by Sharon Kane
In my literature classes, I often devote a week to the theme of “Our Closest Relatives: The Big Apes.” There are always some puzzled, perhaps suspicious, faces. Many readers don’t naturally gravitate toward books about chimpanzees, bonobos, or orangutans, much less one narrated by a gorilla, such as Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. But taking a journey with the teen characters in Eliot Schrefer’s National Book Award finalists Endangered or Threatened, or listening to the human “sibling” of a chimpanzee in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, can help them gain a new appreciation for these intriguing animals.
I am happy to have discovered a triple biography to add to the class choices this semester. Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, by Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks (2013, First Second), uses a graphic novel format to bring readers into the title scientists’ worlds. We get to be with Jane as she sees a chimp use a tool to extract termites from mounds in the earth. We see the growing relationship between Dian and the gorilla she names Peanuts, and we applaud her efforts to eliminate poaching and promote conservation. Numerous panels show Biruté walking trails, sleeping, and writing, all showing a rescued baby orangutan clinging to her. Other scenes depict the three women together at conferences, demonstrating the social and collaborative aspects of science as well as shared passion.
I read this book in one sitting, and came away with a wealth of knowledge and a desire to read autobiographical pieces, interviews, commentaries, and other texts that will teach me more about the important work done by Jane, Dian, and Biruté. I want to join their club. I know there is such a club, because I have discovered the book The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall, edited by Dale Peterson (2015, Trinity University Press), containing over 100 pieces written by people who have been affected by Jane’s work. I’m heading there now…
Appropriate for middle and high school
science, history, geography, ELA, ethics