The Watcher

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps by J. Winter

Winter, Jeanette. The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011. Print.

Jeanette Winter is a prolific and award winning American children’s author and illustrator.  She tells us in her author’s note at the end of this book that, as a child, she wished that she “could have read about someone like Jane Goodall – a brave woman who wasn’t afraid to do something that had never been done before”.  So she wrote this book.

The picture book format and the Grade 3 reading level make this work appropriate for the lower elementary school target audience, children who are beginning to think about what they want to be when they grow up.

While written mostly in poetic line form, the work is not particularly poetic. However the form does seem to give Winter the licence to begin sentences with conjunctions and end them with prepositions.  The text reads more like folksy spoken American English than poetry.  For example, “She woke at dawn and saw them slowly rise from their nests, sit for a spell, then go off to find food.”

Winter’s illustrations are the delight of the book.  They are simple, two-dimensional folk art works.  In this volume Winter purposefully uses two distinct forms of presentation.  In the early part of the book, which traces Goodall’s life from her English childhood until she travels to Gombe, the illustrations are square and centred on a coloured page with the text structured below them.  Once Goodall has set up her camp in the forest, the illustrations are as wild and uncontained as the life Goodall led.  The paintings splash out across the pages and the text fits in and around them wherever there is space.

As an introduction to the life of a remarkable female scientist and role model, this is a work that belongs in every public and elementary school library.  However, because the text is not exemplary of well-written English, it should not be used for classroom study.

Recommended with reservations: 2 out of 4 stars

Reviewer: Sandy Campbell


Sandy is a Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Alberta, who has written hundreds of book reviews across many disciplines.  Sandy thinks that sharing books with children is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give.