One Gorilla: A Counting Book

illus. by author. 32p. Candlewick. 2013. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6352-0.
PreS-Gr 2—In a large, lavish format featuring exquisitely detailed paintings, Browne begins this counting book with an animal he has illustrated many times before-the gorilla-along with nine other members of the primate family. After 10 lemurs, he concludes the counting experience by emphasizing humankind's genetic link to these mammals, and he makes this connection powerfully-"All primates. All one family. All my family… and yours." Through the starkly realistic mixed-media art, he imbues each animal with distinctive facial features, especially the eyes. The eight macaques appear hauntingly human as they stare out at viewers with soulful, intelligent eyes. A generous amount of white space and varied composition make the counting clear. On the title page children may be confused by a single lemur featured directly under the title One Gorilla, and while the animals pictured encompass a wide variety of color tones in the wild, some of the vivid reds do not appear natural. Nevertheless, this is an arresting visual experience.—Caroline Ward, The Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT
For Anthony Browne, a gorilla is never just a gorilla. In this seemingly simple counting book from one to ten (plus a final coda), generous white space and classic type treatment balance expertly with large head-and-shoulders portraits of primates: "1 gorilla / 2 orangutans / 3 chimpanzees" up to "10 lemurs." Browne's watercolor technique is just about perfect, combining realism and exaggeration, mass and focus. He moves from large wet strokes showing hair and fur (around the edges) to a detailed drier brush (around the eyes). For some traditionally black and brown animals, he homes in on blue or orange highlights and makes them more prominent. For others, like the smaller spider and colubus monkeys, he varies the posture or silhouette. It's about taking something that is usually seen as all the same and emphasizing each one's individuality. Every face reveals emotion and a unique personality -- some easily read (open friendliness, shyness), others complex and inward-looking, à la Mona Lisa. Two final spreads underscore and personalize the visual subtext. Browne is seen in a self-portrait that mirrors the gorilla on the first spread, the text ("All primates. All one family. All my family...") leading to a final spread ("and yours!") filled to brimming with head-and-shoulder views of humans. Like everything that came before, at first we see pattern, then endless variety. lolly robinson

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