Jane Goodall for Kids: Sharing Her Life Story and Philosophy with Children

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

The cover of the book I Am Jane Goodall“As I traveled, talking about these issues, I met so many young people who had lost hope,” Jane Goodall told CNN in 2005. The great British primatologist, ethologist, and anthropologist spent her life working with and on behalf of chimpanzees, but now she was concerned about the young adults she was meeting. “Some were depressed; some were apathetic; some were angry and violent. And when I talked to them, they all more or less felt this way because we had compromised their future and the world of tomorrow was not going to sustain their great-grandchildren.”

It’s easy for children to grow disheartened and disillusioned as they become increasingly aware of the daunting challenges facing our planet. That’s why it’s critical that children learn about environmental heroes like Jane Goodall — people who have dedicated their lives to scientific observation and preserving what little natural habitat remains. But Jane Goodall is much more than a scientist and environmentalist. She’s also a stellar example for young women and, as an individual with strong convictions who practices what she preaches, she’s a role model for all of us.

Now there’s an easy way to share Jane Goodall’s life story and philosophy with children. I Am Jane Goodall (public library) is a children’s book written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos that summarizes Jane Goodall’s life in about 40 pages. The story is based on Jane Goodall’s own books and written in first-person narration. With eye-catching, comic book-style illustrations and lots of thought bubbles, the book is perfect for kids ages 5-12.

The story starts by recounting several specific events from Jane Goodall’s younger years.

I wanted a job where I learn more about animals. But back then, if you were a girl, people didn’t think you could become a scientist. They expected girls to become nurses, secretaries, or teachers.

I wanted to go to Africa. I wanted to study animals. Luckily, my mom always told me: ‘If you really want something, work hard for it. If you don’t give up, you’ll find a way.’

I never forgot that.

The cover of the book I Am Jane Goodall

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

As you might imagine, the majority of the story is focused on Jane Goodall’s adult years and the time she spent researching chimpanzees. It’s a beautifully concise summary that accurately captures the highlights of Jane Goodall’s life in Africa. In many ways, the best part of the story comes near the end of the book, when a moral is drawn from the lessons Jane Goodall learned along the way. It’s an uplifting message that provides concrete advice for young people.

In my life, people told me there was a ‘certain way’ to do things: a ‘certain way’ to study animals, a ‘certain way’ that girls should behave. They told me to follow the rules. Instead, I followed my gut.

In your life, it will be easy to see how others are ‘different’ from you. But there’s so much more to gain if you instead see how alike we all are. All of us — all living things — share so much. We have so many things in common.

Watch. Observe. Be patient. It’ll teach you this: We don’t own this Earth. We share it.

Listen to the feelings in your heart. We are responsible for the animals around us. We must take care of them. When one of us is in trouble — be it human, creature, or nature itself — we must reach out and help. When we do, we build a bridge… a bridge that will carry all of us.

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

The book is one in a series entitled “ordinary people change the world,” a description that certainly seems to fit Jane Goodall. As a child, she had a dream. As an adult, she followed it — to great success.

Children can learn a lot from the example set by Jane Goodall. As she’s quoted saying at the end of the book, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

To that end, Jane Goodall founded the Roots & Shoots program in 1991. It’s a network of more than 150,000 groups of young people who share a desire to create a better world. Young people identify problems in their communities and take action through service projects and youth-led campaigns. Please join us in making a donation.

I Am Jane Goodall is a must-read book for kids concerned with the environment, girls in need of a strong role model, and children who like reading about successful people who have changed our world for the better. Complement with A Little Bit of Dirt, a book with over 50 science and art activities for children, then revisit Mossy, a beloved children’s book by Jan Brett about a turtle plucked from her native habitat and put on display in a museum.

Joseph Wood Krutch on the Importance of Personal Integrity in Troubled Times

“The time may come when you lose hope for the world, but it need never come when you lose hope for yourself.”

