Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch

by Heidi Tyline King (Author) Ekua Holmes (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

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


Starred Review
This lushly illustrated picture-book biography tells the story of MaVynee Betsch, an opera-singing African American environmentalist and activist . . . Holmes' vibrant, multilayered collages aptly evoke the ocean and shifting sands, and are especially effective in capturing MaVynee's determined stance, her brilliant outfits, and her seven-foot-long tresses. . . This story of a wealthy, sophisticated, talented, and larger-than-life activist deserves a wide audience.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
Holmes' stunning, intricately composed paint-and-collage images bring MaVynee to life in full color . . 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. A spectacular story about a little-known eco-warrior whose story should be told and retold. 

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

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.)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Praise for Saving American Beach

★ "What a treat to read this beautiful picture book! . . . Holmes' artistry enhances the wonder of the beach, MaVynee's environmental crusade, and the historical significance of the story. This book provides an inspirational view into a rare piece of Floridian and African American history. . . A welcome addition to any elementary school library." —School Library Connection, starred review

Heidi Tyline King
Heidi Tyline King has written many books for adults, but this is her first book for children.

Ekua Holmes has lived and worked in Boston her entire life. She began her picture book career in 2015, illustrating Voice of Freedom: Fanny Lou Hamer, which was awarded a Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award. She was awarded back-to-back Coretta Scott King Illustration Medals for Out of Wonder in 2017 and The Stuff of Stars in 2018. Her books have achieved numerous medals, honors, and international acclaim.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
April 20, 2021
ALSC Notable Children's Book
Selection 2022

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