The best books about gorillas

3 authors have picked their favorite books about gorillas and why they recommend each book.

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Gorillas in the Mist

By Dian Fossey,

Book cover of Gorillas in the Mist

This is the first-person account of living among wild mountain gorillas by primatologist Dian Fossey, the second of the three woman scientists, all protogees of the paleontologist Louis Leakey, who conducted the first long-term studies of humankind’s closest living relatives, the great apes. She conquers the old myths depicting gorillas as King Kong monsters, and shows them as gentle vegetarians who are extraordinarily devoted to their families. Like the other books I mention above, I read this one when I was in my 20s. Dian’s memoir was then in its first edition and sported the most beautiful cover I had ever seen on a book. It featured a close-up, intimate portrait of one of the gorillas about whom she writes, Uncle Bert, his black face benign and thoughtful, his jet fur bejeweled with cloud forest raindrops. The back cover shows him from the back, accentuating the great dome of his…

Who am I?

To research her 30 books, dozens of scripts, and hundreds of articles, Sy Montgomery has been deftly undressed by an orangutan in Borneo, worked in a pit crawling with 18,000 snakes in Manitoba, and swum with piranhas, electric eels, pink dolphins, great white sharks and octopuses in various rivers and oceans. She writes for both adults and children, for print and broadcast, in North America and abroad, in an effort to reach as wide an audience as possible at a critical time in human history. “Now is an exciting time to be alive,” she says. “We all have an opportunity, at this critical juncture in human history, to be part of the movement to save our sweet green Earth and all the wonderful creatures who bless our world by sharing it with us.”

I wrote...

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals

By Sy Montgomery,

Book cover of How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals

What is my book about?

Sy Montgomery reflects on the personalities and quirks of 13 animals--her friends--who have profoundly affected her in this stunning, poetic, and life-affirming memoir featuring illustrations by Rebecca Green. Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist, and adventurer Sy Montgomery. To research her books, Sy has traveled the world and encountered some of the planet's rarest and most beautiful animals. From tarantulas to tigers, Sy's life continually intersects with and is informed by the creatures she meets.


By Daniel Quinn,

Book cover of Ishmael

This book taught me how to look at the world I lived in and the history I come from in a different way. After reading this book I questioned everything I was doing as a teacher and began to see my role as a teacher, as a father, as a citizen concerned about my ecological impact in a different way. And it’s written as an immensely compelling and engaging conversation between a man and a gorilla. I mean, what more could you want?

Who am I?

I’ve spent a career as an educator and writer exploring how it is that we humans are a part of the natural world in which we live. We are all interconnected with each other and with the ecosystem in which we live, be it a “pristine” wilderness or a concreted-over metropolis. This is wisdom that of course has been long known by many peoples throughout history, though something that seems easily forgotten as we bustle our way through life. Through these books, maybe we can begin to remember that interconnectedness. 

I wrote...

Within These Woods

By Timothy Goodwin,

Book cover of Within These Woods

What is my book about?

With the eye of a biologist and the soul of an artist, Goodwin guides the reader on a personal and educational journey through the Northwoods of the Great Lakes Region. He reflects on the elegance of the evolutionary process and the interconnectedness of all living things. At times a microscopic examination of the forest floor, and at others a far-reaching gaze into the wonders of a night sky. Goodwin explores this enhanced place and the delicate dance its history, geology, and organisms have performed since before recorded time. Along the way, he asks the difficult questions about stewardship and spirituality that only connecting to nature and understanding our place in it can begin to answer. 

Between Man and Beast

By Monte Reel,

Book cover of Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer and the African Adventure the Victorian World by Storm

I love nonfiction adventure books that immerse you in the details of an adventure while providing enough background information to understand the historical, cultural, and scientific perspectives of an era. In the mid-19th century, Paul du Chaillu spent years in Western Africa tracking down the njena, the mythical beast. This book makes for interesting reading as the author weaves the true-life adventure story of the discovery of the gorilla with Darwin’s evolutionary debate, and the challenges a Victorian-era scientist faced to prove his credibility. 

Who am I?

