Anthony Browne, the acclaimed British author-illustrator and Hans Christian Andersen Medalist, and I have something in common: We’re both fascinated by monkeys—especially, gorillas. For me, there’s something melancholy and mesmerizing about their near human faces; I can’t help but wonder what is going on behind those sad brown eyes. So it’s no wonder that I’m a great admirer of Browne’s picture books, many of which feature gorillas and chimps. The fine details and expressions on his primates’ faces are breathtaking, and there is always so much to discover in his beautiful illustrations.
I first fell in love with Browne’s work after seeing and reading Gorilla, a poignant yet ultimately uplifting story about Hannah, a lonely girl who’s crazy about gorillas. Her father is too busy to take her to the zoo to see a real one. Instead, for her birthday, he buys her a toy gorilla and she is deeply disappointed. But that night, something marvelous happens: The toy gorilla comes alive and he takes Hannah on a series of adventures, including a nighttime visit to the zoo. As depicted by Browne, the bond between girl and gorilla is tender and loving. (And a lot healthier than that of King Kong and his gal pal!) It’s what every child dreams of in a magical companion. Sadly, except for a Spanish version, this book is currently out of print. But it’s definitely worth taking a look if you can find it in a library or locate a used copy.
Lucky for us, another of Browne’s books, Little Beauty, is still available in hardcover and has recently been released in a paperback version. Inspired by Koko, a real-life gorilla who is famous for using sign language and caring for pet cats, this is the story of an unnamed “very special gorilla who had been taught to use a sign language.” His human keepers make sure he has everything he wants, but he is sad. Something is missing from his life: He wants a friend. So one day, the keepers give the gorilla a pet kitten named Beauty, and it’s love at first sight. “They did everything together.” (Children will get a kick out of the picture of the giant gorilla and tiny kitty on their respective potties). Then one day, the gorilla gets upset after viewing a movie (in the illustration, you can see that they’re watching King Kong) and he does something bad—he breaks the TV in a fit of rage. (Kids will relate. What child hasn’t misbehaved out of anger?) Fearing for Beauty’s safety, the keepers are about to separate the two when the kitten does something surprising to save their relationship. This is a touching, heartwarming story about loyalty and friendship. After reading it, older children may want to find out more about the real Koko, who inspired the tale, and learn some sign language too.
Are you familiar with these books or others by Anthony Browne? Which would you recommend?