REVIEW: Primates by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

REVIEW: Primates by Jim Ottaviani and Maris WicksPrimates by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks (Illustrator)
Published by First Second Books (2013), Hardcover, 133pg
Filed under: Biography, Children's, Graphic Novel, History, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction
Got my copy from: Freebie
Buy your own copy at Amazon or BookDepository (affiliate links | info) or add it to your Goodreads shelf.

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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.

I don’t know much about primates. Monkeys, apes, whatever: besides what little I know from watching a few specials on the Animal Planet channel I caught years ago, they’re basically a mystery. I know even less about the three women who researched primates SO HARD they’re still creating shockwaves.

Primates is an adorable and informative biography of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, with a mini-bio of Louis Leakey thrown in for kicks. It’s adorable because of the art style, which makes everyone looks slightly chubby and round. It’s friendly! Everybody looks friendly, even when they’re poaching animals.1 The colors are bright and clear and the whole look of it makes me smile.

Like I said, I don’t know a lot about most of the things in this book. There’s not a lot of pages to spend going really in depth on each primatologist’s life. We see their pre-primate life, we see how they meet Louis Leakey, and we see the beginnings of their studies. It’s enough to get someone interested in learning more about them without being overwhelmed by page after page of them staring at apes. I definitely want to pick up some (non-graphic) biographies of all three of them now!

Because it’s a kids book (I guess?) and because it’s trying to be positive book (maybe?), some aspects of their lives were glossed over or cut out. For example, Dian Fossey’s murder isn’t mentioned at all, just that she died.2 There also isn’t much about the resistance from the greater scientific community about their work.

That doesn’t even really bug me that much, except that there’s this whole author’s note in the back about truth vs. fiction and whether or not the book could be considered truthful if, say, Jane Goodall is depicted wearing a green shirt on a day when she was really wearing a blue one.

Clothing is not important! How someone died is important! How someone fought for their life’s work to be taken seriously is important! It’s just such a strange thing worry about smaller truths when you’re glossing over bigger ones, y’know?

Read: August 8, 2014

  1. which on hindsight is possibly a downside to the cuteness.
  2. I looked up her Wikipedia page afterwards. That’s how I know!
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4 Comments

  1. So, I read this but haven’t written about it yet. I have read biographies of all of these women and a lot of their own writings (I wanted to be a primatologist at one point) and I thought this was an acceptable intro to the women’s lives and work. I was thinking of giving it to my 10 year old niece and I certainly wouldn’t do that if it straight up talked about Dian’s murder — something that still makes me cry when I think about it. It’s something she can find out about later. I remember that the book did imply that Dian gave her life for the gorillas. I thought the length was good for a kid too. There’s definitely a lot more to the stories but it seemed sufficient to spark interest and lead someone to learn more. After all, you went and looked up Dian Fossey, right? ;)

    • Yup, it’s a good starting point! Btw, do you have any suggestions for what I should read next? Their own books, of course, but anything else in particular? :)

  2. Hey, it’s the Baader-Meinhof thing! I only just this week learned that Dian Fossey was murdered, and now here I am hearing about it a second time. This sounds like an interesting book, but I think it’s — I don’t know. I don’t know about with books for kids if you should leave out important information out of some feeling that they’re too young to know it. If I were doing it, I’d probably leave that info in. I’d try to say it in an age-appropriate way: Bad guys killed Dian Fossey, maybe it was for these reasons, but we really don’t know. (That’s okay, right?)

    • Yeah, I think you could totally do it in an age-appropriate, non-graphic way. idk, though, maybe it IS more important to focus on her life and the things she contributed to science during it?

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