Ivan the gorilla passed away more than three years ago. But the legacy of this famous primate who lived for 27 years in Tacoma’s B&I mall lives on — in the form of a Newbery-award-winning novel, and some Tacoma teens whose movie of the book brings its author here Tuesday.
Katherine Applegate, author of a novel aimed at middle-schoolers, “The One and Only Ivan,” will speak about and sign her book at the Tacoma Public Library, enticed here by a connection on Twitter and a short film made by a group of Tacoma teens as part of the library’s 2014 90 Second Newbery Film Festival.
“It’s very humbling as a writer” to have kids make a film of her book, said Applegate in a phone interview. “You work in such a vacuum, and for kids to put such a lot of work into it — it’s very flattering.”
Applegate, who heard about Ivan the gorilla in a New York Times story years ago, published “The One and Only Ivan” in 2011, weaving Ivan’s story with that of two other gorillas kept in captivity. The author of “Crenshaw,” “Home of the Brave” and the hugely popular “Animorphs” series paid a visit to Tacoma to see the mall where the African silverback, originally a family pet, spent most of his adult life in a cage before finally being “freed” to the Woodland Zoo, then Zoo Atlanta. She also corresponded with Tacoma librarians as she combed through the library’s photo and newspaper archives.
Ivan the gorilla lived from 1967 to 1994 inside Tacoma’s B&I Circus Store. He died at 50 years of age in 2012 at the Atlanta Zoo, where he was moved in 1994.
In 2013 “The One and Only Ivan” won the Newbery Award, lodging itself deeply into the hearts of children, teachers and families across the country as a story of resilience and friendship, and a gorilla who felt as much human as animal. By that time the original Ivan had died, and Applegate went to his memorial service, one filled with letters and flowers from Ivan fans.
But this time last year, six Tacoma teens offered a different kind of fan appreciation: a short movie made in the Minecraft computer game, retelling the novel in just a couple of minutes. It was part of the library’s annual 90-second festival, an event that happens in a number of cities that encourages kids not just to read literature but reimagine it as a film.
In “Ivan 4 Realuh,” Ivan, his dog friend Stella and new elephant friend Ruby (whom he saves from captivity by his artwork) make their way through a blocky Minecraft landscape, spiced up by 360-degree spins and voiced by various members of the group: Duncan and Sebastian Killon, Zavier Lindsay, Louise and Jaek Andersen, and Tank Brown voicing Ivan.
The group made the movie in the library’s StoryLab, a tech room for teens funded by grants and giving free access to computers, sound and camera equipment, editing software and more.
Applegate heard about the film on Twitter, where she spends a lot of time talking and sharing with fans. It definitely wasn’t the only “Ivan” Newbery film or book trailer out there, but it was the first she’d seen made in Minecraft.
“I was struck by the innovation,” she says. “This was really creative. I was smiling throughout, saying ‘Wow!’ ”
And as a parent whose own son had been deep into the game, she appreciated the skill involved.
Applegate tweeted back, complimenting the group, and the library responded, inviting her to come to Tacoma. She accepted.
Stopping in Tacoma on a three-day Seattle-Tacoma tour, she’ll talk about the real Ivan, the process of writing, the interaction she’d had with Ivan’s keeper at the Atlanta Zoo and what it was like to write in the first person as a gorilla.
“I love animals, but this was new,” she said.
She’ll sign books, which will be available for purchase at the event. And of course she’ll meet the Tacoma filmmakers of “Ivan 4 Realuh.”
“I love the way kids take a piece of literature and run with it, make it their own,” she says.
For Applegate, the biggest thing kids get out of “The One and Only Ivan” — apart from its basis in a true story — is the concept of friendship and helping others.
“Kids that age, middle school, are starting to think about the world and their place in it,” she explains. “It gets them thinking about changes they might make to the world.”
Katherine Applegate author talk and signing
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday. Doors open 6:30 p.m.
Where: Olympic Room, Tacoma Public Library Main Branch, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma.
Watch the video: youtube.com/watch?v=wjbsy02V7kc
Also: The Tacoma screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival will be 3-5 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Tacoma Public Library main branch. Reception 2:15 p.m.