Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of

Me . . . Jane

by Patrick McDonnell

Me . . . Jane

by Patrick McDonnell
Review posted August 9, 2011.
Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2011. 40 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Standout: #2 Children's Nonfiction

This is an exquisitely designed and perfectly crafted book. All the art and the words come together beautifully, with economy of word, to tell the childhood of a scientist.

Me . . . Jane tells of the childhood of Jane Goodall. The title refers to the fact that Jane loved the stories of Tarzan of the Apes, and dreamed of living in the jungles in Africa like the Jane in those books.

The book begins:

Jane had a stuffed toy chimpanzee named Jubilee.

She cherished Jubilee and took him everywhere she went. And Jane loved to be outside.

Every single illustration that shows Jane as a child shows her with Jubilee. And then at the end, a photograph of Jane as an adult reaching out to a chimpanzee mirrors the illustrations of her as a child. But my favorite thing is the picture at the front of the book of a happy Jane as a girl, holding her stuffed chimpanzee. The illustrations, even though cartoons, are recognizably of the same girl and toy.

I appreciated the pictures even more when I got to the end of the book and saw a picture of baby Jane hugging the same toy chimpanzee. Only in the baby picture, the toy is fluffy and new. Looking back at the picture of an older Jane still proudly holding Jubilee, now I noticed that almost all the fur is worn off! Especially in the middle, where she's holding it. I now truly believe that she did everything with Jubilee!

The story tells of a curious and observant little girl. She loved animals, and was patient enough to hide in the chicken coop and watch until she found out where eggs came from. She loved nature and read the Tarzan books sitting in her favorite tree.

The story is told simply, with just a sentence or two on each page. You could read this to very young children, but older children will find plenty of details to think about as well. The design is beautiful, with most pages of text decorated with "ornamental engravings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries," across from an illustration of Jane and Jubilee in that part of the story. The note at the back says that the engravings "collectively evoke Jane's lifelong passion for detailed, scientific observation of nature." I think they succeed in that.

This book is magnificent because it tells a true story, and at the same time evokes the feeling of what was in this little girl that motivated her to become the famous scientist. The author doesn't have to come out and tell you she was patient and observant and indeed had great attention to detail. You get all those things from the story.