The Fantastic Little Detail You Must Not Miss in 'Good Night, Gorilla'

A delightful subplot unfolds in the rich illustrations of this classic children's book.
By Courtenay Smith
May 20, 2019

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The Fantastic Little Detail You Must Not Miss in 'Good Night, Gorilla'
Credit: G.P. Putnam's Sons

May 20, 2019

When a friend gifted my daughter Good Night, Gorilla for her third birthday, I had never heard of the classic bedtime tale — and had no idea how much my daughter would fall in love with it. The mischievous little Gorilla, who gathers up his animal friends for forbidden nighttime fun while the grown-ups around him remain completely oblivious, is pretty much everything my daughter aspires to. With his knowing smile and “hush” signals, the little Gorilla knows exactly what he’s getting away with — and my daughter cannot get enough. Seven months later, the book is still a nightly go-to.

Good Night, Gorilla is also an outstanding way to practice dialogic reading, an interactive read-aloud style that helps pre-readers engage with the story instead of being passive listeners. The book has few words and detailed illustrations — perfect for kids who are ready to search for context clues in the art so they can tell you the story. (Me: “How does the Gorilla get out of his cage?”  Daughter: “He’s taking the keys from the zookeeper!” Insert high-pitched toddler squeal here.) 

One day, I was reading a friend’s edition which had a forward by author Peggy Rathmann. “I have been repeatedly amazed and impressed by what the very young find in this book,” she wrote. The next time I snuggled with my kiddo for our nighttime reading, I read the book with new eyes. And that’s when I spotted a delightful subplot that starts on page one, when the mouse is biting the balloon string:

I asked my daughter, “What’s going to happen when the mouse bites the balloon string?” She worked out that it would “float away.” And that’s when we started following the balloon to see what happens — and it turns out the balloon is in most of the scenes that follow! It does get very small and hard to spot though, so it’s like a fun I Spy game, as well as a great story.

For example, the balloon is on this page of the book...look harder...I swear it’s there!

My daughter’s gotten a lot out of our “find the balloon in Good Night, Gorilla” game. Cause and effect, for one. Distance (she uses her fingers to measure out for me whether the balloon is “really close” or “kind of close” or “really, really far away.”) Imagination (“Where do you think it’s going, Mama?” she asked me. Her guess?  “Africa.”)  And the balloon game helps her bask in the original glory of Good Night, Gorilla: She feels in the know on a fun secret.

I’ve even gotten to dust off my rusty spacial relationship skills. Trust me, you will spend some time thinking about what direction the zookeeper’s bedroom faces when (spoiler alert) you spot the balloon through the window.

This rich detail proves that, just like adult books, good children’s books have depth and always reveal something new upon rereading.  What delightful discoveries have your kids followed from page to page?

Once you and your littles have spotted the balloon to your satisfaction, I suggest you look at each animal's doll and then answer my next question: What kind of doll is the baby armadillo playing with, and why is it different from all the other animals' dolls?

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