Nonfiction Monday: Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
There are biographies that are picture books, and there are picture book biographies. The difference, you ask? The former is a fairly detailed bio with illustrations added – usually resulting in a book most appropriate for older audiences. The latter is picture book through and through – minimal text, basic vocab, simple story. With Me…Jane, Patrick McDonnell (Wag!, South) has created a picture book biography – it keeps the focus narrow, with successful results.
On the first page we are introduced to a young Jane Goodall and her stuffed toy chimp Jubilee. An inseparable pair, Jubilee accompanies Jane as she liberally indulges her curiosity in the natural world, including a memorable discovery of where eggs come from:
… [S]he and Jubilee snuck into Grandma Nutt’s chicken coop…hid beneath some straw, stayed very still…and observed the miracle.
Jane recorded her findings and, with the help of the Tarzan books she read, dreamed of a life studying animals in Africa. The powerful final image, a photograph showing Goodall reaching out to a baby chimpanzee, the real-life incarnation of her childhood toy, will linger with readers and let them know that Goodall achieved her dream. Beautiful.
The choice to cover only Jane Goodall’s childhood and not her exploits in Africa could be a sticking point for some. But if viewed simply as a chronicle of Goodall’s early steps to becoming an anthropologist, this focus on childhood fits, and will work for a K-2nd grade audience. Backmatter includes more detailed information about Goodall’s work studying primates as well as a note from Goodall herself.
The lovely watercolor illustrations hit all the earth tones you would expect, with a peacefulness that matches Goodall’s famously placid demeanor. Images are also pulled from other sources and presented in rubber stamp-like single-color. For instance, on the page that describes Jane’s longing to visit Africa, an image of ship, a map, and waves adorn the blank space, adding richness.
A woman who made important anthropological discoveries began as a girl who loved the outdoors. Me…Jane isn’t a blow-by-blow of Goodall’s entire career, but a laudable introduction and jumping-off point for young readers.
Review copy from publisher.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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