Friday, December 6, 2013

Kids Can Make a Difference

A couple of weeks ago, I received a review copy of Let’s Make a Difference: We Can Help Protect Mountain Gorillas, 
by Gabriella Francine with Solara Vayanian, illustrated by Phil Velikan. This week I had the opportunity to introduce the book to a couple of my speech and language groups and they were glad I did.

Some of my students are working on “g” and “k” sounds at the conversational level. They are able to pronounce these phonemes correctly when naming pictures, but once they are chatting in a more spontaneous manner, they slip back into using “d” for “g” and “t” for “k”. (We call that “fronting” in speech therapy circles, because the kids move their tongue forward instead of back, where it belongs for these sounds.) The children got a lot of practice as we talked about Pikoe, the baby gorilla, and his father, Kunga, a “silverback,” named so because of the gray hair on his back.

In the language group, we had a nice vocabulary lesson with words sprinkled throughout the text like, “foraging,” “species,” and “endangered.” The authors supplied some of the definitions as they used the words in the story.

        “ ‘Endangered’ means that if people don’t help them, the mountain gorillas will someday disappear.”

The kids weren’t the only ones to glean information from this book. I didn’t realize there are less than 900 mountain gorillas still living in the wild. Their home is in the cold, misty Virunga mountains of Africa, where they forage each day for leaves, vines, bark, shoots and roots. Gorilla mothers gather food with their babies clinging to their backs. They start looking for food early in the day and then take a nap before searching again. It is no wonder they take a long time to find enough food—

     “Because mountain gorillas are so big, they need to eat a lot! Pikoe’s father, Kunga, has to eat 75 pounds of food every day.”

Phil Velikan illustrated what that amount of food might look like: pizza, watermelon, broccoli, chicken, a carton of milk, kabobs, and other edibles, create a mountain of food on a bathroom scale in the middle of a kitchen. The drawing shows a child reaching up to place a peppershaker on top of this pile that is larger than the child himself!

The blend of illustrations and photographs appealed to my students. They loved the expressive faces on the animals, especially the baby gorilla in the veterinarian’s arms. The infant seemed to look into the eyes of the “Gorilla Doctor” with a mixture of trust and a question, “will you take care of me?” That picture captured the hearts of my students, and they decided they’d like to help that little one and all the other (less than) 899 mountain gorillas living in the wild. They don’t want these animals to disappear from our planet.

Fortunately, the book has suggestions on how they can make a difference. The last page lists organizations that are working to protect mountain gorillas and their habitats. We didn’t have time to visit the websites but the kids wanted to share the information with their classmates and families so I sent them off with website addresses.

While I read the book, and we discussed the plight of the Mountain Gorillas, the kids drew some pictures:

Zayd is going public with his. He plans to decorate a box with small gorillas on the side, cut a hole in top for coins, and hang his picture above it on a local restaurant wall.

He certainly took the title of this book to heart. Let’s Make a Difference: We Can Help Protect Mountain Gorillas. I believe he will.

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