When you think of Jane Goodall, you imagine her sitting in African forests surrounded by chimpanzees. You probably don’t think of her as a little girl collecting shells along the Bournemouth coast, forming a nature club with her friends, or carrying around a stuffed toy monkey everywhere she went. But that’s one part of the picture this book paints, and these childhood stories help flesh out the image of what Jane Goodall eventually became: a pioneer, one who did something few women had done before, and a household name for her wildlife study and conservation efforts.
This book will be like a lightning flash of inspiration to young, aspiring scientists. It depicts Goodall’s life in such a way as to make young people think, “I can do that too!” She was a sensitive and intelligent young girl who loved animals, and she happened upon a lucky break when she got the opportunity to travel to Africa with a friend. From there she met her mentor, Louis Leakey, and went from assisting him in his studies to conducting her own. Leakey saw her potential, and it was he who set her up on her most famous project: living in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania and studying chimpanzees firsthand.
Her experiences eventually led her to dedicate her life to environmentalist causes, and she now actively encourages kids to do their part to help through her Roots & Shoots Foundation. The last third of the book details how Goodall went from researcher to activist, and although this is an important topic to bring to young people’s attention, this section of the book could have been shorter. More stories about living and interacting with the chimpanzees would have been welcome instead, or even more pages dedicated to Jane’s childhood and young adulthood. The generations of chimpanzee families Goodall studied are as much a character in the book as she is, and more time given to their fascinating personalities and lives would have been beneficial to the book’s message.
However, this is a small gripe about what is ultimately a beautiful book about a remarkable person. Middle school and late elementary school students with any interest in nature and animals will enjoy Jane’s story, and it’s presented in a clear and engaging way. There are many photos integrated beautifully into the writing, as well as short sidebars and informational graphics detailing people and events central to Jane’s life. The book also encourages kids to study animals and nature, offering tips on how to do so and examples of other young people who are doing the same. This book will surely serve to inspire the next generation of Jane Goodalls.
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