Brad Meltzer has written a child-friendly account of Dr. Jane Goodall as she grew up and began her research on chimpanzees in I am Jane Goodall. I recommend this book for budding environmentalists. It shows kids the importance of caring for the Earth and the need to work with others to advance conservation efforts. It also demonstrates that passions can turn into careers. If you have a young environmentalist in your home this could be a good addition to their library.
The book starts with Jane’s first birthday, then gives a humorous glimpse of trouble she got into as a child due to her curiosity and passion for nature. All kids experience this type of youthful naivete as they explore their world that would cause parents to want to pull their hair out, like Jane providing worms a cozy home on her bed.
As Jane grows up, the importance of hard work to achieve a goal is demonstrated. She surmounted obstacles to get to Africa. She overcame discrimination as a woman in a male-dominated field. Then, finally, with a lot of patience she was able to get close to chimpanzees in the wild. She was able to observe them for extended periods of time noticing their individual behaviors, and the similarities to human behavior.
My kids, ages four and six, were not initially interested in the book. As I began reading they were quickly drawn into the life of Jane Goodall as a child, from her attachment to her stuffed chimpanzee toy Jubilee, to the games she played, her innocent mischievousness, and her excitement for animals and reading. These are common elements in their daily lives. By the end of the book my kids were glad we read it. We had a passionate discussion about threatened animals and what they could do to help.
I found the book entertaining and inspiring. It is intriguing to hear how prominent figures in conservation discovered their field. It is also useful to see an example of how they overcame obstacles that people in conservation still face today – lack of money, controversy about the way to do research, etc.
The illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulous are cute. They have a comic feel with text bubbles depicting what Jane would have said in different situations. Jane is depicted as a short girl throughout the book that does not appear to age though, which led to questions from my daughter about why she wasn’t getting older as she started doing research on chimpanzees.
The book ends with pictures of Jane through the years, and a timeline of major events in her life. She continues to be an inspiration to care for the Earth through her work at the Jane Goodall Institute. The book mentions her Roots & Shoots program as well, which connects kids around the world and engages them in projects to help save the Earth, animals, and people in need. It is a good reminder of all the ways we can help, and can be a discussion stimulus to encourage kids to relate their own actions to conservation efforts.
This book is from a series of books Meltzer and Eliopoulous are creating for Scholastic called Ordinary People Change the World. If you enjoy this one, check out some of the other ones in the series too.
Heather is the Chairperson for the Strategic Planning Committee for the Society for Conservation Biology’s Conservation Genetics Working Group. She also teaches biology classes online for Colorado State University – Global Campus.