More than six decades ago, I traveled to southern Florida for the first time with my parents and sister. At five years old it seemed as if I had set foot on a different continent rather than a state 1,400 miles away from my home located in Michigan. There were lush palm trees, wide sandy beaches and the vast ocean. It seemed as if there were hibiscus in striking shades of pink and red growing on bushes everywhere. One of the most remarkable memories is a visit we took to Parrot Jungle. (Parrot Jungle has since been closed.) With my arms held out perpendicular to my body, colorful parrots rested there, using them like tree branches. On the top of my head sat a polite cockatoo.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
One Voice For The River Of Grass
My memories of this childhood visit are wonderful but only memories. Long before my trip another girl was fascinated by what she experienced in a stop with her parents in southern Florida. But, unlike me, this singular individual came back and dedicated her entire life to protecting a portion of its natural beauty. Marjory Saves the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 22, 2020) written by Sandra Neil Wallace with illustrations by Rebecca Gibbon acquaints us with a woman who believed we need to act in light of what we know. She stood strong to support that which was unable to do so for itself.
Before airplanes and automobiles,
a girl in gold-rimmed glasses sailed
on a steamboat to Florida.
She tasted a freshly picked orange as she savored the company of her father. What she could not know in that moment, it would be a long time before she returned to Florida or felt the warmth of her father's companionship. She and her mother returned to Taunton, Massachusetts living with her grandparents and Aunt Fanny.
Marjory kept to herself, away from those four adults, and she read as much as possible. She also made a point to venture outside whenever she could during any season. By the time she was eighteen, she was in college. By the time she was twenty-four she was married, but it was not successful. Shortly after World War I started, Marjory returned to Florida and her father.
The Miami Herald was her father's newspaper, and she became a reporter. Marjory was the only woman reporter and her heart dictated what she wrote. To make sure her stories were a reflection of realty, she enlisted in the navy during World War I. She was a part of the Red Cross and traveled to Europe. When she returned to Florida, she was dismayed to see the changes in her beloved state. There was talk of draining the Everglades.
Knowing this, Marjory went to work. She wrote, she studied, and she explored the Everglades, but at forty years old, she had never been inside this wild area until she met Ernest Coe. Together they ventured into the interior and shared those insights with a hesitant National Park Service. Still not convinced Marjory had a brilliant brainstorm. It worked and changed everything for the Everglades.
Marjory had a unique cottage built in southern Florida. From there she could easily study her beloved Everglades. Her findings led to the publishing of a now famous book. When the Everglades were threated again, Marjory founded the Friends of the Everglades. She was 79 years old. Marjory continued to fight for the Everglades, convincing government officials to restore and maintain its place on our planet. Marjory Stoneman Douglas lived to be 108 years old. What a remarkable life filled with remarkable accomplishments.
Each time you read the words penned by Sandra Neil Wallace, you are acutely aware of the meticulous research behind her narrative Her masterful use of language takes the gleaned facts mingling them with her descriptive imagery of place and time. We feel as though we've been friends with Marjory through the inclusion of her personal quotes placed perfectly within the text. They serve to enhance the moments of her life being presented. Here is a passage.
Traveling by houseboat, Marjory meandered through the Glades in a
string of pearls, and a silk dress with pleats as thick as the saw grass
jutting through the shallow waters.
She spotted crocodiles swimming, alligators soaking up the sun, and the
wiry roots of ghost orchids wrapped around the trunks of pond apples.
She saw sea turtles round as rain barrels bobbin through forests of
One of the first things you notice about the open and matching dust jacket and book case are the expressions on Marjory's face in both scenes. Her looks of happiness reveal the pleasure she felt when in the Everglades, fueling her determination to protect this threatened area. On the front, right, Marjory is at home among all the flora and fauna found when investigating this southern Florida natural paradise. All you see here is still thriving because of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. The delicate elements surround her. The main title text is varnished and raised.
To the left, on the back, Marjory stands in the lower, left-hand corner. All we see is her upper body. Her head, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, is raised up to gaze at the multitude of birds of all types gliding across the sky from left to right. These birds in this sky cover the opening endpapers featuring a lovely quote by Marjory on the right-hand side. The closing endpapers highlight the rivers of grass. Here are placed a page of Sources, and a second page for Additional Resources, and Acknowledgements.
On the verso and dedication page illustrator Rebecca Gibbon depicts a crate of Florida oranges. (You'll want to read the dedications.) On the title page the text is framed by gorgeous Everglades' plants, flowers, and insects.
Rendered in acrylic inks and colored pencils
the intricate illustrations flow in a range of sizes on the heavy, matte-finished paper.
The details in each image invite us to stop and observe the world portrayed in each one, just like Marjory viewed the world around her. Rebecca Gibbon draws us into the visuals with her regard for historical accuracy in the architecture, clothing, and each setting in which we find ourselves.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture. Marjory is inside the Everglades on her trip with Ernest Coe. Alone she sits on a grassy piece of land with pale turquoise water encircling her. Around the water are trees, ferns, and aquatic plants. Tucked among them are a shy raccoon, a turtle, several kinds of birds and insects. In looking at this scene, it is easy to imagine sitting there, still as stone, listening to all the sounds made by the Everglades' life breathing in and out.
If you hand this book, Marjory Saves the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas written by Sandra Neil Wallace with illustrations by Rebecca Gibbon, to a reader, or if you read it yourself, they and you will be changed. What this woman achieved in her long life will resonate for generations. Her life is a call to action, and a testament to the power of one. There are a lengthy Author's Note, information about eleven animal and plant inhabitants of the Everglades, Marjory's Tips for Protecting the Environment, Learn More about Marjory and Helping the Everglades and a Timeline of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the Everglades at the close of the book. I highly recommend placement of this title in your professional and personal collections.
To learn more about Sandra Neil Wallace and Rebecca Gibbon, and their other work access their websites by following the link attached to their names. Sandra Neil Wallace has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Here is a link to an Activity Kit and a Curriculum Guide for this title at Sandra Neil Wallace's website. Rebecca Gibbon has an account on Instagram. On author Patricia Newman's site there is a LitLinks: Using the Everglades to develop a love of nature post about this book written by guest blogger Roberta Gibson. At the publisher's website there are a series of interior images, along with the opened dust jacket. Please take a few moments to enjoy the book trailer.