Sunday, August 11, 2013

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

The true stories of three scientists who changed the way we think about primates forever.  Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas were all recruited by anthropologist Louis Leakey and set out, with little to no training or background, on field research that would result in discoveries that advanced our understanding of the link between humans and primates.

Another triumph from First Second!  Seriously, can they do anything wrong?  I don't think I've read anything from First Second that I haven't loved.

This is a great middle grade graphic novel that does an excellent job at showing how each of the three women got her big break, the research she did, discoveries made, and also the toll this kind of work took on her personal life.

Jane Goodall was the first to be discovered by Louis Leakey.  Jane had always wanted to study animals, but for a while her work had nothing to do with animals.  She jumped at the chance to visit a school friend in Kenya, and there she met Louis Leaky, who was working in Nairobi.  She started out working as Leakey's secretary, but soon had the chance to study chimpanzees.  So off she went, with no schooling in anthropology or sciences, no advanced degree.  She named the chimpanzees, much to other scientist's disgust (scientists usually would number them), but when Jane observed chimps using tools and eating meat, she earned the respect of her peers.

Dian Fossey was an occupational therapist when she met Louis Leakey.  Leakey believed that "women are fundamentally better in the field than men.  They're more patient, and give more of themselves."  Despite her lack of background in the field, he asked if she'd like to study gorillas.  Dian ended up in Rwanda observing gorillas.  She also became incredibly passionate and outspoken against poaching and extolled the importance of conservation.

Birute Galdikas was already involved in and studying the sciences and had been on archaeological digs.  She wrote to Louis Leakey and he arranged a meeting.  Birute and her husband eventually were sent off to study orangutans.  They were essentially living in the middle of a swamp.  It took a while for Birute to find any orangutans, but she finally did, and observed them walking on the ground.

Both Jane and Dian earned their Ph.D.s after they started their research.  Birute was the only one of the three who had any kind of science or anthropology background when she started.  The three women were clearly very different.  Dian seemed a bit hotheaded and impatient.  She had no use for people who didn't see her views about poaching and conservation her way.  Sadly, the work she did in these areas resulted in her death.  The book did not explicitly say she was murdered.  Perhaps they thought that was too upsetting for a middle grade book.  Jane clearly had a sense of fun about her.  Birute was the most independent of the three.  Perhaps her science background made her feel more comfortable questioning people and trying new things.

I really liked that in the art we can see that doing fieldwork is not a tidy job.  All three women are almost constantly dirty and messy.  It's not like they had running water out there.  They were living in tents and small wooden structures on in the jungle, and they looked it.  It did not make field research look easy in any way.  I liked Maris Wicks' art a lot.  It's very cute, like Faith Erin Hicks.  Not realistic, but a cute, friendly style that's very inviting.


  1. This sounds really interesting! What would you say about having it in a library for 8-12 grade? Too young?

  2. It would be on the young side, but I'd say still worth getting.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...