Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, July 15, 2016

Gorillas Up Close

Gorillas Up Close  
by Christena Nippert-Eng
Photographs by John Dominski
and Miguel Martinez
Henry Holt and Company, 2016
Grades 3-6

The majority of the animal books in the 500s section of my school library focus on animals in the wild. Occasionally there are books about animals that were rescued and rehabilitated such as Winter's Tail: How One Dolphin Learned to Swim Again or Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. When I sat down to read Gorillas Up Close, I was expecting a typical expository text about gorillas in their natural habitat. I was pleasantly surprised that this is a unique book featuring gorillas living at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

The book evolved from a course taught by Professor Christena Nippert-Eng at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Students were assigned to observe gorillas at the local zoo as a way of improving their observation and data collection skills. According to the author's note, several students collaborated with Nippert-Eng to research, write and photograph the images for the book.

In Gorillas Up Close, middle grade readers will learn about the behaviors, diet, family structure and habitat of the western lowland gorilla. The Introduction asks readers to ponder several questions about how gorillas and humans compare and the challenges and ethics of keeping gorillas in captivity.

"What should be the role of zoo gorillas in ensuring the future of the species?"

The book is well-organized into chapters about each type of gorilla in a troop: silverbacks (leaders of a family troop), infants & juveniles, adult females, teenagers and bachelors. Photographs and detailed information about specific gorillas make the book feel like a family photo album at times. Readers will learn how zoos design habitats, group gorillas, feed the animals and provide opportunities for the gorillas to use tools and solve problems they might encounter in the wild. I was especially impressed with the back matter that offers tips for identifying and observing gorillas in zoos. Young readers will gravitate to the baby pictures of members of the bachelor troop in the back of the book.

There are many ways Gorillas Up Close could be used in classrooms. The book could provide supporting evidence for students writing persuasive pieces or debating whether or not animals should be kept in captivity. It would also make the perfect nonfiction companion book to The One and Only Ivan. Place the book on display in a library or classroom and an animal lover is sure to snatch it up for pleasure reading.

Visit the publisher's site to view pages from the book.

The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

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