News & Reviews

The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch



G.P Putnam's Sons

(pub.4.13.2021) 40 pages

Author: Heidi Tyline King

Illustrator: Ekua Holmes

Character: MaVynee Betsch


"MaVynee loved going to the beach. But in the days of Jim Crow, she couldn't just go to any beach--most of the beaches in Jacksonville were for whites only. Knowing something must be done, her grandfather bought a beach that African American families could enjoy without being reminded they were second class citizens; he called it American Beach. Artists like Zora Neale Hurston and Ray Charles vacationed on its sunny shores. It's here that MaVynee was first inspired to sing, propelling her to later become a widely acclaimed opera singer who routinely performed on an international stage. But her first love would always be American Beach.

After the Civil Rights Act desegregated public places, there was no longer a need for a place like American Beach and it slowly fell into disrepair. MaVynee remembered the importance of American Beach to her family and so many others. So determined to preserve this integral piece of American history, she began her second act as an activist and conservationist, ultimately saving the place that had always felt most like home." Tantalizing taste:

"MaVynee adored her beach.

At water's edge, the sandy shore became a stage.

For each performance,

the wind whispered an endless melody

of gull cries and laughter.

It made her heart sing.

When she grew up,

MaVynee discovered the same music in the opera.

She left her beloved beach to sing stories

around the world."

And something more: Ekua Holmes writes in the back of the book: "Many of the illustrations feature orange butterflies. Orange was MaVynee's favorite color, and she loved all the creatures of the air, especially birds, butterflies, and insects. MaVynee painted her lips and fingernails (which at one time she grew to over a foot long!) in orange as a reminder of the orange rope that was used to separate blacks and whites at beaches during the Jim Crow era... At her memorial service, hundreds of orange butterflies were released to fly over American Beach, honoring MaVAynee's tremendous and colorful spirit."



Knopf Books for Young Readers

Author: Barb Rosenstock

Illustrator: Mary Grandpre

Character: Claude Monet

Overview: "Claude Monet is one of the world's most beloved artists--and he became famous during his own lifetime. He rejected a traditional life laid out clean and smooth before him. Instead he chose a life of art. But not just any art: a new way of seeing that came to be called impressionism.

Monet loved to paint what he saw around him, particularly the Seine River. He was initially rejected for using bright colors, tangled brushstrokes--condemned for his impressions. But soon art dealers and collectors were lining up each morning to see as Monet saw. Monet, however, waited only for the light. The changing light...each morning he had a dozen canvases on hand to paint a dozen different moments. His brush moved back and forth, chasing sunlight--putting in the arduous work to create an image that seemed to contain no effort at all." Tantalizing taste:

"He picks up a dollop of deep purple on his brush. Swooping and spreading shadows from palette to canvas. Shaping without lines, seeing in patches of color. Cream linen under bright green under dusty blue with soft lavender smoothed on top.

Painting the river's colors, and the air around the colors. Monet wipes his brow; it is not easy to paint air."

And something more: Barb Rosenstock writes in the Author's Note: "Monet's work on this book's subject, the Mornings on the Seine series, did not go smoothly at first. In fall of 1896, it rained for forty-one days. He finished only a few canvases from le bateau atelier (the studio boat) and waited out the winter... Mornings on the Seine differs from Monet's earlier work - the paint surface is smoother and the colors more harmonized. Most of these canvases ware square and had to be custom ordered. Some are almost abstract - it is hard to tell up from down, or the real scene from its reflection."



Christy Ottaviano Books

(Henry Holt and Company)

(pub.3.9.2021) 40 pages

Author: Robert Burleigh

Illustrator: Wendell Minor

Character: Wilbur Wright


"On September 29th, 1909, Wilbur Wright performed his first public flight for a crowd of disbelievers in the New York Harbor, home to the Statue of Liberty. With courage and caution, he put his airplane to the test and flew around the iconic landmark while the crowd observed, breathless.

This minute-by-minute account of Wright’s voyage over New York City captures the weight and the wonder of human achievement. When Wilbur Wright met Lady Liberty, he propelled his dream into the imaginations of many, securing the future of aviation." Tantalizing taste:

"From far below, a thunderous cheering rises, falls, and rises again. Flags flutter. Hats fly skyward. Whistles sound. Horns blare.

Passengers crowd the deck of the Lusitania, looking up and calling out. Wilbur dips one wing in a playful hello and flies on. The powerful deep blast from the great ship's foghorn even makes the Flyer shake slightly!"

And something more: Robert Burleigh shares in the Author's Note: "Wilbur's New York Harbor flight was the first either of the brothers had made over a body of water."

Where to find Jeanne Walker Harvey books

Jeanne has reviewed over 150 picture book biographies here and

previously on her blog  titled  TRUE TALES