Friday, December 6, 2019

Growing Up Gorilla ~ Blog Tour Stop

Growing Up Gorilla
by Clare Hodgson Meeker
48 pages; ages 8-12
Millbrook Press, 2019

The subtitle says it all; this is a book about “how a zoo baby brought her family together.”  As the book opens, we meet Nadiri, a 19-year old gorilla preparing to give birth. She’s gathered a thick nest of hay around her, but when her baby is born she has no idea of how to respond and care for a tiny baby.

The keepers and staff at the Woodland Park Zoo were committed to having Nadiri raise her baby. But they were also ready for the possibility that she might not embrace motherhood immediately, because Nadiri had been rejected by her own mother and was hand-raised. So while they began caring for the new baby gorilla, they were determined to help Nadiri bond with baby Yola in a safe, non-threatening environment.

What I like about this book: Reading this book gives you a front row seat into what goes on behind the scenes in a zoo. Author, Clare Meeker takes us into the gorilla dens, introduces us to the other gorillas that become family, and shows us the love and dedication of the zoo staff. There’s also plenty of back matter so kids can see how humans compare with gorillas (we share 97.7% of the same genes), and some of the ways people are working to protect gorillas and their habitat.

Clare graciously shared her thoughts during a phone conversation a couple weeks ago. She admits to having a deep love for animal stories. Clare has written a passel of books, including one about an otter and another about rhino rescues. She’s also written a number of animal stories for magazines. Some stories, she said, take longer than others, and this one has been simmering on the back burner of her mind for the past twenty years.

Archimedes: That seems like a long germination time for a story.

Clare: I was working on another book, Hansa, about a baby elephant, and met Harmony Frazier, who has been caring for baby Nadiri at the time. When I saw a photo of the two of them, I thought it would make a great story. But it would have focused on hand-raising a baby gorilla. Fast-forward twenty years and times have changed. Now the Harmony and the team of keepers had a plan. Nadiri had practiced mothering skills with a burlap doll. Still, she was so nervous when faced with caring for her actual baby. Even though the keepers stepped in to begin baby care, they knew that they wanted to raise this baby, Yola, in a gorilla-centered environment. And the beauty of this book is that I could talk about how things had changed for the good, as the keepers focused on helping Nadiri and Yola bond.

Archimedes: It feels like you were right in the cage with Yola. What sort of research did you do?

Clare: Yola was born in November of 2015, and I began doing research not even knowing if she would stay at the Woodland Park Zoo. I’d read a book about the Columbus zoo’s surrogacy program, and asked if I could talk with Barbara Jones and Maureen Casale, the coordinators of that program. They graciously answered all my questions about baby gorilla care without the certainty of knowing whether I would have a book. I spent time at the zoo, watching the gorillas, watching them make nests and engage in outdoor activities. And numerous interviews [note: nearly two-years-worth!] One thing I’ve noticed about the gorilla keepers is that they truly love their animals and are totally dedicated to their care.

Before disconnecting, she talked a bit about where she gets her ideas. Often they come from a chance meeting. One day, driving through Seattle, Clare saw a billboard that inspired her first book, A Tale of Two Rice Birds. Her advice: be open to ideas no matter where they come from.

Thank you for joining us today, Clare. You can find out more about Clare Meeker and her books at her website. If you missed any of the stops on her blog tour, here’s the schedule.

Today we're joining other book bloggers over at STEM Friday, where you can discover other cool STEM books. Review copy provided by the publisher. 

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