Thursday, January 19, 2012

Me... Jane, by Patrick McDonnell (ages 4 - 8) - inspiring, gentle picture book

Picture books have the power to inspire, entertain and connect us with the larger world. They can help us understand more about the world around us, and they can sometimes help us understand more about ourselves. Me... Jane, by Patrick McDonnell, is a wonderful example of a picture book that resonates with many young children. I read it with our 2nd graders this week as part of our discussion of books that might possibly win the Caldecott Medal next week.
Me... Jane
by Patrick McDonnell
NY: Little, Brown, 2011
ages 4 - 8
available from your local library, favorite bookstore, or on Amazon
2011 Cybils nominee & finalist
winner of the 2012 Charlotte Zolotow Award
Little Jane carries her stuffed chimpanzee Jubilee around with her everywhere - reading stories, exploring outside, climbing trees. Right from the beginning, our students could relate to having a favorite stuffed animal. McDonnell frames this story about the childhood of Jane Goodall, the famous animal behavior scientist, in a way that draws children into connecting with Jane's life. Jane loves exploring the outdoors - and so she spends most of her time either watching animals and plants outside or writing in her journal about facts she's discovered. Our students could easily imagine keeping a journal with questions and observations about the animals around them.

The artwork in this picture book is soft and understated, but with a charming touch. Our students noticed the contrast between the detailed stamps on one side of each spread and the pen and watercolor illustrations on the other side. They liked the way this made them think of real life animals with the intricate engravings, while the illustrations emphasized the child-like quality of the story. My favorite moment of the day was when Anthony raised his hand and said, "I'm making a connection to another book. This reminds me of Where the Wild Things Are." We were looking at the end of the story, when Jane imagines being in the jungles of Africa, swinging from vine to vine with Jubilee swinging behind her. Other students immediately began making connections to the power of imagination that Sendak celebrated in Where the Wild Things Are. It was a wonderful moment that I will always treasure.

The pacing and page turns are masterfully controlled - please read this aloud to your children and ask what they're noticing at each page. The final few turns of the page took our breaths away, in that quiet "ohhhh" type of moment as you realize the scientist that Jane Goodall grew up to be.

This isn't a book a book that will grab you and demand your attention. But if you have a quiet moment, it will plant a seed that may bloom if you give it some time. For another wonderful review, head over to Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac.

In the end, as we compared Grandpa Green, Blue Chicken and Me... Jane, students each responded differently. I asked them to tell me which book had the best illustrations, since the Caldecott is awarded to the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book. The majority chose Blue Chicken, because they loved the humor in the story and the creative use of color. Others liked Grandpa Green for the detailed illustrations and way it sparked their imaginations. And others definitely chose Me... Jane, for its inspiring story and gentle artwork.

Each year, the Caldecott Committee reviews hundreds and hundreds of picture books - all published in America during that year. The committee meets during the American Library Association's midwinter meeting to discuss the books they find most distinguished, and decide upon a winner. My students and I are very excited to see which book they choose to award the 2012 Caldecott Medal. If you want to watch the announcements live on Monday morning, head over to the ALA site here.

The review copy came from our school library collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. Oh, very nice! I like hearing what the kids had to say.

  2. Wonderful post, Mary Ann! I fell in love with this book upon first reading and couldn't help but buy a copy for my 5-year-old and 7-year-old (and myself!). My 5-year-old especially responded to it and loves looking at it over and over. Believe it or not, she even tried to go to sleep with the book one night, as if it were a stuffed animal itself! I love the connection that your student made to Where the Wild Things are, too. My 7-year-old is in 1st grade, and I know they are working on making connections, but I think it is really hard for them. I can imagine how that was a special moment for you :)

    1. Oh, Kerry, what a sweet story! Kids really do connect with books - they come alive in their minds. Thank you for sharing that story with me. :)

  3. I really appreciate your inclusion of the children's thoughts. I need to check out all of the books that you mentioned. Great review!

  4. Great post!
    I bought Me...Jane for my daughter (3) and both her and my son (6) loved it! We read it several times already, such a great touching story and so inspiring!I just picked up Blue Chicken today, we will read it tonight and I can hardly wait to see what kiddos think.

  5. It's so rewarding when you see kids make connections like that. I am a Children's Librarian and I love this book as well. I love your blog, by the way:)

    1. Thanks so much, Ms. Connie! It is just wonderful seeing kids make connections like that.

  6. Great blog! Me...Jane is on my list. Blue Chicken, too.

  7. The majority of my students liked Blue Chicken too (and also I Want my Hat Back!). It was fun to come back from Dallas and share the results of the award ceremony with the kids, especially after having shared several of the winning books with them beforehand - it makes them feel more involved and the award is more meaningful to them. The kids who had voted for A Ball For Daisy in our mock Caldecott were really excited. I got to read "Me...Jane" to kids this week because though it has been a favorite of mine for a while it has been checked out for the last few weeks!!

  8. Oh, that's so interesting what your kids had to say Gillisbooks! My students will really like knowing that your kids loved Blue Chicken, too. I can't wait to see what new books Deborah Freedman comes out with. Mine predict the red chicken is up to mischief! What grades did you do your mock Caldecott with? I found 2nd graders just perfect for it.

  9. I was able to do it with all K-5 classes. We took 2 weeks to read and look through 8 books with the K-2 students and in one long 40 minute session we looked at all 8 books with 3-5 graders and then voted. My choices were: Blue Chicken, I Want My Hat Back, A Ball for Daisy, Stars, Grandpa Green, Swirl By Swirl and we just looked at the pictures in Subway Story, and Brother Moon Sister Sun. Part of my choices were made because they were all such different styles. I have already told the kids that were disappointed about Blue Chicken not receiving an award that I would nominate it for inclusion in the next CYRM (California Young Reader Medal). If any other librarians have a great fan base for Blue Chicken you could nominate it too! Here is the link: