• Posted on June 26, 2011

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. We see her 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)

  • Posted on June 16, 2011

Border Crossings

There has been a lot of discussion in the news of late regarding the pervasiveness of dystopian young adult literature, and whether or not it’s appropriate to expose kids to the darker aspects of life, real or imagined. I think we are kidding ourselves if we believe that children and young adults exist in bubbles, and are not in some way already exposed to the full spectrum of humanity.*

When I was a young girl, maybe 13 or 14, I abandoned what was ‘appropriate’ for my age and fell headfirst into the novels of Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut and even Margaret Laurence because what I was reading did not reflect the unpredictability and to a degree, the harshness of my life at that time. Nevertheless, most of us in Canada and elsewhere in the developed world lead a comparatively pampered life. Some more pampered than others, but the bulk of us grow up with a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and if we’re lucky, a sense of permanency, all of which is taken for granted because it is the rule, not the exception. Migrant is the story of a girl who lives the exception, but in the most poetic way, brings a beauty to the unpredictable life around her and to the world she imagines for herself and her family.

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  • Posted on June 09, 2011

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

New blog, old news. Or oldish news, that is, and the blog isn’t new, it just looks like it’s been on holiday and come back refreshed and ready to upload a bunch of new and exciting reviews…that I have yet to write. Sorry blog….I promise I’ll work harder now that you look so pretty. In the meantime, here are a few recent treats from my truly hardworking blogosphere colleagues~  

Chris Van Allsburg in the news again. This week Chris talks about his new book Queen of the Falls (thanks Achockablog), and from Anita Silvey at the fab Children’s Book a Day Almanac Blog, the story behind Jumanji.

From the I’m glad someone said it files, NYT’s Pamela Paul on that Go the F*** To Sleep book causing all the controversy…and probably more than a few tired nods of sympathy. Please oh please oh please let someone hire me to write the f***ing sequel.

The Daily Heller always has great design/illustration-related stuff. Here’s a wistful look back at Mad Magazine: “Look Ma, No Teeth.” A madvertisement for Crust Gum Paste.” Blecch! I hope there are more MAD posts like this in the future.

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  • Posted on June 06, 2011

Colouring Outside the Lines

This blog is devoted to exquisite picture books. Story books, with pictures. However, not all illustrated children’s books are narrative in nature. Sometimes they tell us about the boreal forest, or the gifts animals bestow upon us. And others, like My Beastly Book of Silly Things, defy categorization. It is a colouring book, yes, but it is also a quirky collection of drawings, puzzles, and activities, beautifully illustrated, with deliciously subversive instructions to colour outside the lines. Not directly, of course, but slyly…through a series of exercises designed to push the boundaries of creativity…and perhaps taste, but only if you’re an adult. My inner eight year old boy found this book hilarious, especially the page with instructions to ‘draw farts for everyone’, but even though this sort of humour skews toward boys, many girls will find the book funny too, especially those preferring MAD magazine to Bieber Beat. The appeal, however, is broader than children of the crayon age, and to be honest the book made me laugh, and made other so-called adults around me laugh, with nary a crayon or a lego in sight. My Beastly Book of Silly Things is the colouring book you wish you’d had as a kid.

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