Saving American Beach
Saving American Beach

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Annotation: A biography of MaVynee Betsch, an African American opera singer turned environmentalist who worked to preserve American Beach, Florida as a historical landmark.
Genre: Biographies
Catalog Number: #255807
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 2021
Edition Date: 2021
Illustrator: Holmes, Ekua,
Pages: 40
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 1-10-199629-3 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-9035-5
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-1-10-199629-4 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-9035-2
Dewey: 921
LCCN: 2020027063
Dimensions: 25 x 27 cm.
Language: English
Publishers Weekly
In her picture book debut, King profiles MaVynee Betsch (1935-2005), a Black opera singer who devoted herself to maintaining American Beach, which her great-grandfather bought during the Jim Crow era to make -open to everyone.- When her mother falls ill, Betsch returns to Florida and, remembering the deteriorated beach-s better days, sets out to protect it, protesting the construction of condos by living there, writing letters to lawmakers, and petitioning the president. King crafts musical prose, skillfully connecting Betsch-s musical career with her love of the beach (---Brava!- they cried... whipping velvet curtains into rippling waves-). Caldecott Honoree Holmes-s art, rendered in acrylic and collage, incorporates patterns created from handmade stencils and stamps, resulting in richly multilayered illustrations. A moving portrayal of a little-known preservationist. Back matter includes an author-s and illustrator-s note. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
An unsung American hero who used her voice to preserve the natural spaces she loved.MaVynee Betsch grew up in the Jim Crow South, where she and other Black kids couldn’t swim with the White kids. An orange rope even segregated the ocean. Wanting beaches for all, MaVynee’s wealthy great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, bought a beach in Florida and welcomed African Americans, calling it American Beach. This “ocean paradise” entertained both regular folk and greats like Ray Charles, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ella Fitzgerald. MaVynee herself became a successful opera singer, but when her mother got sick and died, MaVynee abandoned her musical career and returned to Florida only to find her beloved beach in disrepair. Developers wanted to buy it to build condos. Holmes’ stunning, intricately composed paint-and-collage images bring MaVynee to life in full color and capture her eccentricities: She grew her locked hair to 7 feet long, decorating it with seashells, sometimes styling it into a high topknot and other times draping the end over her arm. Holmes uses a brilliant cerulean for ocean and sky and peppers the vibrantly patterned illustrations with found items such as torn raffle tickets, newspaper clippings, promotional posters, and sheet music, making each spread visually rich, realistic, and fascinating. King’s storytelling, Holmes’ artwork, and informative backmatter portray MaVynee Betsch as the larger-than-life Black environmentalist she was. (This book was reviewed digitally with 9.5-by-21-inch double-page spreads viewed at 27.6% of actual size.)A spectacular story about a little-known eco-warrior whose story should be told and retold. (author's note, illustrator's note) (Picture book/biography. 6-12)
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* This lushly illustrated picture-book biography tells the story of MaVynee Betsch, an opera-singing African American environmentalist and activist. During the 1930s, in Jim Crow era Jacksonville, Florida, where most beaches were for whites only, Betsch's grandfather bought some shoreline property and turned it into American Beach, a resort open to everyone. Both locals and celebrities enjoyed its sunshine, but when Betsch's retired from her career as an international opera singer in 1977, she discovered that the property was being taken over by developers. Betsch was determined to save the natural setting and devoted her fortune and the rest of her life to environmental activism. As a result, American Beach was finally listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Holmes' vibrant, multilayered collages aptly evoke the ocean and shifting sands, and are especially effective in capturing Betsch's determined stance, her brilliant outfits, and her seven-foot-long tresses. Added visual details, such as the ropes stretched between the white and Black beaches, and Betsch marching with a picket sign, provide additional context. Betsch, who became known as the Beach Lady, died in 2005, and her ashes were scattered on American Beach. This story of a wealthy, sophisticated, talented, and larger-than-life activist deserves a wide audience.
Reviewing Agencies: - Find Other Reviewed Titles
Starred Review ALA Booklist (3/1/21)
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews (2/1/21)
Starred Review for Publishers Weekly (2/1/21)
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references.
Reading Level: 2.0
Interest Level: K-3

This heartfelt picture book biography illustrated by the Caldecott Honoree Ekua Holmes, tells the story of MaVynee Betsch, an African American opera singer turned environmentalist and the legacy she preserved.

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

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