Science via Magic—Meeting Jane Goodall

Earlier this week, I was thrilled to meet Jane Goodall. After her inspiring talk at the University of Rhode Island, I lined up with hundreds of others to have her sign a copy of her book, Reason for Hope, and have my photo taken with her. 


But it was not the first time we had met.  


Some people have asked me to tell how this came about, so here goes:

1.       It was 1992, I was living in Tokyo, and one day, I saw a flyer in the supermarket (this was before the Internet) saying that Jane Goodall was coming to speak. I was disappointed I couldn’t go.

2.       As well as teaching English, I babysat for expat families. A few days later, on the bookshelf in one home, I saw books by Goodall, all signed with personal messages.

3.       When the parents got home, I asked about the books and said Jane Goodall had always been my hero.

4.       “We’re friends with her. In fact, she’s coming to stay with us tomorrow. Would you like to meet her?”

It has always felt so magical that I was in just the right place at the right time. I went there for an extended afternoon tea, and Jane invited me to come back the next day. So, I did. She is even lovelier one-on-one than she appears on the screen.   

At that point in my life, I was struggling to find my way. Her generosity in helping me sort through some stuff and point myself in the general right direction was no less than life-changing. I came away from the experience clutching two promises, determined I’d fulfill them.

The first promise I fulfilled within a couple of years. I’ve been living it ever since, though it has certainly had its trials. But her example helped me give myself permission to follow my dream. (Back then, I thought I knew what my dream was, but felt I should probably do something more conventional first. I inexpertly expressed “conventional” as a degree in archaeology, living in Japan, then a stint in outdoor education, before I knuckled down and worked in restaurants while pursuing that long-desired career in kid-lit.)

But finding my way to keeping the second promise, which required further exploring the first promise, has taken me along winding paths, brushing past the obvious as I hurtled into various dead-ends. That was until earlier this year when I knew I was finally fulfilling it. (Isn’t it funny how something can be staring you in the face all along but be so difficult to truly grasp—until you’re suddenly ready?) To say I’ve been longing for some years to tell Jane how grateful I am—especially for the promises that have steered my life’s course—is an understatement. So, it seems quite magical that I should be given that rare chance and with such perfect timing.  

But I’m just one person affected by my experiences with her. Jane’s extraordinary empathy and spirit continue to touch so many apes—both the chimpanzees and us human apes. I hope you’ll watch her talk at URI.

Check out and consider supporting The Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots.

And my second promise? Well, I'll just say it has led me to my work on the SNOWBIRDS Transect research cruise, my illustration of Volcano Dreams by Janet Fox (coming next year from Web of Life Children’s Books), and my new science, art, and adventure blog

Thanks for reading.

And thank you, Jane.

Regarding Class & Crit Groups

Last night was the final class of my picture book writing course, which is always a little bittersweet. You get attached to people’s stories and the personalities who created them. The final night always feels like my last opportunity to equip them with all they’ll need as they step from the safety of the class environment into the wider world of publishing. We talked about interpreting rejection letters and how to deal with their sting, and we watched the interview with Kate diCamillo embedded in my Rejection blog post.

This year, the course went from 8 weeks to 12, which pleased me to no end. I was thrilled to spend not just one but three weeks delving deeper into narrative structure—very well-spent time laying a solid foundation for a strong manuscript. Extra weeks also allowed me to try a number of new activities and exercises, which was great fun for me and, I hope, beneficial for them.

It was also quite wonderful to spend extra time with such an engaged, supportive, talented, and lovely group with a wide variety of stories. I will miss it. We also discussed things they felt they’d miss about the class environment, which we developed into a list of qualities we think are important in a critique group:

Most of those are likely self-explanatory, but “awareness of wider stuff” means learning more about the world and ourselves by exploring each other’s work, which is just what we set out to help children do, isn’t it? It was a really thoughtful addition to our list.

And “sharing the crazy”? Well, maybe that’s the most important part. It is for me, anyway. Having real friends and a support team who truly understand why we started—and then continue—this inspiring, maddening, manic, rejection-filled, brilliant journey without us ever having to explain it or plead its case. Kindred folk who “get” it. Our people.

Did we miss anything from our list? What would you add or highlight?

I want to end by saying to my latest batch of Rizzies, thank you, it’s been such a pleasure.