Reality Check: Peter Abrahams
Caller Number Nine: Debbie Duncan

Me...Jane: Patrick McDonnell

Book: Me...Jane
Author: Patrick McDonnell
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

MejanePatrick McDonnell's picture book Me...Jane is something special. It's a fictionalized account of the childhood of Jane Goodall, but it's more than that. Me...Jane starts with ink and watercolor illustrations of little Jane running around outside with her stuffed chimpanzee, and ends with a photo of the grown up Jane in the jungle with a real chimpanzee. Only in the afterword are the details of Jane Goodall's work (or even her last name) mentioned.

For young readers, Me...Jane stands on its own as a story about a little girl who loves her toy chimpanzee (Jubilee), always wants to be outdoors, and is determined to learn as much as she can about the world around her. Those who know a bit about Goodall, though, will smile at text like this:

"WIth the wind in her hair, she read and reread
the books about Tarzan of the Apes,
in which another girl, also named Jane,
lived in the jungles of Africa."

The text is inspirational, if perhaps a little over the top in places, like this:

"It was a magical world
full of joy and wonder,
and Jane felt very much
a part of it."

McDonnell's illustrations demonstrate a clear affection for young Jane, and for nature. Jane is usually shown small in scale against larger backdrops. She looks curious, intrepid, and happy. My favorite illustration is one in which Jane dreams of "a life living with, and helping, all animals." The picture shows her swinging on a vine through the jungle, wearing her little skirt and jacket, followed by a living Jubilee.

But there are other illustrations in the book besides McDonnell's paintings, too. Two facing pages in the middle of the book show drawings and puzzles that Jane herself created as a young girl. Also, "throughout the book, ornamental engravings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are included, collectively evoking Jane's lifelong passion for detailed, scientific observations of nature." These engravings are included in a lighter color than McDonnell's own artwork, and include delicate tracings of leaves and animals and stopwatches, always relevant to the page at hand. The engravings really make Me...Jane stand out, and are sure to interest older readers.

Me...Jane is a lovely, gorgeously illustrated story about an unconventional little girl who has a dream, and who achieves that dream. This is a book that I'd like my daughter to read (when she's older) on multiple levels. I'd like her to enjoy the story of the girl and the toy chimpanzee hiding in the chicken house to watch an egg being laid. I'd like her to appreciate the detail of the illustrations. And I'd like her to see this matter-of-fact depiction of a girl with a scientific bent, and absorb that it's ok for girls to pursue science if they want to. My daughter isn't old enough for this book yet. But I hope that lots of families find this book in the meantime. Recommended for early elementary school readers, and a must for library purchase. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@lbkids)
Publication Date: April 5, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Kerry Aradhya

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).