Two picture book biographies introduce environmentalists who dedicated their lives to protecting environments they held dear, from the tops of the trees to a beautiful beach.
The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest is the story of a leaf-loving little girl who grew up to become “Canopy Meg,” the woman who became a pioneering researcher of rainforests and began the process of educating the world on why and how we should all love them.
Author Heather Lang was inspired by both her subject, with whom she briefly traveled, and her own time spent among the trees. Lang’s text is rich with metaphor and personification as it conveys turning points in Lowman’s life, including her invention of a treetop canopy walkway that made the upper levels of the forest more accessible for close-up study. Sprinkled throughout the narrative are quotations from Canopy Meg herself, as well as valuable contextual asides that float on leaves as though they’re drifting away from the primary text.
Jana Christy’s stunning illustrations of the rainforest foliage are appropriately lush and vibrant, brimming with cool-toned greens and blues. This is artwork you’ll want to fall into face-first, as Christy uses striking close-ups and unusual angles to put the reader right into the forest. Streaming sunlight and deep shadows emphasize life at every layer of the dense canopy, and lifelike birds, bugs, reptiles and mammals offer glimpses into the rainforest’s dynamic ecosystem. On many pages, small sketches fill white space, illustrating specific elements of Lowman’s experiences with the feel of a researcher’s notebook.
The book’s back matter is as excellent as the primary narrative. It includes a lengthy author’s note, a hefty bibliography and a vertical spread that illustrates the layers of a rainforest, which is worth the cost of admission all by itself. The Leaf Detective is a wonderful introduction to a scientist who discovered her life’s passion by looking up.
Like Lowman, MaVynee Betsch was also shaped by the natural world—in her case, by the sights and sounds of a very special beach. In Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch, author Heidi Tyline King tells the story of this determined woman and the land that inspired her.
Betsch’s great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, purchased the land that became American Beach during a time when many beaches were segregated. Black families were welcome to enjoy Lewis’ beach, and it soon became a lively place full of music, community and fun. After Betsch enjoyed a successful career as an opera singer, she returned to Florida and made preserving the land and history of American Beach her life’s work.
With brushstrokes that conjure the motion of ocean waves, Caldecott Honor illustrator Ekua Holmes evokes the warm nostalgia of summers spent among a loving community. Her collage illustrations incorporate ephemera such as music notes, old maps, opera tickets, flyers and newsprint, subtly and thoughtfully weaving tangible reminders of the past into scenes of brightly dressed people playing on the golden sand.
King’s text is descriptive and detailed, lyrical and full of striking turns of phrase, such as the beach’s “blue sky stretching to forever.” Concluding notes from both the author and the illustrator add historical context to the narrative and expand on the legacy Betsch left behind when she died in 2005. Saving American Beach is an exquisite and moving tribute to Betsch and the land she treasured.