Becoming Jane

Every once in a while a book comes along that touches your heart. Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown 2011) is one of those books for me. From the title page, which shows a photographs of a young girl, wide smile on her face, holding her stuffed toy chimpanzee, this book grabbed my attention. Though it doesn’t say officially until the last page, this is Jane Goodall. Somehow I felt that. (Her picture is on the back cover as well.) I can’t quite explain why I was so moved by this image. It was many things: I wondered how much it says about how we parent; who gave Jane that chimpanzee? was a stuffed chimpanzee a usual toy in the 1940s? how do some people know from such a young age exactly what they want to do? how does environment shape us? And the adult in me reflects on how Jane Goodall has changed our view of chimpanzees and continues to lead the call for conservation today. What a difference she has made by following her dreams. All of these thoughts at once. I was overwhelmed.

Some of Jane’s sketches and notes from her childhood — games she made up for the Alligator Club are included. The paper is thick and heavy, and even a little yellowed at the edges. McDonnell’s watercolor illustrations are delightful, with a winsome, determined young girl and charming animals. The illustrator also incorporated ornamental engravings (leaves, maps, astronomy diagrams and more) from the 19th and 20th centuries on the pages with text, which add depth and visual interest. There’s plenty to pour over here. Another sketch of Goodall’s at the very end shows Jane sleeping in a tree, with a chimp sleeping in her tent!

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeannette Winter(Schwartz & Wade, 2011) goes into a little more depth about Goodall’s life. This introductory biography is great for elementary age readers.  The story details how young Jane carefully watched all the animals in her world, big and small. I love the example of the robin, who slowly grows comfortable enough to build a nest on Jane’s bookshelf! The small book is beautifully designed. After Goodall travels to Africa, Winter’s illustrations break the confines of a small central box to flow across the pages. I loved how the reader could spot the chimps hiding, before they were willing to show themselves to Goodall. The paper is thick and heavy. The text is deceptively simple; it is clear Winter has chosen her words carefully. The prose is nicely spaced with short length, spacing between the words, and could probably be read by a beginning reader (would love to see this book considered for the Geisel Award!)

Both books describe Goodall’s childhood love of the outdoors, her constant companion, Jubilee, and her dreams of Africa. Winter’s biography takes us further, adding details of her remarkable scientific observations at Gombe. We get to meet David Greybeard. Winter descibes Goodall’s first night at Gombe: “Jane lay awake listening to new sounds – the croak of a frog, 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.”


You can find out more about Jane Goodall at her website: and from her own writings about her work, including My Life with the Chimpanzees.

In this CNN interview from April 2011, Goodall talks about Jubilee, her childhood stuffed animal, that she still has.

This entry was posted in biography, nonfiction, picture books, science and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Becoming Jane

  1. Pingback: Nonfiction Monday: Vacation Mode « Check It Out

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