Book Review: Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell


Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Jane is a girl who loves to be outside watching the animals.  She takes her toy chimpanzee Jubilee with her on all of her adventures.  They watch the squirrels, birds and spiders.  They figure out where eggs come from.  They go together up into her favorite tree to dream about being Tarzan in Africa.  Jane dreamed about a life where she could study animals, learn about them, and watch them up close.  And that’s exactly what she grew up to do as Jane Goodall, chimpanzee expert and animal activist.

McDonnell writes with a restraint that is beautiful.  He has pared down Goodall’s childhood into a few seminal moments that speak to the adult she became.  Delightfully readable, the book has only a few lines of text per page, making it very accessible for young readers.  Yet it works as a biography because those few lines carry a weight with them.

The art in the book, also by McDonnell, combines old-fashioned stamps of chickens, squirrels, clocks and more with paintings that have a whimsical warmth about them.  This gives the book a feeling that it is about the past without being specific.  The color palette works especially well here with its yellows, greens, blues and browns.

The final pages of the book have information on Goodall’s life as well as a message from Jane herself to the readers.  It’s an ideal way to end a biographical picture book written for an age that is too young for bibliographies.

A playful, winning biographical picture book that celebrates the childhood of the incredible Jane Goodall.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by:

Book Review: Junonia by Kevin Henkes


Junonia by Kevin Henkes

Alice always celebrates her birthday on Sanibel Island in a beach cottage named Scallop.  This annual vacation from winter in Wisconsin is filled with the familiar.  Her parents accompany her, her aunt stays with them, and their neighbors in Sanibel are people she considers her extended family.  But this year, when Alice is turning 10, nothing is familiar.  First, some of her beloved neighbors do not come to Florida this year.  Then her Aunt Kate joins them along with her new boyfriend and his daughter, Mallory.  The entire vacation is thrown into chaos in Alice’s eyes, as she struggles to accept the changes and the new situation that is so different from her planned perfection of a trip.

This short novel looks deep into Alice as she searches for perfection embodied by the junonia shell that she has not yet found.  This deep look is not always flattering for Alice, as she can be jealous, petty, and prickly at times.  Yet the book speaks to acceptance of the reality of life and not constantly seeking the perfect birthday, the perfect day, the perfect circumstances.  It would never have worked as a novel to have Alice be an ideal protagonist.  Instead, seeing her with her flaws allows readers to see themselves in her.  It is a beautiful, quiet point Henkes is making.

Henkes writes of emotions with great detail, capturing Alice’s many moods.  He manages to put a name on the feeling and then create imagery that builds beyond that label.  In other words, he is carefully creating a book that children can read and understand, but that will lead them on into something deeper as well.

Henkes also captures Sanibel and its beaches and wildlife with beautiful imagery.  The images are ones that children will relate to.  Here is one of my favorites from Page 49:

“From their table on the deck at the restaurant, Alice could see the ocean perfectly.  And the sunset.  The sky and the sea were full of colors – yellow, peach, pink, blue, green, purple.  The water was like liquid color, like melted glass swirling around.”

This book is about big things understood through small.  It is about emotions, acceptance, forgiveness, disappointment and delight.  It is about life.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed on digital galley format from HarperCollins via NetGalley.

2011 Edgar Award Winners

The winners of the 2011 Edgar Awards, which honor the best of mystery, have been announced.

Best Juvenile

The Buddy Files: The Case of the Lost Boy by Dori Hillestad Butler

Best Young Adult

The Interrogation of Gabriel James by Charlie Price

I haven’t read either of the winners.  If you have, I’d love to know your reaction.