Back when I used to play Super Nintendo a lot, one of my favorite games was The Jungle Book, in which jungle boy Mowgli comes stocked with a perpetual supply of bananas to lob at enemies. The picture book Tarzan Goes Bananas, a Disney First Reader written by Judy Katschke and illustrated by Andrea and John Alvin, features another jungle boy with bananas on the brain. This time, however, the bananas are the goal rather than a means to an end.
Like several Disney movies, including The Fox and the Hound and The Lion King, Tarzan shows us three distinct stages in the life of the main character, with childhood being the second. This is the point at which this story is set. Tarzan, the boy raised by gorillas, joins Turk, a gutsy gorilla, and Tantor, a wimpy elephant, in planning a contest to see who can get the most bananas down from a particular tree.
All of the main supporting characters from this phase of Tarzans life are present in this book: Tantor, Turk and his gorilla parents, gentle Kala and fierce Kerchak. We also have a few other jungle animals to give the book variety. Other contest participants include a rhino, a baboon, a snake and what looks to be some type of lemur-like creature, all unnamed. Each animal has a different strategy for collecting the bananas that hang high above the ground, but Tarzan suspects that his method may be most effective of all. Will his extra preparation reward him in the end?
The storyline is fun not only because it uses familiar characters but also because of the problem-solving skills that the animals display. Every animal has to come up with a different idea, something dictated by his or her particular skills. While his fellow participants seem to mostly think on their feet, relying on their instincts to help them find the best solution, Tarzan hatches his idea near the beginning of the book and doesnt implement it until almost the end, so children can try to guess what hes planning and come up with their own ideas for getting the bananas off the tree.
The writing style is suitably simple for early readers, with about three to five sentences per page, mostly consisting of dialogue. The pictures are richly detailed, with full-color backgrounds and expressive characters, particularly Tarzan. My only complaint on the illustrations end of things is that at one point, hundreds perhaps even thousands of bananas fall from the tree, but previous peeks at the tree make it seem that it couldnt possibly support that many bananas. It does make for a fun picture, with Tarzan and his friends swimming in bananas almost like Scrooge McDuck swims in gold coins, but its definitely an exaggeration.
In addition to the story, the book includes an introductory page for parents with an explanation of the reasons behind the series and some suggestions on how to make reading with a child a more memorable and enjoyable experience. For instance, former International Reading Association president Patricia Koppman recommends discussing the movie ahead of time to make sure the child is familiar enough with the characters to feel a connection with them; if there is a lack of familiarity, she suggests taking a few minutes to provide context for the story. She suggests both reading to children and letting the children read aloud, with parents furnishing words when asked instead of stopping the story to sound them out. Every reader is a bit different, but the recommendations included with the book seem helpful.
This is an uncomplicated story, but its also a fun tale that encourages creative problem solving and immerses children in a vibrant natural setting. If they liked Tarzan, chances are they that will go bananas for Tarzan Goes Bananas.
This review is a part of the All Things Disney Write-Off.