Monday, August 27, 2007

The Gorilla Did It

Today I am highlighting another childhood favorite. The Gorilla Did It by Barbara Shook Hazen. It is illustrated by Ray Cruz. And it was published in 1974. On a personal note, this one was a gift from my great-grandmother. [It is always interesting to me to see which books are inscribed to which sister. My sister and I had one big bookshelf, of course, and shared everything. But it led to some interesting discussions--debates--when it came time to divide out everything. If there are still books with "To Elizabeth" in them, I'm not telling her now.] Books always make the best presents in my opinion. Nothing says love like a book.

The book opens with a young boy asleep in bed. He appears to be sucking his thumb--or at the very least cradling it up close to his mouth. His arms are also wrapped around a teddy bear. Turn the page, and the action begins. What do we see? We see a gorilla gently poking (or touching) the boy's head. Now the boy is WIDE awake. The boy tells the gorilla, "Shhh! Go away. I can't play. I'm sleeping." [Though I've never thought much into this before, the boy doesn't seem shocked to find a gorilla waking him up. He doesn't seem surprised at what he is seeing. So perhaps, just perhaps, this gorilla is a regular visitor.] The gorilla, of course, doesn't say a word. He just begins to play with a yo-yo. So the boy relents, and says, "Okay. But you've got to be quiet, or Mommy'll be mad." But as the two begin to play together in his room, the room gets messier and messier. One picture even shows them riding a tricycle together. But the fun can't last forever. When his mom comes to check on him--to make sure he's sleeping soundly and perhaps because he's been known to make mischief before--she discovers that he has been making quite a mess--a very big mess for just one person to make. So she of course asks the obvious question, "Who made this mess?" His response--which has become a classic at least round these parts--"The gorilla did it." Of course, the mother doesn't see the gorilla. And knows that her son is the one who made the mess. So, of course, there's a scolding. And his anger makes him scold the naughty gorilla who got him to make the mess. But soon the gorilla becomes a repentant gorilla and is ready to make amends by cleaning up the mess he's made. Soon the pair is ready to apologize and ask for cookies. The mother, of course, forgives once she hears the magic words of "I'm sorry."

The book's illustrations are black and white with some occasional color thrown in. For example, the gorilla--the star of the book--is a bluey-black color. Everyone else--everything else--is black and white. [Perhaps, the unnatural blueness of the gorilla is an indication of the fact that he's imaginary.]

As a child, I always thought this book was very funny. For one thing, who doesn't think it's funny to blame someone else for the mess in their room? As a child, I didn't even question the fact that this gorilla was *real.* I just assumed that he, of course, was real. It was funny that the grown-ups just didn't get it. But as a grown-up, I see now that this is imagination at play. It is the story of a boy who let his imagination run away with him--and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing--imagination is good but so is responsibility. This boy learns both. But I think the message is that there is a little gorilla in all of us. A gorilla tempting us to play and be silly when we should be doing something else. A gorilla tempting us to have fun, to enjoy ourselves, to do WHATEVER we want. A gorilla that doesn't necessarily mean to be bad. But a gorilla that sometimes has a hard time listening to the rules and following them.

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