Why is it that each minority group passes through a phase where all their stories feature a noble, self-sacrificing individual who rescues his or her oppressors? Gordon belongs to that tradition of needing to be twice as good as those you hope will accept you as an equal.
In this case, Gordon the giraffe is bullied because he plays “Mulunga Doo,” a game of banana tossing and neck twining, with Gary instead of with a girl. Gordon’s mother is supportive, and tells him to follow his heart, but the other boys decide to enforce their ideas of what’s right. Their plan goes awry, and Gordon saves them from the fate they’d planned for him.
Another discordant note is the stereotype of Africa as a place of hidden kingdoms with names like “Ugladunga.” Combined with those pseudo-African words, the names “Gordon” and “Gary” are jarring.
Arcana, a new Canadian publisher of graphic novels, has listed Gordon the Giraffe as a graphic novel for all ages. Visually, it appears to be a picture book with full page illustrations, each facing a page of text, a format that may put off readers old enough to empathize with Gordon’s dawning sexual attraction.
The lovely art work by A. Shelton evokes West African fabrics and savanna landscapes as it amplifies and explains the text, yet transitions sometimes seem to be missing, leaving the reader dependent on the pictures to follow the plot.
Nevertheless, there are so few books for elementary school aged children that attempt to address bullying of gay kids that this story will have value for now. The book will also work as a read-aloud selection for small audiences, and the text font is large enough to be readable for some children with impaired vision.
Reviewer: Carolyn Caywood, Retired
Virginia Beach Public Library