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Sean Woolford
The Legend of the Green Gorilla

Picture Book; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

Imagine growing up hearing a legend about a fifty-foot gorilla. Would you go in search of it? This is a story of two brothers who do! When Mark and Stu believe the tales of a huge green ape living on an island nearby and are determined to find him. His cage is surrounded by signs with one instruction: "DO NOT TOUCH!" When the boys ignore that warning, a game of cat and mouse (or gorilla and boys) begins.
Mark and his older brother Stu sail off on a rip-roaring adventure in Woolford’s entertaining debut. Hunting down the myth of “a giant gorilla as big as a whale,” the boys ignore the signs of warning and danger to stumble across a bright green ape, locked in a cage across a nearby lake. When Mark gives in to Stu’s dare to poke the ape through the bars of the cage, the adventure really takes off – with the gorilla bending apart the bars, pursuing the boys through the water, laying waste to their town, and finally catching up to them on their grandfather’s farm.

Woolford has landed the perfect balance between suspense and humor in this ape odyssey. The gorilla’s perfect cannonball into the lake water after their boat will have young readers giggling, and despite the gorilla’s earth-shattering roar and killer fangs, Mark has time to stop and wonder, in the midst of his getaway, “do giant apes float?” Though the story’s buildup feels slightly manufactured, and some of the rhyming comes across as forced, the hilarious surprise ending will, for most readers, make up for the storyline’s shortcomings.

Brightly colored graphics by Thompson are simple but effective, especially the spooky, dark cave scenes that heighten the suspense, the gorilla’s shadow looming over a city street, and the full-page “Boom! Boom! Boom!” of its footsteps lends a nice cadence to the prose once the chase is on. Woolford interjects a lesson of standing up for family near the end, giving parents a potential springboard for sibling discussions–and his brief exploration of what it means to be “weak” will be valuable for younger audiences. The real gem in this story is the unexpected conclusion that downgrades the boys’ dangerous antics and will delight readers of all ages. You don’t need to love gorillas to appreciate this amusing tale.

Takeaway: A great green ape runs hilariously amok in this lively picture book.

Great for fans of: Adam Rubin’s Dragons Love Tacos, Suzanne Lang’s Grumpy Monkey.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B