Priscilla Gorilla by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley (9781481458979, Amazon)
The bestselling duo behind the Miss Brooks books returns with a new book. Priscilla loves gorillas, mostly because they get to do whatever they want. She acts like them and dances like them. She loves to wear her gorilla costume all the time, particularly at school. But because she acts like a gorilla, her teacher puts her in the Thinking Corner sometimes. As Priscilla starts to be seen as a troublemaker, other children join her in the Thinking Corner in their own costumes. But perhaps it’s not being really gorilla-like to be so troublesome, since gorillas are also known for cooperating together. Can Priscilla figure out how to be true to her own inner gorilla even if it means cooperating?
Bottner has such a way with capturing the spirit of childhood on the page. Priscilla speaks for all children as she struggles to navigate the lines between being troublesome, being an individual, and cooperating with others. Bottner writes in an engaging way, allowing the story to unwind at a natural pace that keeps readers caught up in the story. The book ends with Priscilla’s class visiting the zoo and the book beautifully comes full circle as cooperation merges with gorilla dancing.
Emberley’s illustrations are superb. He depicts all of the children in their animal costumes with a wry sense of humor, plushness, bent tails and wrinkles. One wants to crawl into a costume and join the fun. The depiction of Priscilla’s parents and teacher are also cleverly done, showing parents who are allowing their daughter to figure things out but also giving a gentle gorilla nudge in the right direction.
Funny and smart, I’m bananas about this picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
Look! by Jeff Mack (InfoSoup)
A little boy won’t look away from the TV even with a very active gorilla in the room. The gorilla tries wearing books as a hat and then starts balancing them on his nose. The little boy just pushes him to the side. The gorilla ties to balance on three books set end to end, managing to knock the TV over. The boy kicks him out of the room. But the gorilla returns juggling books and riding a tricycle. When he falls over, the TV is broken and smoking on the floor. The boy is furious and kicks the gorilla out. But then a book captures his attention and soon the two are looking at stories together.
Told in just two words, Mack masterfully takes those two words and makes them work in a variety of ways. “Look” and “out” pair up over and over again, creating moments where the gorilla is demanding the boy look, times when the boy throws the gorilla out the door, and other times when disaster is about to happen. It’s a clever use of just the pair of words and the concept really works well.
The art is particularly interesting. The gorilla is a puff of watercolor where his fur is almost touchable on the page. The backgrounds of some of the pages are book covers, used both subtly and to strong effect. The page where the boy is truly angry is filled with ripped paper and jagged edges.
A celebration of books and words, this simple picture book will have new readers and young listeners alike enjoying the interplay of the two characters. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel Books.
Betty Goes Bananas by Steve Antony
Released December 23, 2014.
Betty is a gorilla and being a gorilla, she loves bananas. So when she finds one on the ground, she wants to eat it so much. But she can’t open it, even with her teeth, or her feet! So what is a little gorilla to do? Well, Betty throws a fit and cries and screams. Then she calms down and Mr. Toucan tells her that there is no need to act like that, he will show her how to peel the banana. And he does. But Betty had wanted to peel it herself. And she starts once again to cry and scream and kick. Mr. Toucan stays and waits for her to calm down again, telling her that she can peel the next banana she finds. Betty is happy and is about to finally eat the banana. When it breaks. And I bet you can guess what she does next!
This is a rather merry book about the strong emotions that come with being a toddler. Betty is a jolly little gorilla until she is disappointed, something that children and adults alike will recognize immediately. The addition of Mr. Toucan as an adult figure works well here, and I appreciate that he allows Betty to calm down before simply telling her that there is no need for her to act that way. The entire book is filled with humor, from the splendid temper tantrums that have a rhythm and repetition all their own, to the believability of the various things that set Betty off. It’s well paced and nicely timed with gorgeous pauses built in before the tantrums.
Antony’s art adds much to the appeal of the book. The bulk of the book is done with sunshine yellow backgrounds, while the tantrum sections are a bright red. Little Betty does actually throw herself on the ground, kick her feet and scream! Her emotions are clear and young readers will enjoy seeing her throw her tantrums and recover too.
Dynamic, funny and oh so appropriate for toddlers, this picture book will be enjoyed by those who throw tantrums as well as those who don’t. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.
A Mom for Umande by Maria Faulconer, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung
Based on a true story, this picture book tells of how a baby gorilla found a mother of his own. When Umande was born, his mother didn’t know how to care for him. So the keepers of the zoo had to step in and help, taking care of his infant needs and later showing him to to play and eat as a young gorilla. After he was 8 months old, the zoo moved Umande to a different zoo across the country where Lulu, an experienced gorilla mother was waiting for him. They were slowly introduced to one another, but soon enough they were a pair. Umande had found his mother!
