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Primates : The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks, 144 pp, RL 3

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas is written by Jim Ottaviani, who's very cool website, G.T. Labs, has the tagline, "Comics about scientists? What a dangerous experiment!" Ottaviani, among other books, is the author of Feynman, a biographical graphic novel about the Nobel Prize winning scientist who did stuff with quantum mechanics and electrodynamics and other things I can't even begin to understand, as well as work on the Manhattan Project (he makes an appearance in Ellen Klages's amazing book about this time, The Green Glass Sea, told from the perspective of the daughter of one of the scientists working on the project). Primates is wonderfully illustrated by Maris Wicks.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas was called "Trimates" at one time and I think that is important to keep in mind when reading this unique biography. As a completely ignorant reader - I have read Patrick McDonnell's Caldecott Honor winning picture book Me . . . Jane about the young Jane Goodall and I know that the 1980s movie "Gorillas in the Mist" is about Dian Fossey and I have no idea who Biruté Galdikas is - I think it's safe to say that I read this book mostly from a child's perspective. I read Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas with great excitement, thinking that I would learn a lot about our next of kin. But, this graphic novel is not your typical kid's biography that lays out all the facts in chronological order so readers can write the book report, which, let's be honest, is usually the singular reason kids real biographies. Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas, while providing pertinent facts that create a framework for the narrative, works more to create an impression and feeling of what these women were up against in their professional lives which, for all intents and purposes, seem to be synonymous with their personal lives. This is most evident near the end of the book, which, interestingly, is comprised of three prologues that show moments from the lives of each of these great women, not at the beginning of their careers, but at the points at which each of them had become respected enough in their fields that their voices were really heard, respected and valued. In her prologue, Gladikas tells the story of a colleague who, years earlier, told her that all he could think of was gathering his data, finishing his thesis, earnign a PhD and getting a tenure track job - "Veni, vidi, vici," Galdikas says to him. Reflecting on this, she realizes that she came, she conquered, but she has stayed and does not want to conquer - or to leave the orangutans.

I realize that, despite my ignorance of the subjects, I do bring an adult need to organize and make sense of what I read to this book. Kids won't necessarily do that. As Ottaviani says in his afterword, "What kind of person does it take to to this kind of work? How hard is it? When did our understanding of what it meant to be a primate begin? And why is it important? These are the questions we hope you had when you started the book, and hope you've gotten some answers by the end. But by now you've guessed that the end of this book isn't the end of the story." I'll confess, I did have those questions, if not at the start of Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas,  then definitely as I made my way a few pages into the book, and they were not necessarily answered by Ottavani in the text. But, my interest is DEFINITELY piqued and I do want to read more about these women and I do want my questions answered. Happily, Ottaviani provides a fantastic bibliography.

The book begins with Goodall, the oldest of the trio, and her love of Africa. The one thing all three women have in common, besides a passion for primates, is Dr James Leakey, archaeologist and naturalist who established human evolutionary development in Africa and was essential for getting Goodall, Fossey and Galdikas started in their initial observations of primates. In fact, the three scientists are referred to as "Leakey's Angels," although I'm not sure if that is really worth repeating. As presented in Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas, Dr Leakey has a knack for picking just the right people (women) to observe primates and a fondness for them could actually be better described as a bit of a wandering eye. Ottaviani captures significant moments in the scientific observations made by each woman, noting the previously unseen behaviors that their patience and skill allow them to observe. For Goodall and Fossey, he also shows how Leakey was instrumental in sending them to Cambridge to get their degrees after they had spent time in the field, allowing the scientific community to take their findings more seriously. Galdikas first met Leakey in the early 1970s while studying at UCLA.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas, DOES show what kind of person it takes to do this work and just how hard the work is by showing days spent in the rain, climbing mountains with a broken ankle, picking leeches off legs, accidents with machetes, and suffering tropical illness after illness as well as the social and political maneuvering that each woman had to to to keep poachers away from gorillas, funding coming in and tourists away from the primates once their work became widely known. There is a reason that the word FEARLESS is in the title. But, Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas is also just a really great story with fantastically appealing artwork by Maris Wicks that simplifies the story in a way that will appeal to young readers. Goodall, Fossey and Galdikas's stories are important for so many reasons, on so many levels. Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas is a brilliant entry into their lives that could, like Tarzan of the Apes did for the young Jane Goodall, inspire the life path and passion of a reader... 

Under the dust jacket of 
Primates: The Fearless Science of 
Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas

Maris and Jim, as drawn by Maris

Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall and Biruté Galdikas

Source: Review Copy


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