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
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.