Moving Beyond the Page is a literature-based curriculum. We use real books to bring education to life and help children internalize their understanding of difficult concepts. We often receive questions about our book choices. Sometimes the questions reflect a lighthearted curiosity, but other times families approach us with serious concerns or reservations about the content of a book we have chosen to use in our curriculum.
One book that comes up periodically is called Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne. The main complaint is about whether the author's use of gorillas is an example of racial bias and whether he intended either explicitly or implicitly to refer to black people as gorillas.
Voices in the Park is a picture book that is used in the literature unit for Morning Girl in our Age 7-9 level. In our literature units, we generally focus on a single story element to show how an author uses that element to craft a compelling story. In the literature unit for Morning Girl, we focus on the story element of "point of view." Before exposing children to the complicated use of point of view in the novel Morning Girl, we use the picture book Voices in the Park to show students four different perspectives of a walk in the park.
We Start With a Generous Interpretation
When we evaluate a book for racial bias, we always start with a generous interpretation of the author's intention, and we see no reason to conflate the use of gorillas with people of color in this book. The author, Anthony Browne, is an accomplished and prolific British author. From 2009-2011 he was the Children's Laureate of the United Kingdom. His career, which has spanned five decades, has included numerous picture books in which he uses various animals in the place of people. He seems especially fond of using gorillas and primates, and he has been doing so since the 1970's.
In many of Browne's books, gorillas are used interchangeably with humans. When asked about this aspect of his books, Browne explained, "I am fascinated by them and the contrast they represent – their huge strength and gentleness." We see no reason not to take him at his word.
You May Disagree With Our Approach
We understand that you may disagree with our assessment and our general inclination to start with a generous interpretation of the author's intention. Nevertheless, this is how we approach our book selection. We hope that you can at least understand that while we may have differences of opinion about this issue, it comes from a sincere desire to see people of all races represented with dignity. At this time, we don't see any reason to think that the author chose gorrillas for any other reason than a lifelong fascination with a complicated animal.