Literary Guide for Patrick McDonnell’s Me… Jane
Offering a beautifully simple take on biographical writing, Patrick McDonnell’s Me… Jane shares Jane Goodall’s journey from young naturalist to internationally renowned primatologist. The story is told through a series of concise, rhythmic, and engaging phrases, drawing readers in through its carefully chosen and accessible language. Alongside McDonnell’s writing are charming illustrations that show young Jane – looking and behaving very much like a curious and determined child – engaging with her surroundings. Readers are even treated to a two-page spread of illustrations transferred from notebooks filled during Jane’s youth, adding proof to support the story’s claim that childhood dreams can, in fact, be pursued into adulthood.
The book begins by introducing Jane and her beloved stuffed chimpanzee, Jubilee. Together, Jane and Jubilee explore their immediate surroundings in order to satisfy curiosity about the world and its workings. Rather than studying the goings on of humans, like some children, Jane climbs trees, listens to birds, and even goes so far as to hide out in a relative’s chicken coop in order to uncover the mystery of the origin of eggs! Young Jane develops very close connections to the natural world around her, and no doubt develops a very strong sense of place through her adventures and observations.
Young Jane’s fascination with nature is made clear through illustrations that place her within the natural world. Rather than reading about the plants and animals around her, she goes outside and learns experientially about these things – exercising a great deal of both responsibility and freedom in her explorations. Staying true to her age, however, Jane does spend some of her time imagining herself as Tarzan’s Jane – at home amongst the creatures and vine-y greens of the rainforest.
The story speaks little to Jane’s adulthood accomplishments, and spotlights instead that path that lead her to such discoveries. Rather than emphasizing what children can do “once they’re old enough,” the story sends young readers the message that their accomplishments later in life begin during childhood. By following in Jane’s footsteps and pursuing their pre-existing interests and/or satisfying curiosities, they too can put themselves on a path to wake up one day and realize that their dream has come true.
By utilizing our literary guide for Me… Jane, families and educators can enrich readers’ understanding of the story. Critical thinking questions, ideas for extension activities, and a mini-lesson offer readers support in not only understanding the story, but in taking the ideas shared within its pages and putting them into practice in their own lives. Me… Jane is not only a biography, but a story that shares a philosophy – and encourages children to explore and learn for themselves.
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