May 19, 2011


Chicken, Chicken, Duck! By Nadia Krilanovich. Tricycle Press/Random House. $14.99.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps. By Jeanette Winter. Schwartz & Wade. $17.99.

     Animal sounds and highly realistic appearances (in excellent acrylic illustrations) form the attractions of Chicken, Chicken, Duck! It is a book whose title is intentionally reminiscent of “duck, duck, goose”: Nadia Krilanovich says she was thinking of that game while walking in the country, and came up with the idea for this work. Whatever the inspiration, the book is a delightful introduction to animals for ages 1-4, showing them so clearly that young children will feel as if they are observing them in real life. Krilanovich manages to keep the animals’ appearance very realistic while giving them a human-like twinkle in their eyes and having them do things that real-world animals don’t do: a pig rides on a horse, for example, draped over its back, and two chickens perch on a duck. But these animals do not talk “people language.” They say “cluck,” “baa baa,” “woof,” “quack” and so on. Because they are drawn against a plain white background, not in (for instance) a farm scene, the animals are the entire focus of the book, and as the number of animals piles up, so do the animals themselves – until, at the very end, there is a huge stack of them, with a spread-winged duck on the very top. The super-simple story, which is really no story at all, combines wonderfully with the fine illustrations to create a picture book that very young children will enjoy from start to finish – without having to follow a possibly confusing narrative. All they have to do is watch and learn.

     That is what Jane Goodall did, too. The Watcher is a very simple “partial biography” of Goodall (born 1934), who is world-famous for her studies of chimpanzees in Africa. Jeanette Winter’s book, for ages 4-8, is a much-simplified story of how Goodall first became interested in scientific observation, how she became acquainted with the chimpanzees of Gombe, and what she learned through many years of observing them. A few quotations from Goodall’s own writing are included – straightforward ones, such as, “‘You have to be patient if you want to learn about animals.’” There is a certain amount of drama inherent in Goodall’s story, such as her bout of malaria and its aftermath, but Winter downplays visceral excitement in favor of the intellectual, turning Goodall’s experiences into more of a straight-line scientific quest than they in fact were. For this age group, the approach works quite well, and so do Winter’s drawings, which mostly walk the fine line of interpretative realism. However, the pictures of the jungle and the ocean are not realistic at all: they serve to show how these settings could have appeared to Goodall when she encountered them – and to communicate some of the wonders of nature to young readers. The book does get into some difficult subjects, as it must – in particular, the deforestation and poaching that threaten chimps’ survival – and it never discusses the wrongheaded but understandable motives for the problems, including Africa’s grinding and persistent poverty. So The Watcher simplifies pretty much everything, but does so in a loving way that should be especially appealing to the next generation of young Goodalls. Jane’s successors are surely out there – watching and learning, at least in part by reading.

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