Monday, May 20, 2013

Primates - a review


I borrowed this one from a colleague - hated to give it back.


Ottaviani, Jim. 2013. Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. New York: First Second. (Illustrated by Maris Wicks)
(Advance Reader Copy)

The stories of pioneering primate researchers Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas are woven together in this nonfiction graphic novel by award-winning Jim Ottaviani.  Most know Jane Goodall because of her  long and storied career with chimpanzees. Many know Dian Fossey and her work with gorillas and from the film, Gorillas in the Mist (Universal Pictures, 1988). Lesser known is Biruté Galdikas, a pioneer in the study of orangutans.

Besides the obvious primate connection, another connection unites these three women and the threads of Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas.  Goodall, Fossey and Galdikas were all hired by famed archaeologist, Louis Leakey.  Amazingly, when hired, none were experienced researchers.  Goodall had no college experience; Fossey's profession was occupational therapist. Only Galdikas was a college student with an intent to study primates. Leakey believed that women were more insightful and better suited to understand primate behavior.  The book hints that he may also have been attracted to the three women, noting his wife's skepticism.

The chronology works well in Primates, which is less biographical and more an intense look at a fascinating period of scientific research in the field of primate studies. Hired by Leakey over a period of several years, Goodall left for Tanzania to study chimpanzees in 1960, Dian Fossey to Congo (later Rwanda) in 1967, to study gorillas, and Galdikas to research orangutans in Borneo in 1971. Ottiavani tells the three stories chronologically in first person commentary, with each story spilling over into the next.  Wicks employs different color dialogue boxes to differentiate the researchers when their lives intersect in London at various points in time. During the course of their careers, the women met, knew, and understood each other.

Equal time is given to the behavior and locale of the primates, and the monumental discoveries and personal sacrifices of each woman.  Goodall discovered that chimpanzees use tools. Little was know about orangutans before Galdikas' research. Fossey made many behavioral discoveries about gorillas and worked tirelessly against poaching.  All three changed long-standing methods of animal observation. In the case of Fossey, Primates alludes to her tragic and untimely death, but does not mention her murder, instead showing an image of the the side-by-side headstones of Fossey and her favorite silverback gorilla, Digit. Wicks' illustrations are simple, but invoke the intense colorful beauty of the primates' habitats, the uniqueness of each primate species, the vastness of the forests and jungles and the incredible difficulties of three humans living within their midst.

An author's note explains where narrative license was used within the story.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas will surely evoke an urge to learn more about these three fascinating women and the primates to whom they devoted their lives. An engaging and thought-provoking book for ages 12 and up.

Due on shelves in June, 2013.

Learn more at
Jane Goodall Institute
Orangutan Foundation International
There are also many nonprofits dedicated to the protection and conservation of gorillas.


It's Nonfiction Monday.  Check out the always interesting Perogies & Gyoza,
for links to all of today's nonfiction book reviews and postings.

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