Beloved Gorilla Still Charms In New Kids' Book There's a new book out by Anthony Brown called Little Beauty — and boy, is it ever that. Actually, given the subject matter, it's a very large beauty!

Beloved Gorilla Still Charms In New Kids' Book

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up: some piquant delights for the ear, a veritable tapas of Latin alternative music.

But first, a visual treat for children. A new book out by Anthony Brown - it's called "Little Beauty," and boy, is it. Actually given the subject matter, it's a very large beauty, which is a good segue to Daniel Pinkwater, our beauty of an ambassador to the worlds of children's literature.

Daniel, so nice to talk to you again.

Mr. DANIEL PINKWATER (Author): Scott, I am older than you are.


Mr. PINKWATER: I mention this because growing up in Chicago, as we both did, I knew Bushman.

SIMON: Oh, the famous gorilla.

Mr. PINKWATER: The famous...

SIMON: Who is stuffed, you know, and still on display at the Lincoln Park Zoo. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The gorilla has been on exhibit at Chicago's Field Museum since December 1951.]

Mr. PINKWATER: It's not the same.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I agree. When the time comes for me, if anyone tries to tell me it's the same, I'll...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: Exactly.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: Exactly. Now, I want to tell you a little bit about Bushman and what he meant to me.

SIMON: Oh, sure.

Mr. PINKWATER: And I firmly believe every kid in Chicago regarded this gorilla as a personal friend.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: And he felt the same about us.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: Now, I have to tell you, you know how gorillas in zoos get paunchy and round and begin to resemble me?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: Bushman did not.

SIMON: I mean - really, Daniel, yes?

Mr. PINKWATER: Bushman did not.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: He was built like a wedge. He was like a weightlifter.

SIMON: I always thought he looked like the middle linebacker for the Bears.

Mr. PINKWATER: He could've done that too. He had a scary visage.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: He looked like the lobby posters for "King Kong." He had a lot of sharp teeth. He had a serious mean-looking gorilla face. But he was the nicest person.

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: In 1950, Time magazine said that he was the most popular civic figure in Chicago, and not very different from a lot of other civic figures in Chicago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I'm just trying to think if it was Martin Kennelly, the mayor then, or who was it? Well, it was before Richard…

Mr. PINKWATER: Had he been able to get out of the zoo, he could've run. He was 547 pounds, all of which was muscle. He was known to catch mice in his cage and play gently with them.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: And he, his keeper would hand him quarts of milk and he would chug the milk and then hand the empties back through the bars to the keeper. I remember being right up against the bars and Bushman got his face right down to the level of mine. And we were just like breathing at each other and communing.

So I loved Bushman. When he got sick, a quarter of a million people came to visit him, which he appeared to enjoy.

SIMON: Yeah. Now, a legend in Chicago, even...


SIMON: ...even still. And it gives me great pleasure that our little girls not only enjoy seeing him in his present state at the Lincoln Park Zoo, but they have their own friendships with gorillas there.

Mr. PINKWATER: This does happen. Gorillas are nice people. And this brings us to the book.

SIMON: It's called "Little Beauty," by Anthony Brown.

Mr. PINKWATER: Now, in my view, picture books are first of all about pictures. The story here, I give it an A-minus. But I give A double plus to the art. And shall we talk about it or just read it to the listeners?

SIMON: Let's read it.

Mr. PINKWATER: Let's read it and we can communicate about the art. Would you like to begin?

SIMON: Sure.

Once upon a time there was a very special gorilla who had been taught to use sign language. If there was anything he wanted, he could ask his keepers for it using his hands. It seemed that he had everything he needed.

Mr. PINKWATER: But the gorilla was sad. And here is the ultimate picture of a sad gorilla.


One day he signed to his keepers, I want a friend.

Mr. PINKWATER: There were no other gorillas at the zoo. And at first the keepers didn't know what to do. Then one of them had an idea.

SIMON: They gave him a little friend name Beauty, an adorable little kitten.

Mr. PINKWATER: Don't eat her, said one of the keepers.

And here's a kitten as cute as the gorilla is cute.

SIMON: The gorilla loved Beauty.

Mr. PINKWATER: Classic picture of tiny kitten in giant hand.

SIMON: He gave her milk.

Mr. PINKWATER: And honey.

SIMON: They were happy.

Mr. PINKWATER: And then we have a shot of kitten sitting on gorilla's head. Kitten and gorilla taking a nap, and then...

SIMON: My favorite picture of all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: The gorilla is using the toilet and the kitten is using the litter box.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: And the one line is, They did everything together.

Mr. PINKWATER: I personally hate when that happens.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: They were happy for a long time.

Mr. PINKWATER: Until one night when they watched a movie together, the movie made the gorilla very upset.

SIMON: And the movie clearly, Daniel, is?

Mr. PINKWATER: It's "King Kong," just about to get his unjust deserts on top of the Empire State.

SIMON: As you said, made the gorilla very upset and then very angry.

Mr. PINKWATER: Gorilla smashes the TV.

SIMON: The keepers rushed in. Who broke the television, asked one. We have to take Beauty away now, said another.

Mr. PINKWATER: Let me interject a - this was clearly the work of an editor who took out a line that I know was there where the keepers say if the gorilla is going to get violent, we can't leave the kitten and the editor said we mustn't suggest violence, protect the children.

SIMON: Okay.

Mr. PINKWATER: The gorilla looked at Beauty, Beauty looked at the gorilla, then Beauty started to sigh. It was me, I broke the television, claims the kitten.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: Everyone laughed, and do you know what happened? Beauty and the gorilla lived happily ever after.

SIMON: Boy, I love this book. I must say I love everything about it. I give the story and…

Mr. PINKWATER: Oh, I give it an A. I give it an A-. Only because - it's not a rip-off exactly, its a fictionalization of a true story…


Mr. PINKWATER: …which - let me mention another book which would make an interesting companion to this book. It's "Koko's Kitten," published by Scholastic and is written by Dr. Francine Patterson, the trainer and keeper and friend of Koko. There are real photos of real Koko with her little kitten friend All Ball. And it would be very nice to have both books to sort of contrast the fictionalized fantasy and the equally amazing reality.

SIMON: Well, I love this book, Daniel. I'm so glad you brought it to our attention.

Mr. PINKWATER: It's very beautiful art, and I could easily a kid or a person old enough to remember Bushman, getting lost in his drawings and going back to them again and again.

SIMON: Daniel, thanks so much.

Mr. PINKWATER: I'm glad you enjoyed it, Scott. Bushman lives.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Today we've been reading "Little Beauty" by Anthony Browne. Daniel Pinkwater, of course, is author of many fine books for children and adults. Daniel, I want to ask you, your current book is?

Mr. PINKWATER: My current book is - I think is still the "Yggyssey," Y-G-G-Y-S-S-E-Y, available in your better drug stores.

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