I had seen the book Primates since it came out in 2013 (hardcover) and 2015 (paper). I had no real interest in it at the time. It was non-fiction (which I have had a love-hate relationship with over the years) and judging by the cover, young and maybe a little preachy due to the subject. And while it is non-fiction, it is what I have started to call a non-fiction novel which allows stories to have the best of the novel-flow and the facts of non-fiction. The fact it is a graphic novel allows it to be presented in an even more story-like fashion and can help with literally illustrating plot points.
When I was returning two books to the library, I also browsed the shelves and this book jumped out at me. Recently I have started to realize that the right non-fiction book can be delightful and graphic novels are so much fun anyways why not give it a try? And worse case was I did not like it. Therefore, on the top of my five-book-stack was Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas.
Jim Ottaviani has created an introduction to three different women who had little in common but had an interestingly similar goal: to work with primates. They had another connection as well with Louis Leaky who “found” them and helped them achieve their specific goals. We see two woman we are most likely familiar with, Goodall and Fossey but we may never have heard of Galdikas. (I certainly had not and when realized she worked with orangutans I wondered why not? They are adorable!) Ottaviani gives each person’s personal story, shows how they overlap, gives basic scientific insights, shows some of the scientist’s observations/studies and combined the history of the time and the science of primates as well.
I enjoyed how radically different the personalities of the three women and the other characters involved are. The author does no hold back on some things, such as Leaky (while he felt women were more suited to study primates, he was also a dirty old man who liked the ladies). Or Mary Leaky (a no-nonsense, cigarette smoking woman). And Fossey was proud of her reputation as the “old woman who lived alone without a man” and her forceful approach to poachers.
Their stories are told in the all-knowing narrator voice, but it is also the women themselves telling it as if they are all being interviewed by the author. However, there are piece of information missing (I am assuming Galdikas had “swamp-tush,” but the author was coy with not oversharing). And there are even holes in the studies themselves. But as the author afterwards said, they were unable to give all the information and hit just the highlights.
And I have not even mentioned Maris Wicks’s illustrations. They are classically graphic novel and picture bookish. They are bold, deep colors, extremely busy at times, have details on details and can be very simple too. They are fun and educational. They help fill in some missing points (why I think swamp tushy and why I am not completely sure what the comment about Goodall who “presented herself as a chimp does” means. Though I can certainly guess….) They are a perfect combination for the story itself. Ages 10 to 14 and even adults can enjoy learning about scientists, women and the other primates of nature. A bibliography shows the sources used and further reading.