I am an author specializing in nature, travel, and adventure writing. I’ve been fortunate to travel to many of the places featured in my books – including Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. I even to travelled to Morocco to study the art of storytelling with the last of the great storytellers. I’ve always been intrigued by stories that tell a personal journey about overcoming obstacles, especially if the story takes the reader to exotic places. So no wonder I jumped at the opportunity to co-author a book with a game ranger and conservationist in Africa that combines historical perspectives, larger-than-life characters, and dangerous experiences with wildlife. 

I wrote...

When Eagles Roar: The Amazing Journey of an African Wildlife Adventurer

By James Alexander Currie, Bonnie J. Fladung, Margo Gabrielle Damian (illustrator)

Book cover of When Eagles Roar: The Amazing Journey of an African Wildlife Adventurer

What is my book about?

This is a riveting African adventure story told with passion and charm. But as the Zulus say, “There is no river without a shade.” Follow the daring safari of James Currie as his love of birds, fascination with wildlife, and craving for adventure lead him into humorous and life-threatening situations. James captures the essence of what it means to be African today, facing everything from the Big Five to the vestiges of apartheid to the AIDS epidemic. He provides authoritative information on African wildlife and illustrates hair-raising encounters with lions, buffalo, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros, and snakes through exciting and humorous stories.

The Murderer's Ape

By Jakob Wegelius,

Book cover of The Murderer's Ape

A real tour de force that for me was reminiscent of Phileas Fogg's adventures in Around the World in 80 Days. The story follows the life of an intelligent gorilla who although lacking the power of speech is an extraordinary, loveable protagonist. It is accompanied by black and white illustrations that feel like etchings and that only enhance the wistful and nostalgic window through which we observe this gorilla’s world and life experience. It's a lengthy book and so at first may seem like a big commitment especially as it is aimed at children (it also have some grown-up themes) but once you begin the journey I defy anyone to try and get off as the mystery and magic unfold alongside a powerful story of friendship and love. Another brilliant example of how to escape the reality of the every day and be whisked into a world of mystery,…

Who am I?

I have always been a very imaginative individual and even now I think of my imagination as a place I can escape to. I build worlds and dimensions in my head and visit them often especially when I'm writing my own books, poems, or drafting characters. I'm a very visual individual and pay attention to detail so these imagined worlds can become quite complex and intricate. That's why I have always loved adventure, it's such a privilege to be given access to other worlds and minds through the medium of books. You get a chance to wander around someone else's imagination – what a way to escape, what an adventure in and of itself!

I wrote...

The Tunnels Below

By Nadine Wild-Palmer, Ellen Shi (illustrator),

Book cover of The Tunnels Below

What is my book about?

The Tunnels Below is a rite of passage fantasy adventure about growing up and facing up to whatever the world throws at you however weird and wonderful. It follows the story of Cecilia who’s twelfth birthday takes a very unexpected turn when she finds herself at the centre of a plot to save a community from the brutal Corvus rule in an unfamiliar underground world. 

The One and Only Ivan

By Katherine Applegate, Patricia Castelao (illustrator),

Book cover of The One and Only Ivan

Not one but two elephants star in this novel voiced in poetic vignettes by Ivan the gorilla. The animals are held in neighboring “domains” in a grotesque suburban mall setting. Ivan’s heart and mind drive the story, but compassion is made real by Stella, the older elephant. Her relationship with Ivan sheds light on their desperate circumstances. Ruby, the baby elephant, serves as a little beacon of hope, drawing the best from Ivan. Inspired by a true story, this book raised so many questions in my mind—about animal captivity, home, friendship, family, and community.

Who am I?

I was born and grew up in India and I’ve always been fascinated by elephants. When I wrote The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic, it felt natural to have Mini, the elephant, become part of its world. She’s not the main character, yet her presence raises questions about the place of these amazing animals in our world and in our hearts. I picked five titles in which elephants are secondary characters, raising similar questions for readers about who these extraordinary creatures are and why we should care. Curiously, I couldn’t find a single novel featuring African elephants. 

I wrote...

The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic

By Uma Krishnaswami, Abigail Halpin (illustrator),

Book cover of The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic

What is my book about?

