What kind of person does it take to do this kind of work? How hard is it? When did our understanding of what it means to be a primate begin? And why is it important?
Through an entertaining and interesting set of interconnected biographies, Ottavani and Wicks show that it takes a unique and dedicated kind of person who is willing to do unimaginably difficult work in order to improve our limited understanding of what it means to be a primate. But it is through this research that we have begun to expand not just our understanding of what it means to be a primate, but also what it means to be a human.
Ottaviani wisely writes this book for a younger audience (elementary and middle school students will find this book right at their level) because it is wide-eyed enthusiasm and a willingness to jump in with both feet which helps each of the three women in the book (Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas) overcome major obstacles. If there is one thing middle and elementary school students possess, it is that same wide-eyed enthusiasm and a willingness to jump in with both feet!
The book tracks each woman from an early age through their time in the jungles of Africa. Each one sends their early days as curious children and that curiosity leads them to exploring careers in science. Each of them comes into contact with the anthropologist Luis Leakey who points his young protégés towards new discoveries. While Leakey is the thread which ties the three women together, each woman is given the spotlight and Leakey is wisely left to being a supporting character.
Since the book is geared towards younger readers, it shies away from the tragic details of the death of Dian Fossey. Kids who become interested in her research will have plenty of opportunities to discover that on their own. For now they can revel in the joys of discovery and the astonishing work which she and the other two women have accomplished.
Primates is illustrated by Maris Wicks whose style should appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier. Each character retains a sense of youthfulness about them which allows young readers to continue to associate with them long after the characters have grown up and become adults. Her attention to detail in the depiction of the primates shows that they and the humans exist in the same world but are always slightly separated. No matter how close we get, there are still so many things we don’t understand.
Primates is a perfect book for curious young girls and boys. Additionally it is the kind of book which would enjoy heavy rotation at a school library. Most importantly, it may spark the imaginations of young people and encourage them to make discoveries of their own!
Primates is Available June 11th. Pre-order your copy of Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas today!