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The Picture Book Buzz

He Leads - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Like the magnificent She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch, June Smalls and Yumi Shimokawara's newest picture book looks at the life and leadership of a silverback in a gorilla troop. I fell in live with this gorgeous and intense cover. The gorilla's focused, almost piercing eyes seem to track you.

Once again, June Smalls and Yumi Shimokawara have created a beautiful, touching, and educational picture book that not only looks at the family lives and special characteristics of gorillas, but celebrates the gentle leadership of the silverback!

He Leads: Mountain Gorilla, the Gentle Giant

Author: June Smalls

Illustrator: Yumi Shimokawara

Publisher: Familius

Ages: 4-8



Leadership, gorilla troops, family, and gentleness.


He is the king. He leads his family, his troop.

His silver back shows his age and experience.

He guides them through thick forests and steep mountains.

The majestic mountain gorillas live in family groups, led by a powerful silverback. Juxtaposing the apes’ awesome strength and surprising gentleness, He Leads tells the story of family loyalty and love. With stunning, lifelike illustrations and facts on each page, this beautiful picture book is a monument to these endangered gentle giants.

Opening Lines:

He is the king. He leads his family, his troop.

Mountain gorillas are apes, closely related to humans. They live in complex social

groups, known as troops or bands, that range in size from two to thirty gorillas.

What I LOVED about this book:

Following the earlier format in She Leads, this book likewise employs dual text on each spread. The one, or at most two, simple, concise sentences and gorgeous illustrations (like this one) will appeal to a younger audience and offer a big picture of gorilla troops. While, at the same time, the more in-depth sidebars about the gorillas, their lives, and the dangers they face extends the interest level to slightly older (or even adult) readers.

Text © June Smalls, 2022. Image © Yumi Shimokawara, 2022.

The book follows a mountain silverback gorilla as he leads his family through the forests in their daily search for food, safe places to groom, nap, and play, and finally nests for the night. Gently, but firmly, maintaining order and helping them learn communication skills and proper behavior.

Text © June Smalls, 2022. Image © Yumi Shimokawara, 2022.

After explaining that this sharp toothed, gentle leader is mostly a vegetarian, June Smalls and Yumi Shimokawara demonstrate the silver backs' ability and willingness to defend his family, "even at the cost of his own life."

Text © June Smalls, 2022. Image © Yumi Shimokawara, 2022.

In this second book, they don't shy from the reality of life, either. "Another silverback steps up. He will lead the troop, teach, and protect." The lush green surrounding the gorillas to this point, starts to fade into tans, browns, and increasing white space as the new leader takes over the troop. Shimokawara’s stunning watercolor illustrations not only capture the mood and change of this moment, but impressively portray the intelligence of the gorillas encouraging empathy and admiration.

Overall, this is a wonderful book on the unique and powerful leader of a gorilla troop and peek into their family structure and lives. One I hope will inspire kids and adults to learn more about them and encourage everyone to help ensure these magnificent primates continue to play and roam the forests. An delightful book for every public and private library.


- make an origami gorilla, or maybe a silver back and a whole troop (

- are there games you like to play with your family? Maybe try a game of charades, only using gestures.

- what makes someone a good leader? What are some ways that can you be a leader at school or at home? Some ideas (here).

- read other books about gorillas - Baby Gorillas (Super Cute!) by Christina Leaf (ages 5-8), Discovery All Star Readers: I Am a Gorilla Level 2 by Lori C. Froeb (ages 6-8), and Growing Up Gorilla: How a Zoo Baby Brought Her Family Together by Clare Hodgson Meeker (ages 8-12).

If you missed the interview of June Smalls on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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