Review: Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks

PrimatesTitle: Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas

Authors: Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks

Publisher: First Second

Release Date: June 11th, 2013

Interest: Graphic Novel

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Jim Ottaviani returns with an action-packed account of the three greatest primatologists of the last century: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. These three ground-breaking researchers were all students of the great Louis Leakey, and each made profound contributions to primatology—and to our own understanding of ourselves.

Tackling Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas in turn, and covering the highlights of their respective careers, Primates is an accessible, entertaining, and informative look at the field of primatology and at the lives of three of the most remarkable women scientists of the twentieth century. Thanks to the charming and inviting illustrations by Maris Wicks, this is a nonfiction graphic novel with broad appeal.

When I first heard about Primates (I’m going to shorten the title in this review since the title is so long) I knew I wanted to read it because it appears to be non-fiction.  After finishing it, I don’t really feel comfortable labeling it as such.  It is an enjoyable graphic novel, although I do have some issues with it.

This is the first graphic novel I’ve read by Jim Ottaviani and I’d like to read more of his work.  Maris Wicks has done a fabulous job with the art.  I love how some of the scenes, especially the action scenes, spread over from one panel to the next.  It’s visually appealing and adds movement to the page.  I should mention that this is a full color graphic novel.  I’m so happy it wasn’t printed in black and white!

Primates is broken up into three different sections, one for each researcher.  A couple of times the switch confused me, but for the most part I was able to follow along and keep track of each researcher and when the three would come together.  Some of the narration text boxes changed colors for different speakers, which I found helpful.  I knew a decent amount about Jane Goodall, but I didn’t know anything about Fossey and Galdikas.  I also didn’t know–and wouldn’t have guessed–that the three were connected.  This is why I appreciate this story and think it has a place in classrooms and libraries.  It’s an accessible way for readers to learn about these three researchers.  Hopefully Primates will spike their interest and prompt them to learn more about these women especially since so much information is left out.

This leads me to my next point.  Even though Primates was introduced to me as a non-fiction graphic novel, I figured it wouldn’t be completely non-fiction.  And it’s not.  The author has a note at the end saying as much.  My bigger issue with Primates is the information left out.  Not the fictionalized pieces to make this a story.  There were too many times while reading that I had to stop and ask myself why something happened or what I had missed.  For instance, Louis Leakey is the man who helped Jane Goodall get her start and helped the other two women as well.  It is often alluded that he was sexually inappropriate with these women, but there isn’t anything specific as to what he did, why the women didn’t do anything about it (that we know of), or why that’s even relevant information.  I understand that this graphic novel appeals to a younger audience which may be why only allusions are made, but if that’s the case, why even include those?  All it did was distract me and ultimately irritate me since I didn’t know the full story there.  There are some other holes as well.  On pages 14 and 15 Jane Goodall leaves her tent to start studying the chimps, but we discover that she leaves the tent naked to get dressed somewhere else.  We don’t know why she does this.  Galdikas studies orangutans, and in her section she takes a baby orangutan to release into the wild.  It says that it would take five days, but she carries it with her throughout her section which spans longer than five days.  I’m not sure if she actually released it and took another one or not.  Also, she sits in something that makes her sick, but we don’t know what it is or what it did to her.  If I was confused by this, then I’m sure my students will be as well.  On the flip side, this could be used as a research project to fill in the multiple gaps and learn more about the researchers.

The story gaps are my biggest issue, but I also had a problem with some of the writing.  Primarily in the Dian Fossey section there are quite a few fragmented sentences.  I’m not sure if Fossey spoke this way or what because I didn’t notice it as much in the other sections.  Most of the time personal pronouns are missing in the narration and I had a hard time reading those parts smoothly.

Even though Primates is an ambitious story considering what Jim Ottaviani has tried to do, it’s still an enjoyable one.  I liked reading it, but as a teacher in particular, I couldn’t look past some of those details I pointed out.

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