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An Earth Day Tribute to the Leading Ladies of the Modern Environmental Movement

Jane Goodall at Gombe

In honor of Earth Day, A Mighty Girl would like to recognize two of the greatest female environmentalists of the 20th century -- Jane Goodall and Rachel Carson. Jane Goodall is a British primatologist and the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. She is especially well-known for her work running a 45-year long study on wild chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. Goodall also founded the Jane Goodall Institute to support the on-going research at Gombe and she works extensively on animal welfare and conservation issues.

For children interested in learning more about the life and work of Jane Goodall, several excellent books are available including two recent books for younger readers ages 4 to 8. Me...Jane, a Caldecott Honor book by Patrick McDonnell, tells the story of a very young Jane and the toy chimpanzee which helped spark her interest in conservation. Alternatively, The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps focuses on Jane throughout her years working in the field studying chimps and leading a global crusade to protect their habitat. Readers ages 8 and up will delight in the youth-oriented autobiography, My Life with the Chimpanzees and Goodall's inspirational, adventure-filled account of her life in the wilds of Africa and her struggle to protect the animals she came to love. An excellent documentary on Goodall and her work called Jane's Journey is also available and highly recommended for viewers 8 and up.

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist and conservationist, who is particularly well-known for her work on the environmental effects of synthetic pesticides. This research led her to write her seminal work Silent Spring which served as a rallying point for the young environment movement just gaining momentum at the time of its publication. Her book, marking its 50th anniversary this year, and the activism it inspired spurred a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. For her many contributions to environmental conservation, President Carter posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Like Goodall, Carson has also been the focus of a several recent picture book biographies perfect for readers ages 5 to 10: Rachel Carson: Preserving a Sense of Wonder by Joseph Bruchac, Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson by Amy Ehrlich, and Rachel Carson & Her Book that Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor. The first two biographies follow similar arcs, introducing Rachel in childhood as a young girl curious about the nature world and following her progression to adulthood and her work on conservation. The third book, just published in February, provides more of an in-depth look at her book, Silent Spring, and its galvanizing effect on the environmental movement.

For older readers, 11 and up, Rachel Carson: A Twentieth-Century Life by Ellen Levine provides a more comprehensive overview of Carson's life and work. Booklist also notes how in this book, "Levine emphasizes the prevailing attitudes toward women's roles and how Carson was able to overcome those limiting expectations to break ground and become such an effective voice for environmental concerns."

For more inspiring environmentally-oriented reading recommendations, visit A Mighty Girl's special feature on Top Children's Books on the Environment.

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