Anthony Browne has long been a favorite picture book author and illustrator of mine. Click here for a review of his 2012 book, How Do YOU Feel? that also includes a list of most of Browne's books and a mini-bio of his character Willy. If you know anything about Browne, you know that he frequently employs a surrealistic illustration style where gorillas and chimpanzees often stand in for humans. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Gorilla, which won the 1983 Kate Greenaway award, the equivalent of the Caldecott.
Browne's picture books often shine a light on the darker corners of childhood, from loneliness to anxiety to taking someone for granted. Retreating into imagination offers respite to Browne's characters, and there is always a loving connection at the end of his books. In Gorilla, we meet Hannah, who loves gorillas. She reads books about them, watches television shows about them and draws pictures of them - but she has never seen a real gorilla.
Hannah asks her father to take her to the zoo, but he is always either too busy or too tired. As her birthday nears, Hannah asks her father for a gorilla and wakes in the middle of the night to find a parcel at the foot of her bed - it is a toy gorilla. She throws it to the floor and goes back to sleep. As she does, the toy gorilla grows and grows and when Hannah wakes again he tells her not to be frightened, he just wondered if she'd like to go to the zoo.
On thing I especially love about Browne's books it the way that he bends reality, in his stories and illustrations. As Hannah and the gorilla head out the door to the zoo, we see that the gorilla is dressed just like Hannah's father. In the text, Browne never tells readers if the gorilla IS Hannah's father or if she is dreaming. We want Hannah's night with the gorilla, this loving, thoughtful attentive gorilla, to be real. We want the gorilla to be Hannah's father.
After a visit to the zoo, a trip to the movies and a feast at a restaurant, Hannah and the gorilla head home. They dance on the lawn and Hannah had "never been so happy." Nodding and smiling, the gorilla says, "See you tomorrow." And when Hannah wakes in the morning, her toy gorilla tucked in next to her.
Happy and no longer lonely now that she has a friend, Hannah's day gets even better when she wakes and her father asks if she would like to spend the day at the zoo.
Browne's books are often poignant, whether they are tinged with sadness or happiness, and they are utterly unforgettable. I hope that, on the 30th anniversary of the publication of Browne's Gorilla, the eighth book published in his long, distinguished career, there are more books to come from Anthony Browne.
Just in case you don't read my reviews of Browne's other books, here are a few that I highly recommend:
Source: Review Copy