I have always enjoyed Good Night Gorilla, mostly for its secondary storyline involving the mouse. My students also enjoy that storyline and enjoy seeking out the mouse in each story frame to figure out what the mouse is up to this time. They love the story of the poor mouse, dragging his banana behind him, all the way through the zoo, to the zookeeper’s house, using his banana as a pillow, then back to the zoo, then back to the zookeeper’s house. They shake their head and commiserate with the mouse along each page of his journey, and in the end, they will often giggle and cheer when the mouse finally gets to eat his banana.
In some ways, the mouse’s story is much more entertaining than the outer story of all the zoo animals following the zookeeper home to sleep with him and his wife. This is probably because the mouse has captured his audience from the very first frame, when he works diligently to cut off a piece of string from a balloon, so that he can tie it to the banana and use the string to lower the banana and then drag the banana wherever they go. The mouse raises sympathy as he changes the way he carries the banana in a few frames, letting the reader know his banana is getting heavier and heavier. But, determined mouse that he is, he will have his snack (and does!)
This isn’t to say my students don’t like the gorilla because they do. They especially like when the gorilla steals the keys and then unlocks all of the cages one by one. They love that the gorilla is always directly behind the zookeeper and that the gorilla looks straight at them to hold a finger to his lips. They love that the gorilla has brought them into the secret simply by acknowledging their presence as an audience to the story.
The only writing within the story are the speech bubbles where the zookeeper tells everyone goodnight (and the animals eventually answer) and the word zoo above the entrance to the zoo. The story is truly being told via the pictures. In many ways, the writing is superfluous, and yet, without it, the zookeeper’s wife would not realize the animals had followed her husband home and so the writing is necessary to move the story forward, and yet, it is secondary to the story told in pictures.
Although Good Night Gorilla is not a wordless picture book, in many ways, it operates as a wordless picture book would. Without its illustrations, the story is inaccessible to its readers, and thus the illustrations are crucial for the true meaning of the story to be derived.