It’s a sad truth, perhaps, but I’ll buy just about any book with a giraffe on the cover. I love giraffes. Outside of my cat, I think they’re the most marvelous animals on the planet. So how psyched was I to discover that one of my most anticipated titles of the spring turned out to not only have a giraffe on the cover, but on the spine as well! Instant purchase. That title, of course, is Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell.
Me…Jane is a picture book biography of Jane Goodall, focusing on her early years with her stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee. Jane and Jubilee love to play, to be outdoors and explore. “Jane learned all that she could about the animals and plants she studied in her backyard and read about in books.” She investigates chickens and eggs, and has a favorite tree where she takes Jubilee to read her favorite books about Tarzan and dream about a life in Africa. The book ends with Jane waking one day to find “her dream come true”.
This book is truly gorgeous, illustrated in ink and watercolors. Everything has a brownish/beigish tinge to it, giving a pleasant antiquey feel. With few exceptions, there is a text page and an opposing illustration, but even the text pages are illustrated with delicate stamps and sketches of natural objects and relevant imagery. For example, opposite the illustration of Jane hiding in the chicken coop to witness the miracle of eggs is an image of a pocket watch. The text is spare but every word counts. McDonnell paints a vivid portrait of a young Goodall , whose eager scholarship and energy is infectious. The book includes back matter on Goodall’s life and a short message from the woman herself.
Biographies to me are tricky things. Biographies written for children are especially tricky, because where do you draw the line between the truth and an appropriate audience? (Lost Boy: The Story of the Man Who Created Peter Pan by Jane Yolen gives me especial pause, though I have yet to read the book myself.) McDonnell did a smart thing here by choosing to focus only on the young Jane, and give but a glimpse of the woman, while still instilling the spirit of Goodall’s life and work in a few pages and drawings. Me…Jane is my favorite picture book of the year thus far, and one I hope ends up on some Caldecott lists. It more than deserves the attention.
Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
2011, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers