Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

To The Trees

We need to constantly consider the purpose of trees.  To not do so is a costly mistake.  In an article, How Trees Make a Difference, at the website for the National Wildlife Federation, we read, in a list of ten, how trees can better the air quality and create habitats for plants and animals.  This is understandable.  It has also been documented they are good for the economy, not because of how they can be used, but because homes and property with trees around them are more valuable than those without trees.

During Women's History Month, let us take a few moments to highlight new book releases focusing on women who have dedicated their lives to understanding and protecting trees and their forests.  Both women were the first in their particular field in their accomplishments.  In light of relentless challenges, their deeds are remarkable.

In The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets In The Rainforest (Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyd Mills & Kane, February 9, 2021) written by Heather Lang with illustrations by Jana Christy, we discover, as did Margaret Lowman, the reward of immersing oneself in that which is loved.  Determination and dedication fueled by one's passion are key ingredients to success.  Inventiveness in solving mysteries is supremely satisfying.

Meg loved how leaves
burst into the world
and unfurled.
She admired their different shapes,
colors, and textures.

For twenty years, Meg learned everything she could about trees.  As a quiet girl, being with trees was a refuge for her. In college, despite not being allowed in one class because she was a woman, she persisted.  In Australia, in graduate school, she wanted to study rainforests, not from the ground, but in the treetops.  Now it was time to "be" a tree. 

Meg sewed a harness and designed a simple but demanding rope system to pull herself up into the canopy.  She was in a new frontier with new animals and marvelous leaves of all shapes and sizes.  Although, people discouraged her from these endeavors, Meg climbed and climbed and climbed.  She made discoveries about a variety of different trees.

Meg took copious notes and made diagrams.  She did this day after day, without human companionship or colleagues.  She discovered how active insects are at night in consuming leaves.  She discovered how valuable each tree is to other animals and to the forest itself.  The one thing Meg could not do was climb at night.  It was simply too dangerous.

Not to be deterred Meg and a friend, Peter O'Reilly designed the world's first canopy walkway.  It was built in

his Rainforest Retreat in Queensland, Australia.

Meg continued to assist in the construction of other canopy walkways in other parts of the world.  She even stood in a raft placed on top of a canopy of trees in Cameroon, Africa!  You would think with all these major triumphs for the good of trees, Meg might be ready to rest.  She was not.  She toured through countries in Africa, teaching them how to care for their rainforests.  Through her they understood, trees are life.

Even after several readings, the deeds of this woman fascinate and inspire as presented by author Heather Lang.  Her factual but lyrical language and intentional word choices compel us to keep reading.  We want to know what Margaret Lowman does next.  Within the narrative and in support of it are quotations by Margaret Lowman.  To further educate us about rainforests, their inhabitants, and Meg, large leaves with additional text are strategically placed on numerous pages.  Here is a passage, a quotation from Margaret Lowman and information from one of the leaves.

At last, splashed with flowers and sunlight---
the canopy!
The treetops swayed
back and forth.
Flies whizzed.  Lizards lingered.
A black weevil sucked leaf juices.
Sweat bees landed on her arm
for a lick of salt.
And the jungle's music danced all around her.


Insects eat leaves by chewing them,
piercing and sucking from the leaf, or
tunneling in and eating the inside
of the leaf.

On the open and matching dust jacket and book case, we get on the right, front, a first-hand glance at what it was like for Margaret Lowman, Meg, when she climbed into the treetops and studied what she found there.  Birds, insects, and reptiles were her companions.  The shades of green cast a glow of warmth and humidity.  Do you see the large pale leaf highlighting the title text?  To the left, on the back, are endorsements for this title from Jane Goodall and Edward O. Wilson.  

On the opening and closing endpapers is a bright orange like that seen in the snake and birds on the front of the book.  A graceful gathering of leaves and flowers frame the text on the title page continuing as a branch along the top of the verso.  Each image rendered digitally by Jana Christy spans two pages.