Dini is thrilled! Her favorite Indian movie star Dolly Singh’s in town for the American opening of her latest greatest release. Could life be better than this? Dini enlists her friends and starts the kind of planning only a stellar fan can pull off—a rose petal cake? Dancing? No problem. Wait. What? Dolly’s lost her passport? And now she wants a parade? If Dini lets Dolly take things into her own starry hands, that would almost certainly lead to a sweetly perfect disaster! And whoa! Look! Was that really an elephant heading up Connecticut Avenue? A middle grade romp that transforms the Nation’s Capital into a Bollywood film set. 

Spider School

By Francesca Simon, Peta Coplans (illustrator),

Book cover of Spider School

One of my daughter’s perennial favourites, I read this so often I had it memorized, and found it great to tell even without the hilarious pictures. In this story, Kate is facing her first day of school. So miserable is she at the very idea, she gets out on the wrong side of the bed. So of course, everything goes wrong! Her school is a dungeon, her teacher is a gorilla, and the dinner lady serves spiders, snails, and snakes for lunch. Brave Kate fights back, runs home, and saves her own day when she gets up all over again, on the right side of the bed. This is, underneath, a story about attitude, and reassures kids about the reality of school by comically exaggerating one child’s fears. But it’s also great fun to tell, with silly voices, unexpected developments, and a fine arc of tension till Kate decides to…

Who am I?

I’m a New Englander by birth, a Canadian by circumstance, and a Nova Scotian by choice. For as long as I can remember, I’ve told stories, first to my little sister—a captive audience—then to my children, then at my book readings, and now on my podcast, Kate and Friends, which I’m lucky enough to record with two professional musicians. For me, the ultimate test of a story is whether it can be told without visual aids. While I love picture books, and the way an artist can deepen a child’s experience of a story, I gravitate to satisfying, stand-alone tales with a good twist. They’re difficult to write, easy to remember, and great fun to tell! 

I wrote...

What! Cried Granny: An Almost Bedtime Story

By Kate Lum, Adrian Johnson (illustrator),

Book cover of What! Cried Granny: An Almost Bedtime Story

What is my book about?

Patrick is having his first sleep-over at his granny’s house. It's bedtime, but there's a problem: Patrick doesn't have a bed! Intrepid Granny runs to her yard, chops down a tree, grabs her tools, and makes him a comfy one. Now he can go to sleep. Right? But, wait, he doesn't have a pillow! Granny dashes to the henhouse…If Patrick is lucky, this could go on all night! 

With funky pictures by Adrian Johnson, this tale of love, resourcefulness, and grandmotherly frustration is perfect for storytellers, with several repeating lines kids love to contribute, and a comic, surprise ending.

Little Beauty

By Anthony Browne,

Book cover of Little Beauty

A sad gorilla who can use sign language asks the keepers for a friend. He’s given a kitten, and a wonderful cross-species friendship is born. I especially enjoyed the line “they did everything together,” which is accompanied by a humorous illustration showing the gorilla on a toilet and Beauty, the cat, in a litter box.

The artwork expressively captures the gorilla’s sadness, joy, worry, and anger. When a movie makes the gorilla so upset that he smashes the television, the keepers think they should take the cat away for her safety. However, Beauty hilariously changes their minds by signing that she broke the TV. This is a great story of loyalty and unlikely friendships.

Who am I?

I've had 20 reproducible books published in the educational market, and more than 200 of my articles, word puzzles, poems, plays, and stories have appeared in magazines such as Highlights and on websites like the Disney-themed I enjoy creating book trailers and free activity kits which can be found on my website. One of my picture books is Dough Knights and Dragons. Curious about the origin of doughnuts, I created an imaginary tale about them with the goal of encouraging friendships of all kinds, setting children’s imaginations on fire, and motivating youngsters to always be hungry for books.

I wrote...

Dough Knights and Dragons

By Dee Leone, George Ermos (illustrator),

Book cover of Dough Knights and Dragons

What is my book about?

A knight and dragon meet serendipitously and bond over their love of baking. But the two secret friends are required by law to duel in an upcoming tournament. Can the unlikely pair cook up a plan to obey the edict but still save their friendship?

