The One and Only Ruby by Katherine Applegate (HarperCollins, May 2023) is the third in the series that started with The One and Only Ivan (based on a true story) and continue with The One and Only Bob. (My kids and I listened to the audio of Bob last year, fantastically narrated by Danny DeVito, but I unfortunately did not review it on this blog.) Now Ruby the elephant gets a chance to tell her story. The three friends (Ivan, Bob, and Ruby) are now safe in a conservation park, but Ruby still feels unease, especially now as her tusks are coming in.
With this story frame, the author gives Ruby a chance to tell her friends her story. As can be expected, a baby elephant taken from Africa leads to a troubled elephant childhood. A common adage is “elephants never forget,” and Applegate takes that in stride, with Ruby telling her friends her story, beginning the moments after she was born. Ruby’s early weeks of life were shaped by tragedy. First, a severe drought lead to dangerous thirst for all the elephants. Then, Ruby and her weakened mother were separated from the herd. Ultimately, Ruby watched her mother be shot by poachers and she heard them take her tusks.
But Ruby’s sad story is also interspersed with hopeful kindness from some other humans, as she is both rescued from a mud pit by a village, as well as nurtured by a loving keeper in an elephant “orphanage.” The reader knows that Ruby has more sadness ahead, including being stolen from Africa, sent to America, sold to a circus, and then eventually sold to the mall (where she met Ivan and Bob). But with Ruby’s loving new “herd” at the conservation park, and with support from Ivan and Bob, in the end, Ruby can face “growing up” with confidence that she will be safe and always supported by her elephant “aunts.”
This strong sense of friendship and support gives the book has an overall hopeful feeling, even though I certainly was moved and angry at the sad parts of Ruby’s story. While reading this, I found myself wishing we could know that her story was based on a true story, as was Ivan, so that I knew there is hope for elephants today. As the end notes make clear, so many elephants are going through these kinds of tragedy even today. This is still a real issue. Readers will finish reading The One and Only Ruby with the desire to help conserve elephants in order to avoid sad stories like this in the future.
I read a digital review copy of The One and Only Ruby.