Anthony Browne ~ Alfred A. Knopf, 1983 

As some of you know, last year I began working for a university press housed in a university library, and one of my favorite things to do on my lunch break is peruse the children’s books section. And because it is a university library, most of the books are pretty old. It almost seems that they don’t buy children’s books anymore and haven’t since the 1980s. Anywho, school just let out for the summer, and the library has become suddenly empty, which makes for peaceful browsing whenever I get the chance. It was on one such recent perusal that I stumbled across this book.

Previously, I’d been anti anything 80s, preferring to stick to titles from that time period that I knew and loved as a child. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to appreciate the style of children’s literature in that era and see the beauty in the books, not just for their nostalgia factor. I love the drab cynicism of the one grownup shown here (so 80s) and how he’s the exact opposite of the main character.

Hannah loved gorillas. She read books about gorillas, she watched gorillas on television, and she drew pictures of gorillas. But she had never seen a real gorilla. Her father didn’t have time to take her to see one at the zoo. He didn’t have time for anything. He went to work every day before Hannah went to school, and in the evening he worked at home. When Hannah asked him a question, he would say, «Not now, I’m busy. Maybe tomorrow.»

In magical splendor, when the girl is gifted a toy gorilla, the beast grows in the night, and takes her to the zoo (where she laments the caged primates), takes her to the movies (to see Super Gorilla, of course), takes her for a wonderful meal (bananas), and for a dance on the lawn. It’s a fabulous night, and Hannah is sad but thankful when she wakes to find the gorilla just a toy again.

The end is a weeper, so I won’t give the surprise sweetness away. The illustrations are precise and fun to look at, and the story a total fairy tale. Just marvelous!

Sorry, I missed loving this book way back when.


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