Name of Book: Little Gorilla
Author: Ruth Bornstein
Illustrator: Ruth Bornstein
Publisher: The Seabury Press
Audience: Ages 2-4
Summary: Little Gorilla is small and fuzzy and utterly adorable, as all babies are. His parents and extended family love him, and so do all the animals in the forest, from Pink Butterfly to Big Boa Constrictor. Everyone who comes in contact with Little Gorilla loves him, even when he mischievously pulls their tails or haughtily demands bananas from the farthest trees. Then one day Little Gorilla begins to grow. His forest friends watch anxiously as a transformation occurs offstage. Finally, a marvelous two-page spread shows a BIG Little Gorilla with a worried expression on his face. What will his family and friends think of this major change? The youngest of listeners will surely sigh with relief as Little Gorilla’s family and friends bring him a birthday cake and sing to him. Best of all, “Everybody still loved him.”
Literary elements at work in the story: At a bare one hundred thirty-three words, the plot of this story is about as minimalist as it gets: a baby comes into a family, grows up, and is still a beloved part of that family. Within this simple storyline, however, Bornstein’s characters come to life with animated expressions and easily understandable situations. The underlying theme of unconditional love carries the story through to its conclusion.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The fact that Bornstein has set her story in a brilliant jungle with a furry baby gorilla as its protagonist helps to make this book about Everychild, as opposed to any specific nationality in any precise time and place. Little Gorilla comes from a nuclear family with one mother and one father, both of whom interact with him tenderly and joyfully. However, aside from his grandparents and aunts and uncles, Little Gorilla’s tribe is made up of many unrelated animals, all of whom love and protect him.
Theological conversation partners: The first pages of this story echo the rhythms of Genesis. The baby gorilla comes into the world, and everyone loves him. Just as God said, “It is good,” Little Gorilla’s family and friends respond in love to his very presence. This may be a nearly perfect story about Grace. Little Gorilla’s family and friends love him just because he IS, and even when he grows up and is no longer the cute infant with whom they first fell in love, they love him still. This love echoes God’s love for humans – “not the result of works … For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Eph. 2:8-10) This story would also be a lovely companion to discussions about the promises we make at a child’s baptism. We, the child’s extended tribe, will love him and raise him to understand himself as a beloved child of God.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Why do you think that Little Gorilla’s mother and father loved him?
- Why do you think that all the animals in the forest loved Little Gorilla?
- What happened to Little Gorilla after he grew and grew and grw?
- What do you think that your family thought of you when you were a baby?
- And what about now?
- How do you think that God felt about us when we were babies?
- Now that we are not babies anymore, do you think that God still loves us?
- Do you think God loves us when we make mistakes?
- What do you think it would feel like to see people the way God sees them?
This review was prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Beth Lyon-Suhring.