Review of Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas
by Jim Ottaviani; illus. by Maris Wicks
Middle School, High School     First Second/Roaring Brook     140 pp.
6/13     978-1-59643-865-1     $19.99

A graphic format admirably propels this lightly fictionalized group biography of “Leakey’s Angels”: Jane Goodall (chimps in Rwanda), and Biruté Galdikas (orangutans in Borneo). The book proceeds chronologically, starting with Goodall’s childhood, her meeting with anthropologist Louis Leakey, and her early work in Gombe, and then braiding in the accounts of Fossey and Galdikas as Leakey recruited them. In a neat division of labor, the scientists (occasionally including Leakey) themselves narrate the story in captions that can be read continuously, with color and font indicating who’s narrating, while speech balloons and the small, tidy comic illustrations take readers to each present moment. While Fossey tells us about “the one [Alan Root] who taught me how to track gorillas,” the accompanying sequence of twelve panels shows us just how initially hopeless she was at the task. The tone is lively but respectful, with a moving account of Fossey’s difficulties and death: “Most people just didn’t understand her,” writes Jane. “Very few people tried.” The afterword is an interesting note about separating fact from fiction: “So, can you trust what I wrote, or what Maris drew? Well, yes…mostly.”

From the May/June 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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