Why ‘One and Only Ivan’ author Katherine Applegate feels ‘more hopeful’ for the future

Katherine Applegate is ready for the world to meet “The One and Only Ivan.”

It was through the 1993 New York Times article “A Gorilla Sulks in a Mall as His Future is Debated” that the young adult and children’s fiction author learned about Ivan, a silverback gorilla who lived in a cage in a Tacoma shopping mall for nearly 30 years.

Applegate, who has written acclaimed books for generations of young readers (including the “Animorphs” series), wanted to share a version of Ivan’s story with the world.

“I truly wasn’t sure anybody would even read the book,” she says. “It seemed like such a stretch to imagine that young readers would want to read a story from the point of view of a gorilla. You know, ‘first-person gorilla’ is not that common in young people’s novels.”

Tuns out plenty of people wanted to know about Ivan: Applegate’s 2012 book: “The One and Only Ivan” went on to win the Newbery Medal and was followed by a sequel, “The One and Only Bob,” released in May.

The original book also inspired a new live-action Disney film of the same name. With its planned theatrical release called off as the COVID-19 pandemic closed theaters, “The One and Only Ivan.” will instead arrive via Disney+ (streaming Friday).

“I can’t think of a better film for these particularly trying times,”says Applegate. “It’s about compassion and in fact it’s about isolation. It’s about an animal who is taken from his natural environment and spends 27 years without others of his own kind. And so many of us right now are in a kind of isolated version of our former selves, so I think it will strike a chord at that level. But also just because it’s a very heartening movie. It’s about the very worst of humans, but also the very best of humans.”

“The One and Only Ivan” features Sam Rockwell as the voice of Ivan, with Ivan’s menagerie of fellow captive animals voiced by Danny DeVito, Angelina Jolie, Chaka Khan and Phillipa Soo. Bryan Cranston co-stars as Mack, the owner of the mall.

While “The One and Only Ivan” is first and foremost a family film starring talking animals with celebrity voices, it also carries a message about our connection to the natural world.

“We’re watching yet another great extinction unfold – this one caused by humans almost entirely,” she says. “(Kids are) desperately worried about climate change. They’re in touch with it in a way that I think our generation and other generations aren’t.

“I always feel more hopeful after I spend time with young readers because I see their energy and their imagination and their compassion.”

“Ivan” continues a theme that’s been found in Applegate’s work for decades: calling for empathy across species and asking humans to view the world through eyes other than their own.

“The magic of being able to write novels is we are able to take readers to new places,” says Applegate. “You basically have the capacity, when you read a good story, to become someone else.

“For me, that often seems to tie into the natural world or to people who are struggling in unique and difficult ways, people who kind of get lost in the cracks sometimes. And there are a lot of stories there, unfortunately, that need to be told.”

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