Monday, July 20, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey

I've determined to finally tackle the biography section of my juvenile fiction next year, which means, of course, that I've been thinking about it on and off all this year. Biographies are hard. There are so many picture book biographies being released and yet they very rarely circulate. Middle grade readers do ask for biographies, but it's so difficult to strike a line between the same old dead white males who have been done a million times and names so obscure no one will ever look at them.

So I was quite pleased when I saw that National Geographic was releasing a new biography of Jane Goodall. Goodall is well-known, but not so much so that another biography is superfluous. She's a woman in the sciences, with a powerful legacy that adds diversity to the field.

The biography itself is well-written in a way that will attract the reader's attention without sensationalizing or sentimentalizing the subject. The book begins with her childhood, the all-important research in Gombe that changed her life and the way chimpanzees were researched, and her transition into a public figure and fight for conservation. The final chapter talks about the way Goodall's research and continued advocacy has changed not only the way animals are researched and studied, but also treatment of animals in labs. It discusses modern methods and technology, several of the groups she started or sponsored, and some of the people she has influenced, both young and old.

Extensive back matter includes information about chimpanzees, photographs and specifics about some of the chimps of Gombe, a time line of Jane Goodall's life, maps, organized resources to read more about Jane and her work, detailed notes and index, and an author's note. The book is laid out in a large chapter book format with plenty of photographs, quotations, and additional facts and interesting highlights of Jane Goodall's life and contemporaries. National Geographic is really good about putting their nonfiction into attractive formats and this is no exception.

From an adult perspective, it was interesting to read this after having read Primates, which gives a more nuanced view of Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas. This biography focused more on inspiring and informing the reader than discussing the more controversial aspects of Goodall's life and while I'm usually a little leary about biographies that gloss over issues, I thought this handled her life very well in a way that's accessible and appropriate for middle grade readers.

Verdict: Even if you're not currently updating your biography collection, this is a must-have for any juvenile biography section. Thoughtful, informative, and will interest a wide range of children as well as teens and adults. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781426315183; Published 2015 by National Geographic; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library; Purchased for the library

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