (everyone asks me that).

Thank you, G. Brian Karas! :) 

I am giving away a copy of Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 10/7 to 11:59 p.m. on 10/9. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

Mr. Colby Sharp interviewed the one and only Katherine Applegate. 

"I've been lucky enough to visit classrooms with Katherine, so we have both seen how eager kids are to know about the real Ivan. When THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN won the Newbery, we knew the book would live forever—and that meant a lot of readers were going to want to know the facts of Ivan’s life. " - Anne Hoppe | Click here to read the full post. 

Borrow Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla from your school or public library Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


  1. Looking forward to reading this. I'm sure it's just as poignant and beautifully-written as her novel.

  2. Ivan's story continues to captivate and enrich us all. A new, younger audience will finally get to hear his remarkable story. Thanks Mr. Schu for being Ivan's champion!

  3. Love, love, love both of Katherine Applegate's books on Ivan. It's great to have a non-fiction book to complement the fiction book. My students love it. I have my last years students coming in just to read it at recess!