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SEL with ALM: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Posted by Anna-Lisa Mackey, PATHS Program CEO on Aug 11, 2023 5:17:25 PM
Anna-Lisa Mackey, PATHS Program CEO

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is a really compelling read. But, if you are a movie buff, the book has also been made into a major motion picture starring Brian Cranston and the voices of Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Helen Mirren, and Danny DeVito! Not surprisingly, this book has won several awards, such as the Newbury Medal, and is a number one New York Time Bestseller. This book is an easy read, but don't let that fool you. It is emotional and thought-provoking and will spark good class discussions! 


Ivan is a silverback gorilla who lives in a shopping mall with his elephant friends, Stella and Ruby, and a little stray dog called Bob.

Ivan has difficulty remembering his past, but his friend Stella remembers everything. Ivan is also an artist and draws and paints. Some of his artwork is sold in the shopping mall. Unfortunately, sales are down at the mall, and the owner, Mack, buys a new baby elephant called Ruby.

Ruby is scared, unhappy, and traumatized when she arrives. Poachers have taken her from the wild and killed her family. Stella tries to take her under her wing but is sick and eventually dies. She makes Ivan promise that he will somehow save Ruby from the fate of living in the shopping mall for the rest of her life.

Ivan gets the brilliant idea to create a mural with his artwork, hoping it will draw attention to Ruby's plight.

The SEL themes of family, friendship, responsibility, dealing with death and loss, the rights of other living creatures, and our obligation to their safety and autonomy are addressed.

The interesting fact about this novel is that this story is based on a true story! Ivan was a Western Lowland Gorilla living in Tacoma, WA, in the B & I Circus Store. He was born in 1962 in the Congo and lived there for two years. He came to the United States in 1964 when Earl Leonard Irwin purchased him. Ivan and a female gorilla were purchased for $7500.

Ivan was raised by the pet store owner in the mall, Rubin Johnston, in his home as part of the family for three years. Unfortunately, as Ivan grew, he caused much damage to the Johnston home, and eventually, he was moved to an enclosure in the mall. Ivan became an avid painter, and given the option, he would choose his favorite color, red, every time.

The Irwin family donated Ivan to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle in 1994. Unfortunately, they did not have enough space for Ivan. That same year, he was permanently loaned to the Atlanta Zoo, where he spent the last 18 years of his life. Ivan lived a long life, passing away at the age of 50. This is the equivalent of a human living to celebrate their 100th birthday!

Socratic Seminar Questions

  • alm-blog-img-bookcover (1)There's an interesting quote at the beginning of the book " It's never too late to be what you might have been." - attributed to George Eliot.
    • What do you think this means?
  • Ivan says, "Humans speak too much. They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say." (.p.3)
    • What do you think Ivan means? Do you agree or not? Why?
  • He also says, " Gorillas are as patient as stones. Humans, not so much." (p.3)
    • What do you think Ivan means? 
  • "Anger is precious. A silverback uses anger to maintain order and warn his troops of danger. When my father beat his chest, it was to say, Beware, listen, I am in charge. I am angry to protect you, because that is what I was born to do." (p. 10).
    • How would you describe the purpose of anger in humans?
  • Ivan describes himself as an artist.
    • Do you think he is?
  • Ivan talks about his art and says that humans don't recognize what he has drawn, but he says, "That's all right. I'm not drawing for them, I'm drawing for me." (p. 17)
    • What does he mean by that? 

lessons that connect to the SEL themes in this book

Grade 6 

Unit 1

  • Lesson 8: Growth Mindset
  • Lesson 10: Decision Making
  • Lesson 12: Responsibility and Accountability

Unit 2

  • Lesson 1: Self-perception
  • Lesson 2: Optimism
  • Lesson 3: Grief
  • Lesson 9: Making and Maintaining Friendships

Unit 3

  • Lesson 1: Resilience
  • Lesson 5: Respect for Living Things
  • Lesson 9: Go for Your Goals
  • Lesson 12: Perseverance and Hope

Grade 7

Unit 1

  • Lesson 3: Strengths and weaknesses
  • Lesson 4: Confidence
  • Lesson 5: Flexible thinking

Unit 2

  • Lesson 1: Showing respect
  • Lesson 3: Advocacy
  • Lesson 12: Empathy

Unit 3 

  • Lesson 1: Dealing with Disappointment
  • Lesson 5: It's Ok to Fail
  • Lesson 6: Relationships
  • Lesson 7: Resilience
  • Lesson 9: Being Responsible

Grade 8

Unit 1

  • Lesson 2: Identifying Strengths and Interests
  • Lesson 4: Problem Solving
  • Lesson 7: Belonging and Rejection
  • Lesson 7: Getting your point across
  • Lesson 12: Kindness and Compassion

Unit 2

  • Lesson 7: Perspective Taking
  • Lesson 8: Relationships
  • Lesson 12: Loss

Unit 3

  • Lesson 2: Happiness
  • Lesson 11: Standing Up for Yourself
  • Lesson 12: Transitions

For the full Socratic Seminar for this novel and full lesson plans for the topics listed, please visit our website for more details on how to get Emozi for your classroom!

Dive deeper into SEL for adults and students in my new book, The Social Emotional Classroom: A New Way to Nurture Students and Understand the Brain.

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Topics: middle school, Emozi® Middle School, Anna-Lisa Mackey, M.Ed., SEL and Literature, Socratic Seminar