FANTASTICALLY GREAT WOMEN WHO SAVED THE PLANET

Kate Pankhurst, descendent of Emmeline Pankhurst talks about her new book about women who have dedicated their lives to studying, conserving and protecting the environment.   Here she tells Wen about some of these inspiring women and some of the surprising facts she came across during her research. I’ve been lucky enough to work on three Fantastically Great Women titles so far. The series explores the lives of incredible world-changing women in a picture book format for young readers. It’s my hope that readers take away heaps of inspiration for how they can make the most of their own talents, and make a positive difference to their own lives and others. That’s why the next and fourth book in the series Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet, with its environmental theme, had to happen. The final spread in each of the books asks a question back to readers, how will you change the world? Or Make history? In Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet we have a call to action — how will you speak up for our planet? It’s been such an enjoyable and eye-opening process researching and illustrating the stories of the book’s planet saving women to help children find their own answer to that very important question …
We meet planet ‘wonderers’ like Ingeborg Beling, the German biologist who studied the time sense of bees. Her observations of bees’ amazing ability to keep very precise time led to the discovery that all living things have an internal clock essential for survival – the circadian rhythm. (Who knew bees can tell the time?! I certainly didn’t!) I couldn’t actually find photographic reference for what Ingeborg looked like so I had free reign to design her wearing a full beekeepers outfit. All the cheerfully punctual bees were a joy to illustrate too.
Women inspiring other women to become grassroots activists are some of my favourite spreads in the book. Isatou Ceesay, upcycling plastic pioneer from The Gambia, is shown, on her spread, dodging mountains of plastic bags that litter her home, until she has an amazing idea about how to clean up the environment — upcycling trash into treasures!  Isatou has worked for over a decade now, supporting women in The Gambia to turn mountains of plastic bag trash into items they can sell. Something that not only cleans up the environment but gives them new skills, financial security and independence.
Did you know the first solar powered house was designed and built in 1948 by Maria Telkes, a Hungarian inventor? It made my mind spin slightly that the technology needed for green solar energy in homes has been around for a very long time, yet the search for ways to make it accessible and affordable for all still has some way to go. I designed her spread in the book from reference material I found from a science magazine which featured the ‘home of the future’, Maria’s Dover Sun House, with a diagram of how her solar technology kept the place toasty warm.
Ursula Marvin was a different sort of planet saver again. She was an American geologist who became the first woman to go meteorite hunting in Antarctica. (Meteorites are pretty hard to find because, thankfully, strikes are very rare. However, meteorites that landed in Antarctica millions of years ago, sink into the ice and magically re-appear in clusters.)  Ursula’s story turned up the most mind-boggling fact in the book. Her discoveries about rocks from outer space have helped scientists today save the planet from impending doom! Scientists who want to know as much as possible about asteroids, so in the event of a very large one heading Earth’s way, they can divert it from a course of total destruction! (Ursula also found rocks in Antarctica from the moon. She theorised they must have ended up there after some sort of very violent impact in the solar system’s distant past on the moon’s surface.)
With planet saving and environmentalism being a force of relatively recent history, I’ve been able to revisit the lives of women I knew about while I was growing up. The work of green entrepreneur Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop and founding member of Wen, was something I was aware of as a teenager in the 1990s. It was only during my research that it really dawned on me just how different her approach to doing business was.  Anita’s is one of my favourite spreads in the book, it shows a retro Body Shop scene featuring information about the incredible work Anita led, about banning the testing of cosmetics on animals, fair trade, recycling and campaigns to help save the environment. (I was the proud owner of an ‘extinct is forever’ rhino backpack in 1994.) Sharing her story with readers has felt very special.
Being a planet saver involves many different things. Other women in this book had the curiosity and courage to marvel at all there is to learn about man-eating sharks rather than fearing them. They had  the compassion to care for orphaned elephants and the bravery to stand tall for the environment against threats like pollution and deforestation. They made scientific discoveries that help us all live greener, kinder lives … I hope the cast of incredible women shows readers that doing one small thing to help the world we  live in is what makes change happen.  How will you speak up for our planet?  It’s a question we all need to ask ourselves but I know children really want to have their voices heard on this subject. Let’s hear it for the next generation of planet savers …
Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet will be published on the 6th February 2020.  About Kate Pankhurst – Kate illustrates and writes from her studio in Leeds with her dog Olive.  She loves a good story, the funnier the better and gets her best ideas by doodling in her sketchbook.

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