Observing the Observer

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps
By Jeannette Winter
(Schwartz & Wade Books,New York, 2011, $ 17.99 )

Field biologists startle us with their insights into animal behavior. But science is not for the easily distracted: behind those dramatic revelations are weeks, months, even years of painstaking observation. In The Watcher, author-illustrator Jeanette Winter introduces young readers to Jane Goodall, of the world’s most influential zoologists, and her ground-breaking chimpanzee studies.

In deceptively simple prose, Winter relates how Goodall transformed a childhood passion for animals into her life’s work. She shows readers how Goodall braved solitude, bad weather, and malaria to study chimps in Tanzania. After months of silent watching, Goodall earned the trust of one mature male: soon, his family accepted her, too. She saw the apes express a range of emotions and use tools. Although Goodall loved her research, she eventually left it to speak out against habitat loss and poaching, which threatened the species’ survival.

With simple shapes and bold colors, Winter’s illustrations evoke the wonder of Goodall’s life in Africa. Unseen by Goodall, chimps peep out of the treetops in a spread about her early field work. A few magical images depict Goodall, alone save for animals, under the green canopy and star-filled, navy blue sky. But the book’s most poignant illustrations show Goodall with the chimps. In one, a chimpanzee gently takes a banana from her outstretched hand; in another, a family gathers around her, embracing her with their nonchalance.

One of Winter’s illustrations shows Goodall sitting near the chimps in the rain. Like them, she folds her arms; like them, she accepts the rain and does not seek shelter. To learn about animals, Winter suggests, we must enter their world and become as patient as they are. Without sentimentality, The Watcher should awaken children – and adults – to the kinship between animals and humans and the deep rewards of quiet observation.

Dorothy A. Dahm

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