G is for Gorilla


“Hannah loved gorillas. She read books about gorillas, she watched gorillas on the television, and she drew pictures of gorillas. But she had never seen a real gorilla.”

There are many amazing picture and chapter books about gorillas.  The best picture books are by Anthony Browne.  Browne’s books are works of art.  His illustrations are detailed, engaging, surreal, thought provoking. Family dynamics, loneliness, longing and pure flights of imagination encourage you to read his books again and again.  Browne’s illustrations tell one story, his words another.  In the study Children Reading Pictures, a seven year old boy describes this perfectly:

E (aged 7): I really love his books (Browne).
I (interviewer): I want to know why you say that.
E: Well he doesn’t just say, ‘I’ll write a story’…he actually thinks about it.  Or he plans it ahead and then he does really good pictures and the pictures tell a different story, the same story only in a different way.

In his autobiography Playing the Shape Game, Browne explains ‘Gorillas are immensely powerful creatures and can be terrifyingly aggressive when they want to be, but they also have a gentle side which they express by grooming each other, showing affection and caring for their families’.

Anthony Browne’s first book about gorillas is simply titled Gorilla. Look at the girl reading her book, see her shadow?  Here is a lonely girl longing to see a real gorilla but her dad is too busy to take her to the zoo. Overnight her toy gorilla transforms itself into a father-figure and takes her to see the primates. The story ends with Hannah being taken to the zoo by her father.  Gorilla was published in 1983 and won the Kurt Maschler Award, Boston Globe Horn Book Award, Netherlands Silver Pencil Award and the Kate Greenaway Medal.  It is still available to buy.


‘They went straight to the primates.  Hannah was thrilled.  So many gorillas!’


“The gorilla took Hannah to see the orang-utan, and a chimpanzee.  She thought they were beautiful. But sad.”

For teaching ideas using Gorilla by Anthony Browne visit: http://www.teachingideas.co.uk/library/books/gorilla

On the Penguin Random House website, Anthony Browne is called the ‘primo primate artist’.  One Gorilla: A Counting Book contains the most exquisite primate portraits.  The personality of each animal shines through from the grandfatherly gorilla to the grumpy gibbon.  He even includes his own self-portrait.

“The key to the book’s impact lies in the dignity of a portrait sitting that Browne confers on creatures more commonly seen behind glass walls.
Every face has a discernible personality. Even the lemurs are distinct individuals, with variations in snouts, eyes, and ears.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“It is difficult – possibly impossible – to remember a recent counting book that has clambered up out of the slough of “useful” into the rarefied strata of “stunning” and “memorable.” Hats off to Anthony Browne for creating ONE GORILLA…
This picture books invites the very youngest to gaze into the luminous eyes of their primate cousins and see a spirit as intense, as intricate and as important as their own.”
-Washington Post

One of my favourite Anthony Browne books is Little Beauty inspired by the true story of Koko the gorilla who was taught to sign and asked for a kitten.  I like to read Koko’s Kitten by Francine Patterson to the children.  They find the stories fascinating.  Wanting a friend, playing, caring, anger and sadness are all topics we can discuss as well as fact versus fiction.

Watch the video of the real Koko as she chooses her kitten.

A lesson plan with worksheets for Little Beauty can be found on the British Council website.





Anthony Browne  was the UK’s Children’s Laureate from 2009-2011.  His website is http://www.anthonybrownebooks.com  and includes a gallery, videos of him at work and activities for children.




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