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If you really want to do something, and work hard enough, and take advantage of every opportunity, and never give up, you’ll find a way. Follow your dreams. If you really want to do something, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t.
 --Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall was born in London, England on April 3, 1934. Her mother was a particularly positive and strong influence in Jane’s life, and always supported Jane’s interest in nature and the outdoors.

When Jane was four years old, she “disappeared” for a time at a neighbor’s farm when she became fascinated watching a hen lay eggs. Her parents did not know where she was, but when Jane returned home and explained herself, her mother did not scold her even though she had been frantic with worry about her daughter’s whereabouts. Jane loved to watch animals in their natural habitats, and “by the time Jane was eight years old, she promised herself that when she grew up she would travel to Africa and live among the wild animals.” (Pettit, p. 11)

The rest is history . . . Jane Goodall overcame tremendous odds to travel to Africa as a young woman in the 1950’s. When Jane was a teenager, her parents separated and there was not enough money for her to go to college. She attended secretarial school instead. In 1956, when Jane was 22, a girl friend from school invited her for a visit in Kenya. Once again, lack of funds for the journey was an issue; however, Jane’s mother invited her to live at home to save money on rent and food so that she would be able to have enough for the trip. By 1957, Jane had saved enough for her travels and set out for Mombassa, Kenya.

In Kenya, Jane met the famous anthropologist, Dr. Louis Leakey. He hired her as his secretary at the National Museum of Natural History, and in 1958 she joined him and his wife on their archeological excavations at Olduvi Gorge, East Africa. She showed great skill as a researcher, and Dr. Leakey urged her to pursue a study of chimpanzees at Gombe Stream to gather information about the  parallels between behavior of monkeys and man. Unfortunately, Jane was again faced with a shortage of funding for the project, but she did not give up.

Jane returned to England to help Dr. Leakey raise money for the research. Without a degree in science,  many of her proposals to acquire funds for the project were rejected. At last, in 1960, the Wilkes Foundation donated enough money for equipment and supplies, but the UK would not allow Jane to travel to Africa alone as a female researcher. So, once again, Jane’s mother made arrangements to help her daughter and informed the government that she would accompany Jane to Africa.

It was not an easy trip.  Jane and her mother arrived in Gombe in June, but by September both had malaria. Fortunately, they recovered while in Africa. And as soon as she was well enough to get around, Jane  was finally able to get close enough to observe the chimps without them running away or vanishing into the jungle. She had been concerned she would not complete her research in the allotted time, but in a short period of time she made two very important observations: chimps were like humans in so far as they were the only other animals to make tools to help them with simple tasks and also they hunted for meat cooperatively as humans did in the past. “News of Jane Goodall’s discoveries spread rapidly throughout the scientific world. How was it possible that a young woman, without a university degree or training in the field, had made such significant progress in such a short time? (Pettit, p. 36)

Following her discovery, Jane was awarded a grant from the National Geographic Society that would allow her to continue her work in Gombe for another year. (Pettit, p. 36) Dr. Leakey also sent an additional assistant to help Jane when her mother returned to England five months after she and Jane had come to Gombe. Leakey's ongoing support was great help to Jane, and she made further important discoveries, including that chimpanzees had a developed system for communicating with one another and expressing emotions.

At the end of 1961, Dr. Leakey arranged for Jane to return to England to pursue a Ph.D. in ethology at Cambridge University. She would spend a semester at Cambridge and then return to Gombe between terms. (Pettit, p. 50) Jane completed her Ph.D. in 1967. In 1970 her son was born. In 1974,  Jane's first marriage to Hugo van Lawick, her husband of ten years, came to an end. In 1975, she married her close friend, Derek Bryceson. Sadly, they had only five years together, as he died of cancer in 1980.

Today, Jane travels and teaches and spends her time between her home in California and the Gombe Stream Reseach Center. Her son lives and works in Africa, and as his mother says, “He grew up with my work but didn’t get interested in it. He now lives in Tanzania, speaks Kiswahili, and is very African in his outlook.” (Cummings, p. 48) In addition to Jane Goodall’s research projects, she also formed The Jane Goodall Institute, an advocacy group for animal rights and preserving the environment.. “One of her major concerns is the spread of the human population. Human development is rapidly closing in on Gombe National Park and other parts of the equatorial forest that stretches across Africa. When Jane arrived at Gombe in 1960, ‘there may have been as many as ten thousand chimpanzees living in Tanzania, while today there can be no more than two thousand five hundred’” (Pettit, p. 110). The Roots and Shoots Program of The Jane Goodall Institute encourages members—from kindergarten to university level—to play their part in making the world around them a better place. Each group tackles at least three projects that show care and concern—for the environment, for animals and for the human community.” (Cummings, p. 51)


Picture Book Biographies

Coerr, Eleanor and de Kiefte, Kees (illus.). Jane Goodall. New York: Putnam, 1976.
Although this book is a bit dated, the story truly captures the spirit of Jane Goodall and is the best material I was able to find available for early elementary-age readers. Simple, muted black-and-white sketches on every page draw young readers into a lively narrative that traces Jane's life in chronological order. Large type makes this book easy to read.

