Top 100 Picture Books #40: Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
#40 Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (1994)
This book provides so many moments of glee: the gorilla unlocking the various cages, the animals following the zookeeper into his house, the darkness being filled with a chorus of “good nights”…this is one of those books that appeals to 6-month-olds and three-year-olds alike (and probably older, too, but we only know up to 3 1/2!). – Amy Johnson
Are you surprised? I was. A little. In this kind of list you expect the top books to be made up of the old old classics. Your Blueberries for Sal or your Millions of Cats. But this intrepid little 1994 upstart not only managed to get into the Top 100, it make it to the Top 50. I call that chutzpah.
Children’s Literature described the plot as, “In this nearly wordless book young children will have a good laugh as they watch the zookeeper making his rounds and wishing the animals all goodnight. The clever gorilla has swiped the zookeeper’s keys and as he visits each cage, he opens it and lets the animal out. As the keeper heads for home, the animals all follow along and join him and his wife for a good night’s sleep. Or so it seems until the zookeeper’s wife realizes that something has gone wrong when she hears a chorus of goodnights. She takes the animals back to the zoo, but our crafty gorilla is not one to be outdone.”
Every year the American booksellers pronounce their Cuffie Awards in categories of every shape and form. Kudos to them then for giving Good Night, Gorilla the 1994 Cuffie for “Most Likely to Succeed in Years Ahead”. Now THAT is foresight.
Good Night, Gorilla began its life as a picture book, but as the years have gone by it has seen quite a lot of popularity in its board book form. Good Night, Gorilla has adapted to the board book format beautifully, in that it is virtually wordless and its pictures are bright enough and colorful enough to stand out on those thick little pages. Indeed in Roger Sutton and Martha Parravano’s A Family of Readers: The Book Lover’s Guide to Children’s and Young Adult Literature, Martha holds up this book as one of the few very fine picture book to board book transformations. As she says, “Peggy Rathmann’s Good Night, Gorilla makes the transition with great success. (Note how the cover makes an immediate connection between the mischievous gorilla and the child audience – an irresistible invitation to young readers.)”
In the biography portion of her website, we learn that Ms. Rathmann began life in Minnesota and eventually went to the University of Minnesota where she changed her major several times. “I wanted to teach sign language to gorillas, but after taking a class in signing, I realized what I’d rather do was draw pictures of gorillas.” About this book in particular the site has this to say:
“A homework assignment produced an almost wordless story, Good Night, Gorilla, inspired by a childhood memory. ‘When I was little, the highlight of the summer was running barefoot through the grass, in the dark, screaming. We played Kick-the-Can, and Three-Times-Around-the-House, and sometimes we just stood staring into other people’s picture windows, wondering what it would be like to go home to someone else’s house.’
That story, however, was only nineteen pages long, and everyone agreed that the ending was a dud. Two years and ten endings later, Good Night, Gorilla was published and recognized as an ALA Notable Children’s Book for 1994.”
- The award for Best Blog Post About This Book EVER goes to this one from Beta Dad: From Discipline Blockade to Panopticon: Foucault and Good Night, Gorilla. Apparently he does this a lot.
Publishers Weekly said of it, “Universally understandable subject matter and a narrative conveyed almost entirely through pictures mark this as an ideal title for beginners . . . Some details prove questionable (for example, one overdrawn visage of Mrs. Zookeeper seems blurry, particularly because she’s rendered with a few simple lines elsewhere), yet these considerations take a back seat to Rathmann’s comic exuberance.”
Horn Book’s starred review said of it, “The many amusing, small details…as well as the tranquil tone of the story make this an outstanding picture book.”
Kirkus also gave it a star saying, “The amiable cartoon characters, vibrant palette, and affectionate tone of the author’s art recall Thatcher Hurd’s cheerful illustrations. Delightful.”
School Library Journal’s starred review called it, “A clever, comforting bedtime story.”
And Booklist said, “Jaunty four-color artwork carries the story and offers more with every look.”
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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