Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, July 13, 2015

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall 
by Anita Silvey
foreword by Jane Goodall
National Geographic Kids, 2015
ISBN: 9781426315183
Grades 4-8

The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

Anita Silvey eloquently captures the life and work of Jane Goodall in this narrative nonfiction book for middle grade readers. There is so much to like about the book. First, Jane Goodall is an inspiring person for children. Another strength is Silvey's writing style; it's descriptive yet concise. The pacing of the story and length of the book (96 pages) are just right for middle grade readers.

In the first chapters, Silvey describes the primatologist's love of the natural world as a child. Fans of the picture books Me, Jane and The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life With the Chimps will be interested to learn more details about how the young Goodall's interest in animals led to her study of chimpanzees. Silvey traces the work of Goodall as an unhappy secretary to the pivotal events that led her to relocate to Gombe in Tanzania where she observed chimpanzees in the wild. Goodall's work in Gombe and discoveries in the field changed what scientists thought they knew about chimpanzees.

Jane had never "dreamed of seeing anything so exciting." Even more thrilling, she watched David Greybeard and his friend Goliath pick up small twigs and strip off the leaves. They modified an object to make a tool- a behavior that was believed by scientists to be unique to humans. (p. 34)

The book's design is outstanding. The story is organized chronologically; each chapter begins with a full page photo and an interesting lead to hook readers. Numerous black & white and color photographs of Goodall are placed on the page so that the flow of reading is not interrupted. Readers will enjoy the sidebars and pages of extra information about chimpanzees, animals of Gombe, and important people in Goodall's life. Back matter is extensive and includes a family scrapbook of chimpanzees from Gombe, a timeline, maps, source notes and more.

The last few chapters of the book focus on Goodall's conservation efforts and her work to improve the conditions of chimpanzees held in captivity in zoos and at research facilities. Middle grade readers will be interested to learn how technological advances have changed how primatologists study chimpanzees in the wild. Untamed is sure to strike a chord with readers who wish to make a difference in the world. The final line of the book is a call to action from Goodall herself. "Together we can make the world a better place for all living things."

Untamed is a recommended purchase for school and public libraries. It's a book that readers will pick up and read for pleasure, and it would make an ideal nonfiction read aloud for an upper elementary and middle school classroom.

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