From a feminist perspective, the book reveals the hardships Jane experienced when her parents separated and also when her first solo research project in Africa was slow to get off the ground. Jane's perseverance and persistence clearly pay off in the end when she is able to successfully found the Gombe Preserve and continue her studies now for almost 40 years!

The portrait of Jane is realistic. She is shown in the comfortable clothes she wears in her photographs. We see her aging throughout the course of the story, and when this book was published in 1976, Jane was forty-two years old. She has become a celebrity over the years, but the book resonates with a sincere and authentic quality.. I would have liked to see more pages of Jane interacting with African people, there is only one page in the entire book that shows her with local villagers.

This book does not touch on the difficult issues of terrorism at the preserve and loss of life of some of the staff that her other biographies detail. Given the audience, it seems most practical to focus on the positive experiences in Jane's life in an attempt to motivate and interest younger children in conservation and science.

Cummings, Pat and Cummings, Linda. Talking With Adventurers. Washington, DC: The National Geographic Society, 1998.
Jane is profiled on pages 44-51. She is one of four women naturalists/scientists featured in this 96-page collection of biographical sketches of National Geographic adventurers. She introduces herself to young readers through a personal, first-person narrative in a letter format which describes her life experiences and personal influences. She credits her mother as "the most important reason for my doing what I've done and being who I've been." As with Rachel Carson's biographies which also describe the influence of her mother, it is clear that Jane Goodall could not have achieved what she did without the support of her "amazing mother." (Her own words.)

In Q & A format, Jane frankly discusses the job that got her started in her field, the scariest thing that ever happened, how she chooses a project, what a normal working day is like, her family, the difficulties she encounters in work, and what is left for her to explore. Beautiful photographs of Jane as a child, as an adult in the field, and current pictures of her with school children provide a lively glimpse into her world. Again, the only drawback is that there are not many pictures of her with African people, and that seems unfortunate as many Africans work at Gombe.

This book is a "must have" for the library and classroom because the text is highly engaging and first-person accounts are always compelling and important for children to read. Moreover, the National Geographic photos reflect the same high standard of the magazine and capture Jane's life and work beautifully. The last pages of the interview with Jane highlight The Jane Goodall Institute and Chimpanzoo and provide readers with information how they can get involved with conservation efforts.

Lucas, Eileen. Jane Goodall, Friend of the Chimps. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1992.
This portrait of Jane Goodall focuses primarily on her adult years and her work. The text is set in a large point size, which makes it easy to read, and the language is targeted for upper elementary and middle-school age readers. The author's writing style is intimate and the narrative unfolds at a fast pace to describe Jane's relationships with family, Dr. Leakey, and most importantly--the chimps.

Full-page photographs appear on every three to five pages. The photos are vivid, but highlight the solitary nature of Jane's work. In each print we see either what she would have seen: animals of Kenya, the chimps, the forest; or we see her alone with camera, notepad, or binoculars. There are a few "archival style" black and white images of her with the Leakeys and a few of the now-famous "celebrity shots" that appeared frequently in news magazines of the time.

 The text is engaging and easy to read, but I would like to know more about the current team at Gombe Reserve, or the specifics about the founding of The Jane Goodall Institute and her current advocacy work. I believe the absence of detail about the day-to-day work in a Reserve and the author's focus strictly on Jane contributes a bit to an over-romanticized notion of Jane Goodall. While that may be the image that most appeals to the  media, it is clearly  a one-sided portrait. When Jane speaks of her experiences, she always acknowledges how engaged she has been with a number of supportive professionals and that her accomplishments in science are due in large part to collaborations with others who share her interests. In a biography that focuses as specifically on her work with the chimps as this one does, more realistic and less romanticized images would have better complemented the text and created a more honest portrait of what's involved in working in the field.

Additional Juvenile Biographies

Pettit, Jayne. Jane Goodall, Pioneer Researcher. Danbury, CT: Franklin Watts, 1999.