Cover of A Krutch Omnibus“Nothing can be affected but by one man,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. “We must first succeed alone, that we may enjoy our success together.” Of course, Thoreau’s celebration of the individual runs counter to the prevailing logic of our age. As a society, we believe that collaboration and teamwork are of paramount importance, and that we need to cooperate to accomplish anything great.

But society is little help when it comes to developing our own personal ethics, morals, and philosophical beliefs — the building blocks and sustenance for self-identity, personal integrity, and self-respect. When it comes to creating a sense of self, young adults have to start from scratch, and they have to do it alone.

The great American writer, naturalist, and literary critic Joseph Wood Krutch (November 25, 1893 — May 22, 1970) addressed this topic in a commencement speech delivered at the University of Arizona on June 1, 1960 and later published in A Krutch Omnibus (public library). “I will assume the privilege of a commencement speaker to give advice,” he told the audience before sharing his fascinating views on the cultivation of personal integrity and self-respect. His timeless message is ripe for rediscovery in a world increasingly defined by materialism and relativism.

Joseph Wood Krutch
Joseph Wood Krutch

Krutch cautions young adults against doing what everybody else does, thereby diluting their integrity.

Do not be so exclusively concerned with society and social conditions as to forget your own condition. You are your own self and you cannot shift the responsibility for that self to world conditions, or social conditions, or the mores of your civilization. That you cannot shift this responsibility is your burden. It is also your ultimate resource.

The time may come when you lose hope for the world, but it need never come when you lose hope for yourself. Do not say ‘I will do what everybody else does.’ Be, if necessary, a lonely candle which can throw its beams far in a naughty world. And I say this not only because I think that in the end that is best for society. I say it first of all because I’m sure it is the best and happiest course for yourself. If you must be pessimistic about the world, if you must believe that society is corrupt, then do not see in that any reason why you should be corrupt. Be scornful of the world if you must, but base your scorn on the difference between yourself and that world which you think deserves your scorn.

You will be told that you risk thinking yourself wiser and better than the common run of men. I hold that this, too, is preferable to being content not even to try to be better and wiser and more honest than they are.

Krutch also warns about the intoxicating appeal of “money, power and fame,” the pursuit of which can rob young adults of their personal self-satisfaction.

You may think that personal integrity and self-respect are not what you want more than anything else. You may say to yourself that putting them first would make it too difficult to get along in the world and that you want to get along in the world; that you would rather have money, power and fame than personal self-satisfaction. You may even say that you want money, power and fame so that you can ‘do good in the world.’ But if you do say any of these things, you will be making an unwise choice. You will be surrendering something which cannot be taken away from you to gain something which can be taken away from you and which, as a matter of fact, very often is.

We hear it said frequently that what present-day men most desire is security. If that is so, then they have a wrong notion of what the real, the ultimate, security is. No one who is dependent on anything outside himself — upon money, power, fame or whatnot — is, or even can be, secure. Only he who possesses himself and is content with himself is actually secure. Too much is being said about the importance of ‘adjustment’ and ‘participation in the group.’ Even cooperation — to give this thing its most favorable designation — is no more important than the ability to stand alone when the choice must be made between the sacrifice of one’s own integrity and adjustment to, or participation in, group activity.

Complement this particular part of the fascinating A Krutch Omnibus with The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss, then revisit Thunder Boy Jr., Sherman Alexie’s children’s book about the search for self-identify.

Scott Adams on Failure, Success, and the Importance of Acquiring New Skills

“Everything you want out of life is in that huge, bubbling vat of failure. The trick is to get the good stuff out.”

Cover of How to Fail and Almost Everything and Still Win Big“Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all,” Ed Catmull mused in his timeless discussion about mistakes and why children need to be allowed to fail“Failure is a manifestation of learning and exploration,” he said. But as it turns out, failure is necessary for more than just personal growth — it’s also a prerequisite for success.

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, says he “failed at more challenges than anyone I know.” In How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (public library), Adams shares how he endured and embraced innumerable failures before eventually becoming successful beyond his wildest dreams. His advice is required reading for young adults hoping to improve their career prospects.

