A portrait gallery of a small group of zoo gorillas, with a sociologist’s observations on each one’s distinctive behavior and personality.
The photos really steal the show. There are standard views of impossibly cute baby gorillas, of busy zoo workers, and of the enclosures at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo (where most of the primate cast resides). In addition and perhaps more importantly, a series of portraits—including “formal” head shots—capture not just individual facial features (as diverse as any group of humans) and an amazing range of expressions, but also a powerful, dignified presence in each of about two dozen primates. It’s good that the pictures are memorable, because with but rare exceptions, Nippert-Eng chooses to skip over the sorts of concrete details and incidents that would enliven her narrative in favor of unenlightening generalities: “Rollie spends a great deal of her time managing the troop’s social dynamics….” Mothers and offspring are separated due to unspecified “medical complications” or “serious medical reasons.” “It can be hard to predict what gorillas will do with what they find.” Readers left with questions (what are “gorilla biscuits” made of? Why are so many of the profiled apes’ siblings listed as “deceased”?) may find at least some answers in the extensive sets of annotated print, web, and film resources at the end.
The focus on gorillas in captivity rather than in
the wild gives this an unusual slant, but the visuals will have more impact on
young audiences than the narrative. (Nonfiction. 11-14)