[First, an apology: I was supposed to post here Wednesday but have been fighting a virus all week. The best laid plans fizzle when a long day at work is followed by a comfortable armchair. Zzzz.]
Jane Goodall demands respect. Even as a young woman on the American lecture circuit, there was a sense of quiet dignity about her — until she broke into a loud demonstration of the “pant-hoot.”
At first glance, Patrick McDonnell has made some surprising choices in this picture book biography: the “cheeky” title (Roger’s word), the near-total concentration on Goodall’s childhood, the sudden switch from illustration to a photograph of grown-up Jane on the last spread of the narrative.
In a book that appears at first to be dashed off, every decision works to create a whole that — to my mind — is in the top handful of this year’s picture books. Notice the old timey faded paper color, slightly darker along the edge of each page, and the distressed serif typeface. Notice the joyfully loose pen and watercolor art showing young Jane in an English garden, stuffed chimp Jubilee in tow, imagining herself among the animals of Africa. In a seemingly haphazard style, McDonnell throws in the kitchen sink including images from Jane’s actual childhood notebooks and clip art-like stamped images. The text is paired down to the essentials, letting visual elements impart much of the story and all of the emotion.
That final photo of grown-up Jane isn’t so jarring if you noticed the childhood photo of Jane and Jubilee on the title page. So why the mixture of old-fashioned decorum and timeless joie de vivre? I can think of a few reasons, but am more interested in hearing what you all think.