No matter what our differences ... tall or small, dragon or knight, castle inhabitant or cave dweller, there is always something we can find in common. Whether in an imaginary kingdom or a real-life setting, friendship rules. Children will devour this scrumptiously clever tale which shows that when conflicts arise, peaceful and creative problem solving can come to the rescue.

The Year of the Gorilla

By George B. Schaller,

Book cover of The Year of the Gorilla

George Schaller’s pioneering popular Year of the Gorilla, set in Rwanda, is part history, travelogue, and accessible behavioral biology. This book was my model for how to write about my own seven summers living with killer whales off northern Vancouver Island, Canada. Travelling with wife Kay, Schaller in his mid-20s was among the first to get into the field with primates when few even considered it. Rich with stories, his book included his own beautiful line drawings of gorillas and tantalising maps. The story uncovers a misty kingdom—he climbed the volcanoes—as much as revealing the intimate details of the gorillas, with their food gathering, nest-building, relationships, their emotional lives. This book has human and gorilla characters. You feel like you are right there.

Who am I?

I’ve spent most of my life since the 1970s working with whales and dolphins. I was lucky to get involved in one of the first field studies for killer whales and since then have led other research in the Russian Far East. I have worked with entomologists in Costa Rican rainforests, blue whale scientists in Québec and Iceland, humpback whale scientists in Hawaii. I’ve searched for rare North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy, measured Canada’s tallest trees in British Columbia and seen the wild plant ancestors of maize growing in the mountains of Mexico. Field research—studying and living in nature—makes us empathize with Planet Earth.

I wrote...

Orca: The Whale Called Killer

By Erich Hoyt,

Book cover of Orca: The Whale Called Killer

What is my book about?

When Erich Hoyt's Orca: The Whale Called Killer was first published in 1981, little was known about orcas. He and his colleagues spent seven summers following these intelligent, playful creatures in the waters off northern Vancouver Island. Hoyt's group dispelled the negative mythology about orcas while uncovering intimate details of their social behavior. 

This revised 2019 fifth edition includes Hoyt's original account, plus exciting new chapters that bring readers up to date on the revolution in orca research and understanding. Hoyt's youthful adventures turned into his life's work. Now a world-renowned expert on whales and dolphins, he shares orca wisdom along with stories from additional field study in Russia’s Far East and return trips to meet the descendants of the orcas he encountered years earlier.

Good Night, Gorilla

By Peggy Rathmann,

Book cover of Good Night, Gorilla

Since primates make the best mischief-makers, it was inevitable that this book would end up on the list. As with Olivia, these animals, led by their fearless friend Gorilla, are driven by their curiosity. Just what is it like to sleep in a house? Their downfall comes because they are too polite and wish Mrs. Zookeeper a good night. I love that she’s so patient with them that she walks them all back to their enclosures, even holding Gorilla’s hand. 

Who am I?

As the father of a (currently) 11-year-old boy, and having been a boy once myself, I understand that mischief-makers can be a pain in the neck and drive adults crazy. But today’s little mischief-makers are tomorrow’s independent thinkers. And we cannot expect children to channel their rambunctious energies into positive outcomes without first giving them the tools to do so. That’s why I wrote Stop and Smell the Cookies, so that readers can actually take control before their emotions get the better of them. It’s also why I compiled this list. Perhaps, if the main characters in these stories had stopped and smelled the cookies, some of them might have avoided their literary fates. Enjoy!

I wrote...

Stop and Smell the Cookies

By Gibson Frazier, Micah Player (illustrator),

Book cover of Stop and Smell the Cookies

What is my book about?

A picture book about a rambunctious boy who learns to manage his big feelings.

Sometimes Dash gets so excited that his chest feels warm and fuzzy, his toes dance, and his fingertips tickle the air. When that starts, he can’t seem to control what he does next, and often, trouble follows. Luckily, with a little help, Dash finds a way to slow himself down when big feelings threaten to take over. This joyous book engages the imagination and relaxes the mind, perfect for those who are impulsive like Dash, those who hold in their feelings, and everyone in between.

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