The Boy and the Gorilla
Jackie Azúa Kramer, Author
Cindy Derby, Illustrator
Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 13, 2020
Suitable for ages: 4-8
Themes: Loss, Grief, Hurt, Loneliness, Anger, Imaginary friend
On the day of his mother’s funeral, a young boy conjures the very visitor he needs to see: a gorilla. Wise and gentle, the gorilla stays on to answer the heart-heavy questions the boy hesitates to ask his father: Where did his mother go? Will she come back home? Will we all die? Yet with the gorilla’s friendship, the boy slowly begins to discover moments of comfort in tending flowers, playing catch, flying a kite, climbing trees and walking along the beach. Most of all, the gorilla knows that it helps to simply talk about the loss—especially with those who share your grief and who may feel alone, too.
Author Jackie Azúa Kramer’s quietly thoughtful text and illustrator Cindy Derby’s beautiful impressionistic artwork depict how this tender relationship leads the boy to open up to his father and find a path forward. Told entirely in dialogue, this direct and deeply affecting picture book will inspire conversations about grief, empathy, and healing beyond the final hope-filled scene.
This profoundly moving tale about a grieving boy and an imaginary gorilla makes real the power of talking about loss.
Why I like this book:
A deeply sensitive story about a grieving boy who asks his imaginary gorilla friend questions about his mother’s death. The gorilla is reassuring and helps the boy deal with big emotions. Grief is tricky and the gorilla’s presence makes it possible for the boy to approach his grieving father. Together they begin to share memories and start the healing process.
The first four pages of the story are wordless, allowing Cindy Derby to set the somber tone of the boy’s grief with her moving and breathtaking watercolors. The opening pages are intimate and contemplative. Jackie Azúa Kramer’s simple text and Derby’s artwork don’t hurry you along — they provide time and space to study what’s happening and gives children the opportunity to ask questions. As the story progresses, the artwork appears more luminous and hopeful.
This is a timely book and beautiful book during this time of COVID. It is a book that would be a wonderful gift to families dealing with loss.
Resources: The book alone is a wonderful resource for families. It opens the doors for families to work at healing together. Encourage your child to make a memory box filled with things that remind them of the person they miss.
Jackie Azúa Kramer is the author of The Green Umbrella and If You Want to Fall Asleep. She was previously an actress, singer, and school counselor. She lives with her family on Long Island, New York.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.
*Review copy provided by Candlewick in exchange for a review.