This story of a baby gorilla makes a wonderful picture book. Faulconer uses just enough detail about the zoo staff and the efforts they took to raise baby Umande to make it fascinating. She keeps the pace brisk and the story moving forward, making it just the right length for young readers to enjoy. The text also reads aloud well, and this would be a nice addition to story times about mothers.
Hartung’s art captures the charm of gorillas on the page. Even though Umande’s real mother didn’t know how to care for him, the art is carefully done to show that the gorillas are more baffled than mean or careless. The cautious approach of the new mother gorilla and Umande as they are introduced is portrayed in a touching way on the page as is the final connection of the two gorillas.
This book is sure to speak to adoptive families as well as fans of gorillas and zoos. It is a great pick for story times on any of these subjects. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OHora
Everyone has temper tantrums, but you haven’t seen a tantrum until it is one thrown by a huge blue gorilla. Nilson has tantrums over even the smallest of things like putting on shoes, his block castle being knocked over, or other people having bananas. Amelia tries to keep him calm with treats like banana pancakes and holding her frog purse. But Nilson still has fits. Amelia though is calm throughout, always acting kindly. That all changes though when the ice cream vendor runs out of banana flavor!
This picture book nicely captures tantrums and children, offering a welcome bit of humor for children and parents going through this phase. By using Nilson as the one who loses his control, the book nicely distances the tantrums from the child reader. It also adds a wonderful sense of fun to the entire read. The ending of the book is particularly satisfying as Amelia finally loses her cool and the truth of who Nilson is really is revealed.
OHora’s art is modern, filled with bright colors and black lines. Somehow it has a feel of wood cuts, but with freer lines. The friendship of these two characters is lovingly shown in the images, then beautifully shattered with the tantrums too.
An engaging and funny look at tantrums and anger, this book will neatly fit into any story time on anger. It is also one that is a perfect bedtime read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
Released June 11, 2013.
Explore three of the greatest primatologists of the 20th century in this graphic novel. The book begins with the story of Jane Goodall and how she was recruited by the famous anthropologist Lous Leakey to research chimpanzees. It shows how she first learned to quietly watch the chimpanzees and be accepted by them as well as her own personal life as she lived in the jungle. When Dian Fossey is then recruited by Leakey, the story turns to her life and her very different personality as she researched gorillas using similar techniques to Goodall. The last woman recruited was Galdikas and she studied orangutans and had her own adventures as her research progressed. Told with humor but also immense respect, the stories of these three pioneering women show the importance of female scientists and the unique paths you can take to reaching your dreams.
Ottaviani writes in the voices of the three women, beautifully capturing their individuality through their words. The three are profoundly unique yet also amazingly similar in their bravery, dedication and resilience. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where the three of them were together and the ending which demonstrated how different they were from one another. It takes a lot of skill to write three women’s voices with such clarity that they are distinct and special.
The art by Wicks has a wonderful simplicity and also a playfulness that makes the book welcoming and light hearted. This is nonfiction that reluctant readers and young biologists alike will enjoy. The graphic format is compelling and given the nature of the research makes the entire experience more tangible for young readers.
A great graphic novel, this is a stellar pick for school libraries and public libraries that will have children learning about scientific history without even realizing it! Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Ivan is the gorilla that is part of the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. The big billboard outside the mall shows Ivan as a ferocious beast, but he’s really a very easygoing guy. He doesn’t remember anything about his life before he came to live with humans. He was raised in Mack’s house as long as he was little and cute, but when he got bigger he was put into his domain: a glassed-in room. He watches TV, lots of Westerns, and hangs out with his friends: an old elephant named Stella and a stray dog named Bob. He also does art, scribbles that Mack sells in the mall gift shop. Things change at the circus as money gets tighter until Mack purchases a baby elephant for the Big Top. Ruby has been taken from her family and is full of lots of questions. She makes Ivan look at his small, enclosed world more closely and inspires him to make promises that he will probably never be able to keep.
I read this book in one long gulp, unable to get Ivan and his tiny, limited world out of my head. The book is written from Ivan’s point of view, one that is distinctly gorilla and wonderfully familiar and foreign at the same time. Applegate manages to give us a taste of being animal while never imbuing Ivan with human sensibilities, yet he is entirely relatable for readers.
The use of art to bridge the language gap between humans and gorillas is equally effective. Ivan’s ruminations about art and how to capture taste and feel on paper is lovely. Ivan’s world may be small and enclosed, but through art and his relationships with others, it grows larger and larger.
This is a book that captivates. It is compelling readers, bubbling with humor, yet addresses issues that are deep and complex. It is a book that is memorable, rich and simply marvelous. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.