September 24 – World Gorilla Day

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 2017, the same year that the Karisoke Research Center, operated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, celebrated its 50th anniversary, World Gorilla Day encourages people around the globe to honor these majestic beasts and take action to help protect them in the wild. An annual fund-raising initiative, “Gorillas on the Line…Answer the Call,” works with zoos, aquariums, schools, and other organizations to raise funds by collecting cell phones for recycling. To learn more about World Gorilla Day and ways that you can get involved or even adopt a gorilla, visit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International website.

The Boy and the Gorilla

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Cindy Derby

 

The sun casts long shadows as a little boy, his father, and a few mourners walk away from the cemetery. In the background a gorilla, strong and watchful, knows he’s needed. At home, the boy and his father sit on the sofa, aware of the family and friends gathered, but separated by grief. The gorilla waits silently nearby, filling some of the empty space. Escaping into the backyard, the boy kneels in his mother’s garden to pick a tomato. Now that he is alone, the boy acknowledges the gorilla, who asks if he can help. “Okay,” the boy says.

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Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Here, to this friend of his heart, the boy can express his deep sadness as well as the questions he has about death. “My mom died,” he says. Gently holding one and picking up another tomato, the gorilla answers, “I know.” As some of the routines of life return, the boy and his dad are separated by their individual thoughts and the tasks that need to be done. But the boy works through his questions about whether all people die, where his mom went, and if she can “come back home” with the gorilla. To each question, the gorilla offers honest answers as well as comfort. His mom won’t come home, the gorilla explains, “But she’s always with you.”

When the boy misses the things he and his mom did together, the gorilla quietly suggests that his dad might do them too. The gorilla reassures the boy when he needs to be alone or look for his mother in out of the way places. Finally, the boy asks the question that tugs at his mind: “Why did she have to die?” The gorilla acknowledges his pain, saying “It hurts not to be able to be with someone we love.” When the boy wonders when he’ll feel better, the wise gorilla says, “When you know she’s still with you.”

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Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The boy is ready to see his mom in their shared activities, like baseball, baking, and gardening. Each of these are gifts from his mother that will stay with him forever, the gorilla reminds him. That day, the boy goes to find his father and tell him the feeling he’s been carrying: “I miss Mom.” His dad takes him in his arms and they share their grief. The gorilla embraces them with love and understanding. The boy and his dad sit together looking at photographs and talking about Mom. The gorilla watches them from across the room. Later, they plant new flowers together, and then as the sun sets and the gorilla ambles away across empty fields, the boy and his dad walk back to the house, hand in hand.

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Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

In her emotionally resonant story, Jackie Azúa Kramer gives adults a poignant way to talk with children—and readers of any age—about the feelings of sadness, confusion, and loss that fill their hearts and days after someone they love passes away. Beginning with general questions that children have about death, Azúa Kramer offers honest answers or acknowledgements that “no one knows” the answers. She then leads readers to ways they can accept a loved-one’s death and find comfort in memories, discover the constancy of their love in shared activities, and reach out to others. Told entirely in dialogue between the boy and the gorilla and, later, between the boy and his father, the story feels as personal as an embrace, allowing a grieving child to identify with it without any distancing. Beautifully paced, the story ends with a sense of acceptance, hope, and renewal.

Cindy Derby’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations will stir readers’ hearts with her touching depictions of the little boy and his father, both struggling in the wake of the loss of their mother and wife. The gorilla, painted in shades of purple and gray, is a hulking, yet soft, presence, a representation of the magnitude of the boy’s sadness but his capacity to understand too. Derby incorporates fragility and strength into her images that reinforce the boy and father’s changing awareness: On the day of his mother’s funeral, the boy goes into the garden to pick tomatoes. The gentle care the gorilla takes in helping hold these tender fruit reflects his mindfulness of the boy’s vulnerability. At the park, the chains on the swing set, where the boy and gorilla come to terms with the fact that his mother will not come back, as well as the climber appear precariously brittle, yet they are both capable of holding great weight. And a single branch, no thicker than a twig, supports them as they talk about why the boy’s mother died.

Derby also evocatively portrays how the boy and his father are each processing their feelings independently as two-page spreads allow for the boy to appear on one page while his father is on the other. They gradually grow closer—appearing on the same page, but in different places or rooms. When the little boy courageously approaches his dad, their reunion is moving, and to see them sitting next to each other after the page turn is uplifting and affirming. Derby’s use of color, especially touches of red, adds metaphorical depth to the story, and children will want to watch for the little red bird that seems to watch over this family from page to page, until the boy and his father reconnect and move forward.

