In all the blog posts I’ve published in the last 13 years, I’ve never delved into one subject because I thought it was near impossible to successfully broach it in a picture book. But author Jackie Azùa Kramer has, and the result is miraculous.

The subtle coloring on the cover by illustrator Cindy Derby should give you a clue as to what awaits inside.

Jackie, death is the toughest subject to discuss with children. Why did you want to venture into that territory?

Sadly, the story was inspired by true events as a result of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 which left two little sisters fatherless. But if it’s all the same with you, Tara, I’d like to reframe your question.

Why not write stories that reflect a diversity of experiences that children are facing today? We are living through challenging and difficult times on so many levels. I have the utmost respect for young readers, and I strive not to talk down to them. I feel we need to meet children where they are with hope and love.

As a creator, I’m inspired and emotionally moved by what’s happening in the world today. Children around the world are living unique and diverse experiences. I’m encouraged to see more of these books published recently. Books which allow children to see themselves…their lives reflected in books. We all have a need to be understood, accepted and loved.

In the story, the gorilla represents the boy’s deep grief and sadness at the passing of his mother. Why a gorilla? Was this your first choice for the metaphor?

Yes. The Gorilla character came to mind as a I learned about how some children are affected by loss. In the story the loss of the boy’s mother left him confused about the complex feelings he was experiencing along with the questions he had about death and dying. However, his unspoken feelings become the metaphorical idiom of the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room. It was a fascinating visual to imagine this huge and imposing gorilla who’s also kind, honest and supportive.

What does it mean to you to have three starred reviews (so far)?

Tara, I’d be a pompous ass if I didn’t admit that it feels good. And you know, as much as me, if not more, about receiving great reviews! However, the reasons it feels good to me goes beyond the good reviews and stars.

It’s also about all one’s hard work being acknowledged, as well as, the village that made the book possible. Agent, illustrator, editor, art director, sales and marketing…each played an important role.

And in the end, all that matters is that books gets into the hands of readers. That books are read over and over, pages get worn and dog-eared and tucked under pillows. That books make readers feel something. Feelings of joy or sadness, happy, silly or even mad. Perhaps thoughtful or dreamy and wondrous. That each page turn is like a theatrical experience. That stories welcome readers and say, “Come on in, all are welcome, understood and accepted.”

Then we as creators have done our jobs well.

What I’ve learned from reading THE BOY AND THE GORILLA is that we writers shouldn’t shy away from subjects just because they are difficult. Children experience the width and breadth of the world, just like we do, and they deserve answers. They need to be heard and understood. This book fills a void by bringing comfort to children who are struggling to cope with loss. 

Blog readers, you can win a copy of THE BOY AND THE GORILLA by Jackie Azùa Kramer and Cindy Derby.

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Jackie is an award-winning and internationally translated children’s author. She earned her MA in Counseling in Education, Queens College. She has worked as an actor, singer, and school counselor. She is a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab. Her picture books include, The Green Umbrella, “2017 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year”. If You Want to Fall Asleep and That’s for Babies. Jackie’s upcoming books- I Wish You Knew (Roaring Brook, 2021); Dorothy and Herbert- The Story of the Postal Clerk and the Librarian and their Extraordinary Collection of Art (Cameron Kids, 2021); We Are One (Two Lions/Amazon,TBD); Manolo and the Unicorn (Cameron Kids, TBD) and Miles Won’t Smile (Clavis, TBD). She lives with her family in Long Island, NY. When not writing, you’ll find her reading, watching old movies and traveling to her family’s roots in Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Spain. Visit her at