As someone who has never had much interest in primates (excluding humans, of course), I took a chance on the new book by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks, Primates: the Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, and boy, was I intrigued and delighted. This wonderfully written and illustrated graphic novel takes us through the lives of these three extraordinary ladies from their early beginnings of being discovered by famed archeologist Louis Leakey through their times in the field and challenges along the way. The book starts out with narration by Jane Goodall and moves seamlessly to Fossey and finally Galdikas, with each scientist narrating her own portion of the story. I knew next to nothing about any of these fine researchers, but after finishing the book, I was interested enough to search out more information about their lives and, in the case of Dian Fossey, untimely death. A truly captivating story that will definitely appeal to those already interested in the study and the history of primates as well as those with no prior knowledge of the subject (like me).

The illustrations as done by Maris Wicks are intriguing, engaging, colorful, and captivating. Each scientist is easily distinguishable from the other and, with the multitude of characters appearing in all the different stories, I found it easy to tell one person from another. Each page is set up in easy to follow identifiable patterns of panels, with thought squares and bubbles well placed throughout. I was never confused as to the order of panels or thoughts and speech, which always impresses me as a comics reader who often gets lost in bubbles and panels. The coloring is also something to behold – bright, vivid, and wildly evocative of the beautiful and rugged environments in which these women spent most of their time. The artwork doesn’t go all the way realistic (there is a bit of a cartoonish element to the drawings), but I quite enjoyed this style of illustration. It was just realistic enough for me with the added bonus of vivid coloring that I traditionally associate with more cartoonish drawings. Action and sound effects were well used throughout to bring an almost audible three dimensional aspect to the story. I could hear the noise of the jungle in my head as I read the thoughts of each scientist – it was a very interactive experience.

As with a lot of nonfiction tomes turned into easily readable books, there is an afterword at the end that does make it clear that some of the book has been fictionalized to make the book a progressive, tidy story. But, after taking a look at the bibliography located at the end, I saw how much effort was put into making the book as true to life as possible. I appreciated that they included a look at what they used to create this very engaging story. A perfect combination of scientific information and personal stories that will engage readers of all ages and interest levels.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas
by Jim Ottaviani
Art by Maris Wicks
ISBN: 9781596438651
First Second, 2013

  • Traci

    | She/Her

    Traci has been a graphic novel selector and collections coordinator for kids and teens in libraries in Arizona and Oregon since 2005. She served as the chair of YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee, and served as a member of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens blogging team. She previously coordinated the Oregon Young Adult Network’s Graphic Rave list, OYAN’s yearly list of the best graphic reads for teens. Traci is a member of ALA, YALSA, and GNCRT. And, she achieved her greatest dream ever by serving as a judge for the 2019 Eisner Awards.

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