Kid Lit Review of “The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest” by Heather Lang

Margaret “Meg” Lowman, born in 1953, is a scientific pioneer and arbornaut (treetop explorer) known as “the mother of canopy research” for her treetop explorations of the world’s forests. Using hot-air balloons, human slingshots, cherry pickers, construction cranes and walkways, she has worked to map the canopy’s biodiversity and to champion forest conservation around the world. Before her innovations, as Lang reports in this book for readers aged 5 and up, most scientists studied rainforest treetops through binoculars. Some even cut trees down to study the tops of them.

Meg had been a “leaf detective” since she was a young girl growing up in New York. She collected leaves, identified them, and labeled them. She pursued her passion in college, although one professor refused to let her in his class because she was a female. In graduate school at Sydney University in Australia, she was the first one to study the rainforest. Rainforests have so much to offer for scientists, because the hot, humid environment stimulates a diverse variety of plant and animal species. Lang observes, “We now believe the canopy is home to approximately half the plant and animal species on land.”

Lang reports many fascinating bits of information that Meg discovered, such as the fact that 15 to 25 percent of tropical rainforest leaves are eaten every year, mostly by insects, and mostly at night. She writes, “To insects, a tree is not just a tree, it is a ‘salad bar’ – all-you-can-eat leaves.” In turn, “for birds and mammals, a tree is a buffet – juicy fruits and plump beetles, salamanders, and frogs.”

Much of Meg’s best research was done after she invented the canopy walkway, so she could research day and night, alone or with others. She even started to give rainforest tours on the walkways.

Lang explains how water from the rainforest is important to the whole world: its moisture affects rainfall as far away as Texas. Rainforest trees help clean the air, absorbing carbon dioxide and providing oxygen. Some rainforest trees provide medicines not available from other sources. When the trees are cut by developers seeking timber or rubber or paper, the air becomes less clean.

Meg became devoted to saving the trees, and began teaching ecology around the world. She teaches alternatives to tearing down trees for those who live near rainforests so they can still prosper economically. For example, she shows them how to construct walkways and give canopy tours, and she encourages them to harvest and sell crops from the trees rather than cutting them down. The author writes that Meg is using her voice “to inspire people to save their rainforests to save themselves, because to Meg, a tree is not just a tree. . . . It is essential for life on earth.”

The author concludes with a note in which she gives more background on Meg’s work and talks about her own trips to the canopy in the rainforest with Meg. Meg gave her, she writes, “a new appreciation for the interconnectedness of our world and transformed me into a tree lover.” She includes some photos of their adventures.

A two-page spread in the back matter provides a look at the layers, leaves, and life of the rainforest. The author also includes a bibliography and list of other sources.

Illustrator Jana Christy created beautiful illustrations using leafy patterns to show both the gorgeous variety of the rainforest and the bravery and creativity of Meg Lowman. Throughout the book, she also showcases factoids about the rainforest inside leaf designs rather than the usual rectangular call-out boxes.

Readers will want to check Meg’s website, in which she declares:

“What causes me to leap out of bed each morning is the opportunity to  explore, research, and conserve global forests; mentor the next generation (especially women and minorities) in sustainability and forest stewardship; and educate diverse audiences through advising and storytelling.”

Kids on a canopy tour, via the TREE Foundation website

Evaluation: Meg’s story is so inspirational. And much of the material in the book could inspire units in biology as well as social sciences for educators. Best of all, the author is donating a portion of her royalties from this book to Meg Lowman’s TREE Foundation.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyds Mill & Kane, 2021

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1 Response to Kid Lit Review of “The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest” by Heather Lang

  1. stacybuckeye says:

    Must get this!! I’m trying to convince Gage that his love of nature would translate nicely into a park ranger. He’s set on scientist. I think we can combine the two 🙂

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