Growing Up Gorilla – Perfect Picture and Chapter Book

Here’s a book that many may have missed, because it was published right before the crazy days of 2020. And if you missed it, you’ve missed a heart-filled, award-winning story about a baby gorilla and her mother who doesn’t know how to be a mother. It would make a terrific read aloud for early elementary kids who will love all of the pictures or a high interest/high visual content story for readers who are reading chapter books.

Growing Up Gorilla is filled with tension: will this baby gorilla ever be accepted by her mother? Will she survive? Will other members of her group accept or reject her? Will she be harmed or protected? So many questions that keep readers turning the pages.

It’s the love and dedication of the zookeepers who thoughtfully devise and execute a plan that ends up working. In the process, we come to feel for this baby gorilla, who’s named Yola (the Hausa language word for “firefly”) and her mother, Nadiri, who never had a mother role model so never learned how to be a mother herself. I was concerned when things weren’t going well in the beginning, and my heart filled each time Yola and Nadiri made progress. The author’s note made me tear up when I learned that one of the elder gorillas (Leo) who helped smooth Yola’s acceptance has since died. Such a sweetheart. RIP Leo.

Along with the narrative, the book is filled with many engaging sidebars, including those that explain how mothering is a learned behavior, how zookeepers have developed surrogate parent programs, how gorilla and human development compare, etc. I also love how the book emphasizes the importance of touch to the development of the baby and its relationship with its family.

All 48 pages are chockablock with amazing photos, starting from the first days of Yola’s life (days when Nadiri appeared to find her baby anxiety-producing and strange). The photo below was taken only after weeks of encouraging Nadiri to spend time with her Yola. And even then, zookeepers weren’t sure how protective she would be of her daughter in the future.

Text ©️Clare Meeker Photo ©️Woodland Park Zoo

I was thrilled toward the end when Leo and Nadiri defend Yola from another extended family member who’s being too aggressive. So sweet—and important—to the development of a successful family hierarchy.

I LOVE this book! I think every child (and adult) out there will find this story completely absorbing and have new appreciation for the plight of mountain gorillas and the conservationists, zookeepers, and biologists who are doing their best to preserve a struggling population.

Back matter includes information about conservation efforts throughout different gorilla habitats in Central Africa, an author’s note, glossary, resources to find out more, and an index. Big big thumbs up on this well-crafted and moving story.


Watch this video from the BBC about the intelligence of gorillas.

Learn the top ten facts about gorillas from the World Wildlife Fund.

Make an origami gorilla.

Pair this book with He Leads: Mountain Gorilla, the Gentle Giant by June Smalls, illus. by Yumi Shimokawara

Title: Growing Up Gorilla

Author: Clare Hodgson Meeker

Photo Credits: Woodland Park Zoo and others

Publisher: Millbrook/Lerner 2020

Ages: Elementary school

4 thoughts on “Growing Up Gorilla – Perfect Picture and Chapter Book

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    I was looking at a board book on baby apes, but I really love this book so much more. as it is targeted more for kids 7-12?? I love how kids get to follow the mother and baby and how the community responds. Looks like a lot of copy. Just wondered if it is a book I could review for MMGM. Great share today!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, it does have a lot of text, but the design and number of photos make if quite read-aloud friendly, probably a section at a time, if it’s being read aloud by a teacher or librarian in school. But it’s only 48 pages. I would say that a good 2-3rd grade reader could make it through the text. And the sidebars do a great job of adding interest, too. Lerner says that it’s a 4th grade reading level (and recommends it for 3rd-6th grade), but my son could have read it as a 3rd grader. It’s really a high interest book. And I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as a MG read.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      That’s awesome, Maria! How amazing to get to see this firsthand! This book makes me so happy. And I’m glad you know Clare. She’s such a lovely person and terrific writer who made this fantastic book1

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