Science Picture Book Pick: Me…Jane

Me_JaneMcDonnell, Patrick. Me– Jane. New York: Little, Brown, 2011. Print.

Plot: Young Jane (Goodall) loves her stuffed toy chimpanzee Jubilee, and takes him everywhere she goes. Jane and Jubilee have busy, fun-filled days investigating the miracles of nature- from spider webs, to tree sap, to chicken eggs. Jane feels so alive in the outside world and harbors a cherished dream of living in Africa, helping the animals. She continues to study books and record her observations, until one day her dream comes true.

Topics: Biography – Jane Goodall, Biography – Women, Biography – Scientists, Animals – Apes & Monkeys, Nature Study

Awards: Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video; Charlotte Zolotow Award; Cybils Awards; New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year; Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children; Parents Choice Award; Randolph Caldecott Medal

Review:  This book does so much to describe the passion and commitment that must be inherent in Jane Goodall’s character- and which most certainly describes what it takes to be a true scientist.  Yes…Jane observed, read, and studied, but crucially, she also ‘cherished’, ‘loved’ and ‘felt’ the magic, joy, and wonder of being a part of nature. Patrick McDonnell has given young readers the inside scoop on the practice of science and the joy of following your dreams.

And since we’re talking about science, I decided to test this book on an actual child: my daughter, an avid reader who, while only in first grade, can read into the Lexile 500 range and is typically drawn to chapter books in the AR 3-4 level. Having surreptitiously left  Me…Jane in a pile of other books waiting for review, I watched my daughter pick up (and read) several other books (including Separate is Never Equal, That’s a Possibility and Firefly July) before finally turning, to Me…Jane. I could tell she was only mildly interested and when I asked her about it, she reported, “I just don’t understand it.”  I suspect it wasn’t so much the words themselves, but the fact that she doesn’t know who Jane Goodall is, or appreciate her contribution to the world. In addition, there is not a strong plot line, so it was kind of a ‘so what’ moment for her. Perhaps what adults find endearing about the book- Jane’s sense of magic and wonder- is simply taken for granted by young readers still so deeply connected to their passions.

Quantitative Reading Level: Lexile: 740L, ATOS Book Level: 3.2, Flesh-Kincaid Reading Level: 3.5, AR Interest Level: Lower Grades (k-3); AR Reading Level: 3.2

Qualitative Reading Analysis: Despite the simplicity and brevity of the text, this book scores high for text complexity. The complexity comes primarily from needing some kind of background knowledge in order to understand why we should care about a little girl who carries a toy chimpanzee and likes being outside. The purpose of the text- ostensibly to inspire young people, particularly girls, to follow their dreams- is not made explicit; without reading the biography at the end, one wouldn’t know the obstacles she was up against- there is only joy and happiness, no obstacles, presented in the main story. Additionally, the language is often figurative: suspense mounts when, “one day Jane was curious…she snuck into a chicken coop…stayed very still….” but then falls flat, “…and observed the miracle.”  Likewise, the purpose of the two facing pages of drawings and puzzles is unclear. It is not until the very last page of the back matter, in tiny font, that we learn that it was Jane herself who created the intricate drawings when she ran a science club as a young girl- a compelling fact that may best be related prior to reading the story, along with the “About Jane Goodall” page.

Content/Subject Area & Standards: 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.1.3
Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text. (Young Jane / Adult Jane)

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.2
Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.5
Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.7
Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2.7
Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.3
Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.7
Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting)

Curriculum Suggestions: Read this book aloud in class as a way to introduce the role of observation in the scientific process, being sure to use the book’s back matter and other media to bring students up to speed on Jane Goodall’s achievements and fame.

It could also be used as a biography for young students interested in female scientists, though it won’t be in this book where students source their facts. Instead, use Me…Jane as a way of communicating the way Jane used her natural talents and interests to turn a dream into reality.

Compare picture book biographies: Me… Jane by Patrick McDonnell and The Watcher by Jeanette Winter, discussing what parts of Jane Goodall’s life they chose to include and how they each used illustrations to support the text. (The Classroom Bookshelf.  (2011, May 2) Me…Jane and the Watcher [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://classroombookshelf.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/me-jane-watcher.html.)

Links to Supporting Content:

The Jane Goodall Institute’s (JGI) global youth-led community action program, Roots & Shoots (website)

National Wildlife Federation

The Watcher by Jeanette Winter

Tags: Biography, Book Review, Goodall, INFO237, K3, K3-Sci, School Libraries

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