Traditional Thursdays: Good Night Gorilla


gng coverFor today’s traditional Thursday comes a bedtime favorite of many children and parents. Peggy Rathmann presents a wonderfully simplistic story of a zoo and zookeeper heading to bed at the end of a day in her book Good Night Gorilla. Her story makes excellent use of the picture book format by relying on beautifully created illustrations to tell much of the story.

Instead of relying on a traditional narrative style where one person explains the events as they occur, Rathmann writes in a style closer to that of comics. While there is only one illustration per two page spread, all the text occurs within speech bubbles. While I have found many examples written within the past few years which integrate a comic type style into picture books, none seem to be done quite as well as Good Night Gorilla. These newer books often contain busy illustrations with many speech bubbles per page that are distributed in a way which may be hard for a child to follow on their own. While Rathmann’s Good Night Gorilla may be written for a younger audience than some of these newer books, limiting most pages to only one speech bubble makes the story much easier for a young reader to enjoy and follow along. There is much repetition within the speech bubbles, with the phrase “good night” appearing in almost every one. This repetition can be very fun for children by helping reading become an interactive process. They can easily chime in to help their parents read the story.

speech buble

Rathmann’s illustrations are beautifully done and of key importance to the story. They display the actions of a mischievous gorilla who follows the zookeeper around as he checks on all the animals. As soon as he leaves one, the gorilla releases it and they all follow the zookeeper like a parade into his home to go to bed.


The illustrations are created through warm soft colors with gentle thin lines. The expressions of the animals are nicely done and display very friendly faces. This helps make a story which could be viewed as scary (for who wouldn’t be frightened to find a lion in their bedroom?) into one with gentle humor. The illustrations contain many small details which help them tie together into a coherent whole such as a small mouse who carries a banana along as he follows the gorilla from page to page. Rathmann also makes excellent use of light and dark. The colors used places the story clearly in a nighttime setting without the heaviness of other darker illustrations. Areas of the illustrations which are illuminated by lamps or flashlights are very realistically and nicely done.


Darkness is also used nicely towards the end to emphasize all the animals which are in the room. Sometimes the lack of an image can say more than the inclusion of one.

Peggy Rathmann’s Good Night Gorilla is a story well remembered by many. It provides a humorous story with excellently done illustrations which is still be enjoyed by many.


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