For any child who has suffered a loss or knows a friend who has, or for families looking for a way to discuss death and the process of grieving, The Boy and the Gorilla is a must. The book also belongs in every school and public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-0763698324

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cindy Derby, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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You can find The Boy and the Gorilla at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Picture Book Review

September 10 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

You’ve heard the saying “Too Many Books, Too Little Time,” right? Well, this truism has spawned not only one, but two Read a New Book Month celebrations! Both September and December have been designated as times to make special plans to search out and read new books. These can be books that are newly published or books that are new to you. And if you find yourself putting a few old favorites in the pile, that’s okay too! It’s also never too early to think about adding books to those upcoming holiday gift lists!

By Jakkie Licare

Outside In

Written by Deborah Underwood | Illustrated by Cindy Derby

 

“Once we were part of Outside and Outside was part of us. There was nothing between us,” the narrator reminds readers.Once we walked through a forest to get somewhere else, but now? A little girl sits strapped into her family’s car as they quickly pass through the forest. She’s concentrating on the toy in her lap, too busy to enjoy the outdoors through the window. She and her mother move directly from the car to the house, unaware of the vibrant colors and wildlife close by.

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Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Deborah Underwood, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Luckily, nature sends her lots of reminders. As she ties her shoe, a hummingbird hovers at the glass doors. If she’d turn from her homework, she’d see the beauty of the outdoors through her window or maybe catch a peek of the caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly. Nature also sends shadows to sneak along her walls and floors, begging for her to come out and play. Birds call out to her with their songs, while flowers perfume the air enticing her to come out. 

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Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Deborah Underwood, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

“Outside feeds us,” the narrator says. “Sun, rain, and seeds become warm bread and berries.” She wears what was  “…once puffs of cotton” to keep warm and sits in a chair that was “once trees.” Even her pet’s fur and warmth remind her of the importance of the outdoors. The outdoors keeps time for her, reminding her when to sleep and when to wake up.

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Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Deborah Underwood, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

The outdoors sneaks inside her house as small bugs seek refuge and food and remind the girl to enjoy the outdoors. Even rivers rush into the house through pipes and return to their deep depths. When she considers going leaving her house, Outside holds its breath and celebrates as she joins in.

The end pages are filled with beautiful wispy images of trees and birds in green paint.

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Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Deborah Underwood, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Deborah Underwood’s evocative story reminds readers that nature is always calling us to come out and play, to appreciate and relish its marvels. The idea that the sun’s shadows, birds’ calls, and even intrusive bugs are all nature’s sneaky way of trying to grab our attention is unique. Underwood’s gentle tone and lyrical writing allow the reader to contemplate their own interactions with nature and her invitation. Thoughtful and emotionally resonant, Outside In is a beautiful story of how nature wishes to be a child’s favorite playmate. 

Cindy Derby brings the outdoors inside this book with her use of thread soaked in ink, watercolors, and powder graphite. Derby plays with perspective, giving children a new view of how they fit into the world. In the beginning of the book, from a bird’s eye perspective, we see a small car driving through an immense forest. Then on the next page, we are inside the car and can only see a tiny bit of the forest through the car’s window, but even this glimpse goes unnoticed by the young passenger. The girl’s home, it seems, is made almost entirely of glass, and yet, as readers see, the girl and her mother are nearly always shown with their heads down, preoccupied with homework, the computer, baking, and just hanging out—bored.

In Derby’s lush, sun-dappled illustrations, children can also see the wild and vibrant trees, animals, birds, and insects that all keep vigil, willing and waiting for the little girl to come out. In contrast to these exquisite images, Derby paints the car and surrounding houses in dull washed-out tones; the mother too is portrayed in gray while the girl wears a bright red sweater. When the girl does finally notice the view from her window, readers will be enveloped in the same sense of freedom and wonder as the little girl as she steps outside with her head held high and her eyes on the fiery sunset that mirrors the colors in her sweater.

A stirring celebration of the wonders of nature and an exhilarating reminder of the joys that being outside brings, Outside In is a must-have for all bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 7

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1328866820

Discover more about Deborah Underwood and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cindy Derby, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Nature Hike Scavenger Hike 

 

Take a nature hike and collect the items on this printable sheet. When you get home, use the item to

Nature Hike Scavenger Hike Sheet

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You can find Outside In at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review