• Posted on July 09, 2011
Seuss web

Becoming Seuss

It’s sheer coincidence that two back to back posts are picture book biographies of the early lives of famous people. Last week, it was Jane Goodall. This week, it’s Dr Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel. It’s fascinating to look back at a childhood and pluck out the experiences that in hindsight are the set pieces for an extraordinary life. This could be said of any life, famous or otherwise, but with someone like Dr Seuss, whose stories and illustrations are so idiosyncratic, so recognizably Seuss, it’s downright thrilling. In The Boy On Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss, Kathleen Krull does a masterful job of distilling the formative experiences of the great man’s early life. Interestingly, the pictures accompanying the story are not by Seuss but by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, the husband and wife super duo responsible for some of the most beautiful picture books of all time (in my opinion), including Peach & Blue, a 32 Pages favourite. It’s a coalition of amazing talent, and even if you don’t know a Who from a Sneetch, The Boy on Fairfield Street is a witty and moving account of growing up odd in a factory-issue world.

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  • Posted on June 26, 2011
Me Jane Cover

Planet of the Chimps

This post is part four in my continuing love letter to Patrick McDonnell: artist, writer, and from what I have observed thus far, the kindest man on earth. In addition to fathering comic strip characters Mooch and Earl, Patrick is the author and illustrator of several picture books, three of which have been profiled in this blog. No surprise that his latest non-Mutts outing, Me…Jane, is about Jane Goodall, a fellow champion of the environment, especially where animals are concerned. It seems inevitable that McDonnell would find a kindred soul in Jane Goodall, just as Jane found hers in the shorter and hairier inhabitants of the Gombe Stream in Tanzania.

Me…Jane is a story of the awakening passion of Jane Goodall, before she was the renowned chimpologist and animal advocate. The beautifully illustrated biographical picture book introduces us to Jane as a young, inquisitive girl with an adventurous heart and a stuffed chimp named Jubilee, climbing trees, reading Tarzan of the Apes, and taking note of all the living things around her. Other than a brief postscript at the back of the book, Me…Jane concentrates solely on her childhood years, and includes some of Jane’s own drawings from the Alligator Society, a nature club she founded at the age of 12.

Throughout the book, there are faint prints of ornamental engravings from the 19th and 20th centuries, ‘collectively evoking Jane’s lifelong passion for detailed, scientific observations of nature.’ The biographical elements of Jane’s young life are conveyed in a few well-chosen words, leaving the rest of the narrative to the colourful strokes and daubs of McDonnell’s paintbrush. As with all of his books, the watercolour illustrations are the very essence of sweet simplicity and gentle humour. Even the paper has an aged patina, as if these were pages from an old scrapbook. In every way, Me…Jane is a celebration of a extraordinary girl and woman, but it is also a paean to the natural world, to quiet observation, and to being outdoors, an increasingly endangered activity. This is beautifully captured in a double spread of Jane and Jubilee, lying in the grass amongst the chicks and the butterflies:

“It was a magical world full of joy and wonder, and Jane felt very much a part of it.

Me...Jane chimp and Jane 2

Kinda makes me want to find some grass. And a monkey.

Jane Goodall was born in London, England in 1934. Dreaming of a life in Africa, and finally arriving in 1957, she met with famed anthropologist Louis Leakey shortly thereafter and began working with chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream Game Reserve.

As I lay laying

Goodall’s work became the foundation of primatological research and helped to redefine the relationship between humans, chimpanzees, and every creature in between. Some primatologists have called into question Goodall’s methodology, specifically her practice of naming the chimps rather than numbering them. It was thought, and perhaps still is thought that the number system allows for greater objectivity and prevents emotional attachment. I get it. Sort of. Much harder to fall for chimp #62 than a ‘David Greybeard’ or a ‘Humphrey’, two of the names chosen by Goodall. Anthromorphism holds little truck in the monkey business, which is why I’m not welcome at their parties. Nevetheless, Ms Goodall’s chimpanzee research abides, and her organizations, www.rootsandshoots.org and www.janegoodall.org continue to raise awareness of the plight of chimpanzees and environmental conservation. Jubilee, Jane’s stuffed monkey, still sits on her dresser in London.

Jane Goodall and chimp

Patrick McDonnell was born in 1956. Throughout his life he has been both an advocate of comic book art and artists, as well as an animal lover and protector. McDonnell has written and illustrated a pawful of picture books, including collections from his cartoon strip Mutts, the newest of which is Earl and Mooch (Andrews McMeel, 2010.) He sits on the board of the American Humane Society, and lives with his wife, dog and cat in New Jersey.

The creatures of this earth have no greater or more tireless friends than Ms Goodall and Mr McDonnell. I continue to be inspired…

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell, published by Little, Brown and Company, 2011

(Please note, my scanner doesn’t read watercolours very well, hence the loss of vibrancy. Buy the book.)

Other appreciations of Mr McDonnell:

South (Little, Brown 2008)

Hug Time (Little, Brown 2007)

Guardians of Being (New World Library, 2009)

Also HIGHLY recommended, Mutts: The Comic Art of Patrick McDonnell (Abrams, 2003)