Good Night, Gorilla


This post is a part of my “Board Book Beauty – Savoring the small as I read to my toddler” series. To see all of the posts in the series, go here.

If you have young kids in your home, I suspect you’re familiar with Good Night, GorillaWe read it quite often around here.

Or rather, we look at it together. To say that we “read” it is a bit of a stretch, for the book has very few words. The story is told almost entirely by the illustrations.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and, in this case, I find it to be true. As we make our way through the book, we examine each page in ways we don’t tend to do with those that have more text. I point to the various items in each animal’s cage. We track the progress of the mouse and his banana. Katie looks for the red balloon. We spend time with each drawing, and I use many more words than I do with the typical board book.

The telling is slightly different each time; without written direction, I’m forced to improvise. I ask her what that sneaky gorilla is doing and she laughs. “Silly monkey!” she says. (At two, she is not interested in the distinction between a monkey and an ape).

Good Night, Gorilla is one of her go-to books, and, beyond the inventive tale and fun animals, I suspect she loves the interactions we have, the way we tell the story together.

I, on the other hand, am not always thrilled when this is her choice; sometimes, the need to narrate seems a huge amount of effort. This book forces me to engage, to be fully present. My mind cannot wander as it sometimes does while mindlessly repeating words printed on the page.

And that’s the rub, the honest truth: choosing to be here, in this moment, takes work, and there are times when it’s all too much, when I’d rather settle into the easy pattern of a predetermined script. There are times when I need the routine, when getting through the hours is task enough, when the grace of just going through the motions lets me survive the day. It is not possible to choose to be present every moment of every day, and so I settle into rote action as my default.

But Good Night, Gorilla reminds me that, often, it is the unplanned stories that are most memorable. That patterns, while good, can encourage us to drift mindlessly, to forget to engage, to be fully present. That every now and then, it’s good to throw away the script and see what memories are waiting for us in the wild places beyond our routines.

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