From childhood, Jean Goodall was interested in observing nature around her, watching the world and wondering about its marvels. Thus her move to Africa and her work observing apes was a progression of a childhood interest. In The Watcher: Jean Goodall’s Life with the Chimps Jeanette Winter focuses on Jean’s love of animals and desire to watch and learn from them. The text emphasizes her persistence in seeking the apes, but also her willingness to let them teach her rather then force herself on them. When the animals she studies are threatened, Jean is shown as a fierce defender, moving from a watcher to an advocate, speaking out to protect the animals and environment she loved.
Because of the picture book format, and the intended young audience, the story of her work and life are told very generally. Though information about some of the most important discoveries she made is included, such as she saw that the apes used tools, had emotions, and functioned in family groups. In this case, I think it works very well. She was self educated and self motivated, which makes her an interesting role model for children. This masterful portrayal is perfectly pitched to children who have a variety of passions, because it demonstrates how an interest in their youth can carry on through their lives.
The illustrations, also by Jeanette Winter, are simply gorgeous. Colorful without being overpowering, they depict the apes, the jungle, and Jane through rain and sun. They are a perfect match for the simple text.
There is an afterword, with a suggestion to look to Jean Goodall’s autobiography, but I wish there were listed resources more suitable for the audience, so that children who read this and want to know more can look for further information.
Check out the other great informational books reviewed this week for Non Fiction Monday at Telling Kids the Truth.