The Watcher – Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps
Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps
written & illustrated by Jeanette Winter
Schwartz & Wade (2011)
The Watcher starts out with a bang. Jane Goodall is missing!
Not Jane, the primatologist, but Valerie Jane, the little English girl, beloved by her family long before she was cherished by the world.
Thankfully, young Jane is found safe and sound. She had been hiding in the henhouse all along to see exactly how an egg comes from a chicken. Jane was doing what she would come to do best: watching animals to learn about them.
The Watcher is written for children who don’t yet know Jane Goodall, scientist and animal advocate, but who can relate to this girl who loves animals and has one singular, unshakable dream: to visit Africa.
Ms. Winter illustrates the simple path to achieving dreams: keep that dream in mind every day. She shows Jane reading all about Africa and animals, and later working as a waitress to earn travel money. She shows how Jane takes advantage when the opportunity presents itself, when Louis Leakey is looking for someone to study chimps.
The book is easily a read-alone book. But since it invites deeper conversation about conservation and childhood dreams, it also makes a wonderful read-along book.
Winter’s fresh acrylics are summer-y in feeling, and leave space to notice Jane’s nuanced expressions. The cover has a bit of a Curious George feeling about it. The back cover captures Jane’s serenity, but I also saw a hint of a haunted look, a revelation that her life has not just been a happy one of watching the magical world of chimps in the wild, but also one of witnessing, and striving to end, suffering by animals.
When Winter tells of Jane learning the horrible fate of chimps hunted for bushmeat and stolen for lab experiments, she reveals the chimps’ sad plight without exposing the horror graphically to children.
Winter has made a career out of telling the powerful stories of individual activists who are women. Georgia O’Keefe, Wangari Muta Maathai, Malala Yousafzai, and others.
The Watcher follows suit and models how kids can discover their own purpose and passions, and seek to incorporate those passions into their lives everyday. The model here is clear: to follow a passion to where it may lead, which can grow to become a lifelong commitment that will change the world.
As Jane Goodall did, becoming a powerful advocate for Africa’s endangered lands and the wild animals living there.
[This book review is by Cathleen Burnham, documentary photographer and author of Doyli to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon, Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica. and Tony and His Elephants (coming April 2017), the first three installments in a six-book series profiling real kids around the world involved in wildlife rescue projects. Cathleen is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in RangeFinder, Creative Living, Cleveland Magazine, and many other publications.]