I Am Jane Goodall: Ordinary People Change the World

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
I Am Jane Goodall: Ordinary People Change the World Book Poster Image
Endearing, lively illustrated bio packs positive messages.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Besides promoting education, learning, and mentoring, I Am Jane Goodall includes references to the classic kids' book Dr. Dolittle and a wealth of information about chimpanzees and their world. An appendix includes photos of Jane Goodall over the years and information about her scientific and humanitarian organizations.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about finding common ground, working things out, having patience and respect, and overcoming obstacles. The book closes with a quote from Jane Goodall herself: "You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you decide makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jane Goodall, still working actively on environmental and humanitarian causes at the time of this book's publication, is a complex figure in real life, but her character and accomplishments appear here in an upbeat, positive, age-appropriate presentation for little kids: her mom's advice not to let obstacles keep her from her dreams, her love of animals, the patience it takes to be a good observer, and, most of all, "so much that we all have in common," and the great things that happen when we work together. Good luck, kind mentors, and hard work all play a role.

Violence & Scariness

There's a moment of potential disaster when little Jane "rescues" a bunch of earthworms by putting them under her pillow. Fortunately her mom discovers them in time, and no lives are lost.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Am Jane Goodall, a recent entry in the Ordinary People Change the World series by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos, hits a lot of sweet spots and delivers a raft of positive messages in its portrait of the famed scientist, environmentalist, and friend of chimpanzees. Unlike other Ordinary People books, it spotlights a still-living and still-active person, allowing for much less explaining of historical issues and more storytelling and things that will strike a chord with little kids as well as their older siblings: love of animals, working hard to make your dreams real, using patience and respect to build trust, having parents who support you in your goals. An important lesson is one that young Jane learned as a child reading Dr. Dolittle: "We can accomplish anything by working together."

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What's the story?

I AM JANE GOODALL begins as little Jane's dad gives her a stuffed-animal chimpanzee for her first birthday, the first of many life-changing moments. Another comes a few years later, when she reads a library book, Dr. Dolittle, three times  before it has to go back -- her family didn't have enough money to buy a copy -- and decides to go to Africa to live among the animals. The story follows little white-haired cartoon kid Jane as she works hard, saves her money, gets to Africa, meets noted anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey, and befriends chimpanzees. An appendix includes photographs and information about her research center in Tanzania, as well as her worldwide youth organization Roots & Shoots. Along the way are lots of messages about finding common ground and working together.

Is it any good?

Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos hit a lot of sweet spots in this lively installment of their picture-book series about onetime regular kids who went on to change the world. I Am Jane Goodall's appealing pictures and commentary show little white-haired Jane falling hard for the animal kingdom and overcoming obstacles from sexism (girls weren't supposed to be scientists when she was in school) to lack of money (she worked as a waitress to pay for her first trip to Africa). Once there, she connects with chimps in a big way using respect and patience, and young readers will share her excitement as she discovers the many things people and animals have in common.

Animal-loving kids will find this story especially relatable, but there's a lot to like in the cute illustrations, positive messages, and examples of what's possible if we work together.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the study of wild animals as shown in I Am Jane Goodall. Do you think it looks fun? Which animals do you find most interesting?

  • Have you ever really wanted to do something and been told you couldn't -- maybe because of your age, your gender, where you lived, or how much money you had? Did that make you give up, or did you figure out a way to make it happen?

  • Do you have any stuffed animals that are your particular friends? Do you wish they were real? What might be different if they were?

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