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[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Jane Goodall Extravaganza: From Award-Winning Picturebooks to a National Geographic Book to a Graphic Novel Format

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Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2016 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

Poster done by Iphigene
Poster done by Iphigene

There is a lot that has been written about the life of premier scientist and environmentalist, Jane Goodall. I thought I might as well provide a fair representation of her life as portrayed in various formats.

mejaneMe… Jane

Story and Pictures by: Patrick McDonnell
Published by: Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2011. Book Awards: Caldecott Honor Book
Bought a copy of the book (Library Sale). Book photos taken by me. ISBN13: 9780316045469

This review was written back in 2012 – I thought it would be good to resurrect it here for this post.

The book begins with Jane being given a stuffed chimpanzee toy which she named Jubilee. This little girl took her favorite stuffed animal wherever she goes. The faded, almost-sepia-toned feel of the illustrations suggest an old-world vibe to the images and storyline:

She watched birds making their nests,
spiders spinning their webs,
and squirrels chasing one another 
up and down trees.

In an age of computers, Wii, Kinect, Facebook, Twitter – it is refreshing to read about this lovely girl with her chimp climbing trees, chasing squirrels and scribbling detailed notes about the animals and plants she sees in her backyard.

Wondrous Beauty of Nature. What struck me most about this book is its unadorned sense of quiet. There were only two to five lines in each page spread alongside the soft, muted McDonnell artwork. Yet its authenticity is keenly felt in its carefully-chosen phrases and the scrap-book-y feel of the book (with a few drawings made by Goodall and some pictures interspersed in the pages). The way the young child is depicted in the drawings also portray the quiet curiosity and simplicity of the woman that she would later become.

Little Jane keen on doing her research and writing down her observations.

 The reader is also drawn to this young child who is so in love with nature, one can not help but look out the window and see the world through her eyes:
Jane often climbed her favorite tree,
which she named Beech.
She would lay her cheek against its trunk
and seem to feel the sap
flowing beneath the bark.

A Girl with Big Dreams. The Author’s Notes found at the end of the book showed me how this little girl dared to chase her dreams and her passion at a time when it was not the norm for women to be single-minded in their pursuit of knowledge and erudition.

When Jane Goodall was ten years old, she decided that when she grew up she would go to Africa, live with the animals, and write about them. Almost everyone told her this goal was impossible. Her family had little money, and she was a girl in a time when girls were not encouraged to pursue adventurous careers. But her mother encouraged her to follow her dream. When Jane finished school, she continued to learn about Africa and worked hard to save enough money to go there.

At present, Jane Goodall has an organization (the Jane Goodall Institute) that “helps communities near wild places grow more food, have clean water, and send children to school, while also teaching people how to protect the nearby wildlife.” It has indeed been an epic journey for kind-hearted Jane Goodall.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life With The ChimpsIMG_9546

Story and Pictures by: Jeanette Winter
Published by: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011 Book Awards: Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice Winner, National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children Nominee
Borrowed a copy from the library. Book photos taken by me. ISBN13: 9780375867743

Published in the same year as Me… Jane, this picturebook biography begins by highlighting that pivotal incident in the henhouse when Jane was gone for hours on end at age five, driving her mother frantic, while she was happily observing how an egg comes out from a hen.


Unlike McDonnell’s book that has very sparse text, Winter included more information – especially how Jane earned enough money to travel to Kenya to stay with a good friend. Louis Leakey was likewise mentioned as instrumental in giving Jane her very first opportunity to work with animals – her dream ever since she was a child.


I was especially struck by how she described her first time to set up camp as part of her work with the chimpanzees:

That first night, Jane lay awake listening to new sounds – 

the croak of a fog, the hum of crickets,

the laugh of a hyena, the hoot of an owl –

and looking up at the stars.

She knew she was Home.


The story ends with Jane’s advocacy to speak out for endangered animals, pleading with the rest of humanity to help save the forest that is their home. There is also a brief afterword that shows more detailed information about Jane, called the “white ape,” and further references for readers who wish to know more.

IMG_9538Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall

Written by: Anita Silvey Foreword by: Jane Goodall
Published by: National Geographic, 2015 Book Awards: 2015 Cybils Finalist Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction.
Borrowed a copy from the library. Book photos taken by me. ISBN13: 9781426315190

Perhaps among all the biographies written about Jane Goodall, this would stand as among one of the most definitive – with a Foreword written by Goodall herself, and published by the very first organization that funded Goodall’s research as a young and virtually-unknown, not to mention relatively-untrained social scientist without a college undergraduate degree at that.

