By Maureen Fergus
Kids Can Press, 2010
From the first page to the last, the pages turned fast to find out what would happen next to a talking gorilla when he enrolls in school.
As an infant gorilla, abandoned Ortega is surgically fitted with a voice box and is raised similar to a human child. When he reaches the same maturity as a 12 year-old, his ‘handlers’ enroll him in school and the possibilities play out. He deals with issues on being different from everyone and making friends. He soon learns what true friendship is while he secretly joins his peers to create a film set in an abandoned, haunted factory. The film results in an invitation to Hollywood, but Ortega, at the last minute, must ‘be on show’ at a scientific conference. Having experienced freedom as a ‘human’ and mad he couldn’t support his new-found friends, Ortega reacts poorly and jeopardizes his funding. When Ortega finds out he may be ‘sold,’, he rebels and runs away. But where do you hide a gorilla? Fergus deftly weaves into the story the morale issues of an ‘animal’ that thinks/feels/acts like a human. The children seem to have a better grasp on this, than the adults.
Besides the fact that gorillas can’t talk, the book is totally plausible. From the first word to the last, the pages turned fast to find out what would happen next. Ortega will hold the imagination of both avid and reluctant readers alike. It could successfully be used as a read-aloud story, holding the entire classes’ attention and likely eliciting classroom debate. Fresh, moving, captivating.