“Everything you want out of life is in that huge, bubbling vat of failure,” says Adams in the book. “The trick is to get the good stuff out.” To fail towards success, as Adams calls it, young adults first need to learn the systems and practices of successful people. But that’s easier said than done, especially since potential paths to success are rarely taught in school.

The primary purpose of schools is to prepare kids for success in adulthood. That’s why it seems odd to me that schools don’t have required courses on the systems and practices of successful people. Success isn’t magic; it’s generally the product of picking a good system and following it until luck finds you. Unfortunately, schools barely have the resources to teach basic course work. Students are on their own to figure out the best systems for success.

If we can’t count on schools to teach kids the systems of success, how will people learn those important skills? The children of successful people probably learn by observation and parental coaching. But most people are not born to highly successful parents. The average kid spends almost no time around highly successful people, and certainly not during the workday, when those successful people are applying their methods. The young are intentionally insulated from the adult world of work. At best, kids see the television and movie versions of how to succeed, and that isn’t much help.

Dilbert cartoon

How can young adults learn about systems of success? Adams recommends reading books written by highly successful people. But he has his own personal formula for success that revolves around the acquisition and application of skills. That’s what he recommends young adults focus on: acquiring skills that they can use in a variety of circumstances.

When I speak to young people on the topic of success, as I often do, I tell them there’s a formula for it. You can manipulate your odds of success by how you choose to fill out the variables in the formula. The formula, roughly speaking, is that every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.

Notice I didn’t say anything about the level of proficiency you need to achieve for each skill. I didn’t mention anything about excellence or being world-class. The idea is that you can raise your market value by being merely good — not extraordinary — at more than one skill… To put the success formula into its simplest form:

Good + Good > Excellent

Scott Adams
Scott Adams

Adams admits that his advice is a simplification, but he argues it’s necessary to trick your brain into proactively wanting to acquire more skills.

When I say each skill you acquire will double your odds of success, that’s a useful simplification. Obviously some skills are more valuable than others, and the twelfth skill you acquire might have less value than each of the first eleven. But if you think of each skill in terms of doubling your chances of success, it will steer your actions more effectively than if you assume the benefit of learning a new skill will get lost in the rounding. Logically, you might think it would make more sense to have either an accurate formula for success or none at all. But that’s not how our brains are wired. Sometimes an entirely inaccurate formula is a handy way to move you in the right direction if it offers the benefit of simplicity.

If I told you that taking a class in website design during your evenings might double your odds of career success, the thought would increase the odds that you would act. If instead I only offered you a vague opinion that acquiring new skills is beneficial, you wouldn’t feel particularly motivated. When you accept without necessarily believing that each new skill doubles your odds of success, you effectively hack (trick) your brain to be more proactive in your pursuit of success. Looking at the familiar in new ways can change your behavior even when the new point of view focuses on the imaginary.

Scott Adams
Scott Adams

The goal, according to Adams, is to have skills that you can assemble when applying for a job, starting a business, or doing virtually anything else. That’s what Adams did when he created his Dilbert comic strip.

I’m a perfect example of the power of leveraging multiple mediocre skills. I’m a rich and famous cartoonist who doesn’t draw well. At social gatherings I’m usually not the funniest person in the room. My writing skills are good, not great. But what I have that most artists and cartoonists do not have is years of corporate business experience plus an MBA from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. In the early years of Dilbert my business experience served as the fodder for the comic. Eventually I discovered that my business skills were essential in navigating Dilbert from a cult hit to a household name. My combined mediocre skills are worth far more than the sum of the parts. If you think extraordinary talent and a maniacal pursuit of excellence are necessary for success, I say that’s just one approach, and probably the hardest. When it comes to skills, quantity often beats quality.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big is a great read for young adults who are thinking about their future career prospects. It’s clear that Scott Adams learned a lot from his failures, and his advice about acquiring skills is invaluable for readers who are just getting started professionally. Complement with iWoza book that contains Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak’s advice for kids interested in technology.