Within those two pages she sometimes depicts more than one scenario.  In these settings we might see Meg outside gathering leaves and then inside pressing and preserving them in a notebook.  We find Meg in a college classroom and exploring the rainforest.  In one double-page picture, there are four vertical panels showing Meg's attempts to get her harness and rope operative.

The perspectives shift to complement the narrative.  We are dangling with Meg as she gets used to the harness and rope.  We are close to her as she takes notes in the treetops, a vividly colored bird taking flight near her.  At night we are next to all the insects feasting on leaves.  Jana Christy also includes sketches within these visuals.  

One of my many favorite illustrations shows Meg as a little girl.  Through the center, branching out from the gutter is a sketch of a treehouse with Meg leaning over a railing.  As the branches stretch to the right and left large colorful leaves border the top and drift down the sides.  There is a sketch of Meg's home on the left.  At the bottom she is kneeling in the grass collecting flowers and leaves.  On the right side, Meg is seated at a table placing her specimens in a book.  She is surrounded by leaves, branches, and other gathered treasures in jars.  Several other objects hang on the wall near her.  You can tell from Meg's facial expressions, she is contented.

You are amazed and filled with respect for this woman's great strides in her beloved work during and after reading The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets In The Rainforest written by Heather Lang with illustrations by Jana Christy.  At the close of the book is an Author's Note giving us more information and speaking about when Heather Lang met and spent time with Margaret Lowman.  Following this is a vertical two-page picture explaining the layers of life in an Amazon rainforest.  There are many labels, but you are asked to find other elements.  On the final page are a bibliography of books, videos, websites, source notes, acknowledgements and picture credits.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Heather Lang and Jana Christy and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Heather Lang has active accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  You can see more of Jana Christy's artwork on her agency website.  This title was featured at Celebrate Picture Books.  The book trailer was premiered along with an interview at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read.  At Penguin Random Houseyou can view the title and verso pages.

There are other ways of approaching what we love and doing our best to preserve it.  One girl grew up knowing the forests around California's Siskiyou Mountains.  Nothing found in those forests frightened her as much as fire.  She wanted to do everything she could to protect those forests and their inhabitants.  Headstrong Hallie!: The Story of Hallie Morse Daggett, the First Female "Fire Guard" (Sleeping Bear Press, February 15, 2021) written by Aimee Bissonette with illustrations by David Hohn chronicles the life of this girl and woman and the impressive steps she took to make her dream a reality.

Hallie leapt from her bed and raced to the
window, pulling back the curtains.  A bright
orange glow filled the sky.

Flames licked the tops of far-off trees.  Hallie's 
house was safe for now, but the winds could
shift at any moment.  Even if her home was
safe, the forest was in danger---the trees, the
animals, her neighbors.

As a young girl, Hallie roamed through the woods with her sister Leslie and her brother Ben.  She knew birds by their calls, hunted, and fished.  She knew first-hand of the dangers of fire.  She and her sister would assist firefighters, doing what they could to help when fires broke out near their home.

When Hallie and Leslie were older, they attended a boarding school in San Francisco.  Living in the city was the farthest thing from Hallie's mind.  Finally, with school finished, Hallie started a letter writing campaign to the United States Forest Service.  They said no again and again, even after the devastating Great Fire of 1910 when she pleaded with them.  

In 1913, right before the start of fire season, Hallie got the job as the fire lookout at the Eddy Gulch Lookout Station in northern California.  No one believed Hallie would last during the wild electrical storms on the top of the mountain or survive the loneliness of days without seeing another human being.  She did!  She lived in a cozy cabin at the peak.  To the west she could see the Pacific Ocean.

Tiny creatures joined her in her new home.  Tracks of larger forest dwellers assured she always carried her gun.  Daily routines consisted of replenishing water and wood and vigilance in seeking out smoke or flames, day or night.  Each week her sister made the three hour climb on horseback to bring Hallie news and supplies. 

