Review: Chimpanzee Children of Gombe by Jane Goodall

chimpanzee children of gombe

Chimpanzee Children of Gombe by Jane Goodall, photos by Michael Neugebauer

Jane Goodall invites young readers to spend some time in the Gombe National Park in Tanzania with the chimpanzee families she has been studying for decades.  Readers are introduced to two chimpanzee families, F-family and G-family, who are all named with that letter as the first in their name.  So there are Ferdinand, Faustino and Fifi and also Gremlin, Galahad and Gaia.  Goodall shows similarities between humans and chimpanzees, including greeting each other with kisses, having mothers who are good and others who are not so good, and children who love to play.  The book celebrates the close family bonds of chimpanzees, the caring mothers who lug children on their fronts and then their backs, siblings who play together, and the way young are taught to use tools.  The result is a book that is a trip to their world and an invitation to learn more about these amazing endangered animals.

Goodall writes with a wonderful inviting tone, explaining facts carefully but also allowing the images of the animals to tell much of the story.  She plays hostess in the book, taking care to make sure that children know the basics about the chimpanzees and then also moving on to include other animals like baboons and monkeys that live in the same area.  The book nicely balances offering just enough information to stay fascinating and not overwhelming children with too many small facts.  Instead it reads as a stroll alongside Goodall through her research center.

The photographs by Neugebauer reinforce what Goodall is explaining in words.  Readers see the close family ties, they witness young chimpanzees at play, and there are gorgeous shots of the habitat itself that show how special and important this place is. 

A strong introduction to Goodall’s work, this book is engaging and inspiring.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Primates by Jim Ottaviani


Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

Released June 11, 2013.

Explore three of the greatest primatologists of the 20th century in this graphic novel.  The book begins with the story of Jane Goodall and how she was recruited by the famous anthropologist Lous Leakey to research chimpanzees.  It shows how she first learned to quietly watch the chimpanzees and be accepted by them as well as her own personal life as she lived in the jungle.  When Dian Fossey is then recruited by Leakey, the story turns to her life and her very different personality as she researched gorillas using similar techniques to Goodall.  The last woman recruited was Galdikas and she studied orangutans and had her own adventures as her research progressed.  Told with humor but also immense respect, the stories of these three pioneering women show the importance of female scientists and the unique paths you can take to reaching your dreams.

Ottaviani writes in the voices of the three women, beautifully capturing their individuality through their words.  The three are profoundly unique yet also amazingly similar in their bravery, dedication and resilience.  I particularly enjoyed the scenes where the three of them were together and the ending which demonstrated how different they were from one another.  It takes a lot of skill to write three women’s voices with such clarity that they are distinct and special.

The art by Wicks has a wonderful simplicity and also a playfulness that makes the book welcoming and light hearted.  This is nonfiction that reluctant readers and young biologists alike will enjoy.  The graphic format is compelling and given the nature of the research makes the entire experience more tangible for young readers.

A great graphic novel, this is a stellar pick for school libraries and public libraries that will have children learning about scientific history without even realizing it!  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

Book Review: The Watcher by Jeanette Winter


The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter

Follow Jane Goodall’s life in this vivid picture book.  The book follows Jane from her childhood where she spent a lot of time watching the animals around her, including having a robin nest built on her bookcase in her room.  Jane left home soon after graduating from school, heading to Kenya.  There she met Louis Leakey who was looking for someone to observe chimpanzees.  Jane headed into the jungle to watch the chimpanzees, spending time out near them just quietly viewing them.  She learned all sorts of things that no one had ever discovered before.  Jane spent many years with the chimpanzees learning, but then people began to threaten the chimpanzee habitat, so Jane had to leave them and become their voice, speaking out to assure their survival. 

Winter has created a book that speaks to the heart of what Goodall has done, all of her accomplishments and discoveries pale in the book and in life to her dedication to the animals themselves.  Goodall is a perfect subject for a picture book.  She is a brave woman who braved living alone in the wilderness to do what she felt she was meant to do with her life.  Winter captures all of this in few words, allowing Goodall’s life to speak for itself.

Winter’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint and pen.  They have strong forms, deep colors, and a childlike quality that make the book even more approachable for children.  I especially enjoy the cover image with the reflection of the chimpanzees in the lenses of her binoculars.  It sums up the book delightfully.

There is something special about a book that tells children to follow their hearts, but this one is even more special because it also shows children the value of watching and learning too.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

Half Brother: Stole My Whole Heart

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

In 1973, thirteen-year-old Ben moves with his family to Victoria from Toronto.  He not only has to deal with leaving his friends behind and moving to a new city and climate, but he has a new little brother.  His new “brother” Zan is a chimpanzee, taken from its mother when it was only days old and brought to Ben’s house to be part of an experiment conducted by both of his parents in whether chimps can learn language and how being raised as a human child will affect him.  At first, Ben is caught up in his own teen concerns: a pretty girl and how to be an alpha male in his new school.  But slowly he warms to Zan and eventually grows to consider him a real sibling.  As Zan learns to sign and communicate, the divisions between his parents’ two approaches become magnified and their approaches to parenting Ben as well.  All too soon, Ben is forced to confront the truth about the experiment and its result.  The question will be answered, what kind of brother will Ben be to Zan?

Oppel really had his work cut out for him here.  Bring the 1970s to life with all of its unique perspectives and style plus write a convincing teen boy character and finally create an animal character that rings true.  And he manages it all with great style.  The time period is deftly created from small touches, never hitting readers over the head with it.  Ben is a boy who is easily related to by readers.  He struggles in school, would rather be with his friends or outdoors, and has a big crush on a girl.  At the same time, he makes classic mistakes with the girl, frustrates his parents, and gets in plenty of scrapes.  Nicely, Ben’s crush echoes what is happening with his father and the experiment.  He’s not a perfect hero, but because of that he reads as a real person with plenty of emotional depth.

Zan, the chimp, is a wonder of writing.  By turns he charms, aggravates, frightens, bites, mauls, tantrums, and adores.  He is never written as a human child, never given human emotions.  Oppel never loses sight of the fact that Zan is pure animal, that loss of perspective is left to Ben.

The book is deep and haunting.  At times even before things unraveled, I read it with a pit in my stomach, knowing that something was going to unravel the Eden that was being portrayed.  It is a book that explores experimentation on animals, what makes us human, what the animals in our lives mean to us, and what it is that connects us all to one another.  It is a book of self exploration, the clarity of comprehension despite the pain, and what one must lose to do right by those we love.  In short, it is a glory of a novel.

A great read that is impossible to set aside, this book will stay with you long after you finish it.  If you are like me, you will finish it with deep gasping breaths, tears and great satisfaction.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.