Many years ago, I went to Taronga Zoo with my little boy. He was barely three months old and so wasn’t really up to observing the animals much. It was hot and I had been pushing a heavy, state of the art, firstborn pram around the hills of the zoo all day. I needed to rest and ended up by the gorilla enclosure.
I had spotted the silverback earlier, sleeping in the cool of a cave. Then I had followed the moat all the way round to the end of the enclosure, where I stayed to see the rest of the clan: the girls, the young males and of course, the babies. I spent a long time there that afternoon, rocking my son to sleep.
The gorillas were having the loveliest time, sitting on rocks, grooming and chatting to each other, underneath a cloudless sky. I could tell by their body language that they were feeling light-hearted. Then just as suddenly as a summer storm, their whole mood changed. They went from being frisky and bouncy, to fearful and agitated. I looked around the enclosure, trying to detect what could have caused such a drastic change. And then I noticed him; the silverback, coming out his cave, travelling down the hill, towards them. And I realised that those gorillas were terrified of him. That would have been the end of the story, except that I noticed one tiny detail. That day, the silverback was dragging behind him a large hessian sack. He was holding on to that hessian sack in that very particular way a baby might cling to a blankie. And straight away, a whole heap of questions started to run through my head. What was making this big, strong, hairy, scary gorilla so scared? What did the other gorillas think of his blankie? What would happen if they wanted him to give it up?
I took out my writing book and wrote down what I had observed. I stored that moment up for almost a year until some of the main characters finally came together, those clowns, the yak and the gnu and of course, the girls, Gidget, Doris and Delilah. I named the baby gorilla, Gordon’s main tormenter in the story, Abu, after the second and third syllable of ‘peek-a-boo’ because this was a word that my son said to me all the time back then. It wasn’t until sometime later, in one of those strange serendipities, that I discovered that the silverback that had inspired the story was called Kibabu.
I am always surprised how heartfelt children are in their response to this book. I can remember visiting a school and reading the book to a Year Two class and a little girl, sitting up the back, waving her hand in question time, her hair ribbons undone, freckles on her nose, scabs on her knees, her face red from holding her breath for so long, waiting to be picked. When I finally nodded my head, out came her question in an indignant, wild rush. ‘Why didn’t Gordon pay them back?’ It was the best, sharpest question about ‘Gordon’s Got a Snookie’ that I have ever been asked. I knew she understood, maybe more than many adults, what it cost for Gordon to refrain from taking revenge against his tormenter, what kindness it took for Gordon to wrap Abu in the biggest piece of the snookie and to wipe away his tears.
Children’s Publisher and Bookseller
“Gordon’s got a what? The title alone will be enough to make you pick up this book, if the striking cover hasn’t already grabbed your attention. At the risk of giving the game away, Lisa Shanahan’s new picture book addresses in a light-hearted, humorous way such serious subjects as bullying, teasing and personal courage and integrity...Shanahan makes excellent use of the repeated rhythmic text that small children love. In particular they will enjoy joining in with the animal noises and the chant-like refrains. Implied jokes will add to adults’ reading pleasure. The strong colours, varied font usage and bold design reflect the text’s inherent vitality.”
Preschool Entertainment Web Site
“Wayne Harris's outrageous decorated animals will leave you wiping away tears of laughter. If you're looking for a great read which will appeal to preschoolers of all ages, a book with an excellent child appropriate moral which isn't the slightest bit cutesy, and a beautifully illustrated book which will be read again and again, without any strain on your part, Gordon's Got a Snookie is a winner.”
Winner 2003: The 51st Annual APA Book Design Awards for the Best Designed Children's Picture Book
Highly commended 2003: The 51st Annual APA Book Design Awards, for the Best Designed Children's Cover of the Year
Winner 2003: Galley Club Awards