April 23, 2011
In the summer, when I conduct many book-based library programs geared toward school-aged children, I am constantly on the lookout for biographies that can introduce an important figure to young children, but still be simple & snappy enough to manage to engage a large, mixed-age group. This is a tall order, especially when the program takes place on a lawn, on a bright and breezy summer morning!
I was lucky enough this week to discover a new book that I know will work not just for these motley groups I describe, but is great for preschoolers, as well! Me...Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell (of "Mutts" comic strip fame), is a simple-looking picture book about an adventuresome young girl. Young Jane loves to explore and play outdoors, often accompanied by a stuffed chimp toy she names Jubilee. Jane studies nature, drawing and making notes on what she sees, and she dreams of living among the animals. At the end of the book, we learn that the girl's dreams have come true, as we see a photograph of a real-life, grown-up Jane with a real-life chimpanzee.
I find McDonnell's picture-book story treatment of the early childhood of the famous primatologist Jane Goodall to be ingenious; not only does it function as a beautifully-illustrated, stand-alone picture book story for pre- and early readers, but it also introduces Goodall, with more detail on her and her life's work at the end of the story itself. We have the biography aspect, animals, and themes of dreams, achievement, and girl power. Love it!
The first group of preschoolers with whom I shared Me...Jane enjoyed the story, and the idea it was about a real person. This is a book I can look forward to sharing again and again, knowing it will reach each child at his or her own level.