The book is divided into five major sections – beginning with Jane’s childhood – complete with photographs of the very beautiful Jane, what she was like as a child, and life with her family during the war at Bournemouth:


In the second chapter entitled Gombe, the reader is finally introduced to Goodall’s journey to Africa and her fortuitous meeting with the man who was instrumental in changing her entire life: Louis Leakey, a famous paleontologist, archaeologist, and anthropologist who was convinced that women were more effective data-collectors when it comes to naturalistic observation in the wild with the apes – than men. I was also amazed by how Jane’s mother, Vanne Morris-Goodall, fully supported her daughter and even went on to live with her in Gombe during Jane’s first few weeks at camp:


The third chapter, Celebrity Scientist, shows how Goodall’s life was changed by her findings obtained from her meticulous and patient observation of the chimpanzees in their natural habitat:

Much would be written later about how Jane’s research approach to the chimpanzees seemed more in keeping with the way a woman, rather than a man, might operate. She did not try to master the environment; rather, she observed it. But Jane made all of her discoveries by hard, determined, persistent work. She simply devoted more hours to observation and recording than anyone in the area of chimpanzee research. And she did so through illnesses such as malaria, horrible weather, and rough living conditions.


She is also among the very few people who skipped college and went on to earn her PhD degree directly. Talk about sheer talent and tenacity. This was also one of the ways through which she could earn the respect of academic peers who have not even done half of what she managed to do in her young age.

Chapters 4 and 5 entitled Transformation and The Legacy respectively focused on Jane’s mission to promote an awareness of the living conditions of chimpanzees in captivity as well as conservation of the animals’ natural habitat, and animal welfare. I was awed by the photographs and the very readable and accessible narrative which clearly reveal the compassionate and gentle spirit of this woman who would go on to change the world.

I was also happy to have seen actual photographs of two other beautiful women: Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas – who, along with Jane Goodall, became known in the scientific community as Leakey’s Angels or the Trimates:


I thought this would be a good precursor to the last book in this Jane Goodall biography extravaganza.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, DianIMG_9530 Fossey, and Birute Galdikas

Written and Illustrated by: Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks
Published by: First Second, New York, 2013 Book Awards: NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12: 2014; YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2014, Nonfiction
Borrowed a copy from the library. Book photos taken by me. (ISBN13: 9781596438651)

Technically, this graphic novel is not just about Jane Goodall, but “the fearless science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas.” While I know a great deal about Goodall, I can’t say the same thing about Fossey and Galdikas who were virtually unknown to me until this book. It was a good introduction to the lives of these three women who devoted their scientific study to chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans respectively.

I was particularly amused by how Louis Leakey was characterized in this graphic novel – he did have his own agenda, some less savoury than others. I like how it was told, though, in a fairly straightforward manner – I am sure there must be more to it than is told in these pages, but that is for a different book perhaps.

These three women’s sacrifice, dedication, and hard work were all painstakingly documented here and was depicted in quite a humorous fashion that is sure to engage a lot of readers, even the most reluctant ones – see Jane’s less-than-rustic experience in Gombe, Africa:


or the fact that Dian Fossey was informed by Leakey that she had to have her appendix removed before she could travel to Africa:


and how Birute had to demonstrate worlds of patience as orangutan interactions were not as intriguing or interesting compared to Goodall’s chimps:


I did find the narrative a little disjointed as there were three different stories told within one book – and so I had to remind myself whose story is being told at which point.

These three women, affectionately called The Trimates, devoted their entire life’s work to the examination of and eventually the conservation of the animals who have taught us so much about where we came from and who we are as human beings.


Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 7.27.03 PM

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall (and the other biographies here) count/s towards my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: (5/24) Read a Biography (not an autobiography or memoir).

5 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Jane Goodall Extravaganza: From Award-Winning Picturebooks to a National Geographic Book to a Graphic Novel Format

  1. What a great round up! I would like to check out The Watcher. I haven’t read that one.
    Did you see Brad Meltzer’s series Ordinary People is featuring Jane Goodall in the near future?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A fabulous round up, and especially fitting around International Women’s Day! I was always fascinated by Jane Goodall as a child, I was so in awe of her determination to follow her dream and make a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the picture books and Primates, but haven’t read Untamed, Myra. There is a Colorado connection with Jane Goodall, who led an environmental group long ago, and one student worked with her. What a wonderful experience she had. Thanks for “gathering” these books. I love “Me, Jane”. It’s such a great mentor text for students who journal.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I pinned this because, I don’t know if you know but, I love apes! And because of my love of these amazing animals, I am fascinated by Jane Goodall. She is such an amazing woman. Thank you for putting this together for us! 🙂


  5. crbrunelle

    I’ve read most of these, but Me…Jane is a strong favorite for me. I love the illustrations.


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