I recently saw the wonderful documentary, Jane, and came home to re-read Jeanette Winter’s picture book, The Watcher, to my girls. Winter cleverly starts the story when little Jane Goodall is just five years old, the same age as many readers of her book. She traces her talent for observation and her interest in Africa from Goodall’s childhood through her career as a scientist. The excerpts from her journals punctuate the story and give the reader insight into what it would be like to study these wild animals. After the story, Winter provides a bit more detail about Goodall’s life including the roots of her own fascination with Jane. Winter own playful illustrations bring brightness to the story, including the sadder parts like when Jane falls ill or the chimpanzees are in danger from hunters. Her focus on Jane’s perseverance and patience helps the reader to realize just how amazing her career has been. This is just one of the many great biographical picture books that Winter has written – other favorites of mine are Wangari’s Trees of Peace and Follow the Drinking Gourd.
Suggested Ages – Young readers will enjoy imagining themselves as a curious five-year-old developing into a “watcher”. The text is fairly simple for young readers to follow as well and the illustrations can help them along. Upper grade school students can gain more information from the notes at the end.