During fire season, early spring to late autumn, when snow was still on the ground and as soon as snow fell, Hallie was at Eddy Gulch Lookout Station for fourteen more years after her first successful assignment in 1913.  Eventually the United States Forest Service built a new station replacing the log cabin.  Hallie left soon after, the new building not to her liking.  A heart's desire completed.

Readers can easily step into Hallie's world through the writing of author Aimee Bissonette.  Explanations of her attachment to the forest of her youth help us connect to her sense of exploration and discovery.  Hallie's determination to face her fear of fire in the forests by fighting against it is felt through the descriptions of her tenacity in writing letters.  She would not take no for an answer.  The inclusion of daily tasks in her job at the Eddy Gulch Lookout Station gives us personal details.  She is as real to us as our friends and neighbors.  Here is a passage. 

At night, she watched for the red glare of fire, which she described as
"red stars in the blue-black background of moonless nights."  Three
times a day Hallie telephoned Ranger McCarthy from the pole-
mounted telephone outside her cabin---more often if she spotted
smoke or flame.

In her first season on the job, Hallie spotted forty fires.  Because 
of her quick reporting, fewer than five acres of forest burned.

Sometimes you look at an open and matching dust jacket and book case and think a single word---WOW.  Without reading a word of the narrative, you know Hallie is one fierce female.  Her facial features portray deep concentration and dedication.  The decision to place the reflection of the forest in her binocular lenses is genius.  The color palette is outstanding with the blend of blue, green, and yellow hues.  Her right arm extends over the spine to the back.  Here a hill rises to the peak.  Trees are scattered near the cabin, behind and in front of it.  The path to the cabin winds around the hill.  

On the opening and closing endpapers is a relief map with the Pacific Ocean on the far left.  In the right corner is the state line with Oregon above it.  Mountains and trees are scattered on the area.  Labels are shown for Klamath National Forest, Mt Linn, Lassen Peak, Mt Shasta, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  

A stunning double-page picture spreads left to right from the dedication and publication information page to the title page.  It is the dead of night.  Hallie's childhood home, lights aglow, sits among the forest on the right.  Off to the far left, a forest fire blazes, sparks flying on the night breeze.

Most of the illustrations by David Hohn span two pages.  The single-page pictures generate pacing between important portions of Hallie's life choices.  The representations of Hallie's face and her body postures give us a sense of intense focus and of always moving forward.  

In the shift of perspectives, we can see David Hohn's attention to detail.  The clothing, methods of transportation, and architecture are all in keeping with the historical period.  His vast landscapes mirror the starkness and breathtaking beauty of the wilderness.  Animals native to the area are always a part of the setting.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  It shows Hallie's arrival at the lookout in the early spring on the left and her leaving in the late autumn on the right.  Just left of the gutter and at the top, the cabin is the focal point.  The telephone on the pole is out in front as is the flag waving in a brisk breeze.  When she arrives in the early spring, David Hohn shows snowy hills and mountain peaks with the snow still covering part of the ground as early flowers poke through new grass.  She has a walking stick in her hand to assist her in the climb.  When she leaves, you can tell she does so with a bit of heartbreak.  We see more of her horse in this portion of the picture, waiting in the golden grass as she looks at the cabin.  The horse is packed with her possessions.  Two snowshoes are visible.  David Hohn includes a dog with Hallie.  In some photographs of her, a dog is by her side.

More than 100 years ago, this woman due to sheer grit took a stand and paved the way for others to follow.  Headstrong Hallie!: The Story of Hallie Morse Daggett, the First Female "Fire Guard" written by Aimee Bissonette with illustrations by David Hohn will have you standing up and cheering.  The captivating text and lovely images complement each other.  At the close of the book on two pages is an author's note and three black and white photographs.  You'll want to have a copy of this book in both your professional and personal collections.

To discover more about Aimee Bissonette and David Hohn and their other work, visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Aimee Bissonette has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  David Hohn has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Aimee Bissonette is interviewed and this book is featured at writer and illustrator Jena Benton's website.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the incredible time and detail you devote to the books in this review. So pleased you found them worth sharing!