This collection of poems assembled by award-winning writer Marilyn Nelson provides young readers with a compelling, lyrical account of the life of revered African-American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver. Born in 1864 and raised by white slave owners, Carver left home in search of an education and eventually earned a master's degree in agriculture. In 1896, he was invited by Booker T. Washington to head the agricultural department at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute. There he conducted innovative research to find uses for crops such as cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and peanuts, while seeking solutions to the plight of landless black farmers. Through 44 poems, told from the point of view of Carver and the people who knew him, Nelson celebrates his character and accomplishments. She includes prose summaries of events and archival photographs.--Publisher information.
Original publication date
George Washington Carver was born a slave in Missouri around the year 1864. His mother Mary was owned by the Carvers but then one day; Mary and George were taken away from the Carvers. After this the Carvers sent a man named John to find them but he only found the infant George. The Carvers then took care of George and his older brother named Jim. The Carvers raised the boys as if they were their own children. By the year of 1877, George decided to leave home in search of an education. Later on he eventually earned his master’s degree and later helped Booker T. Washington by teaching an agriculture class. He later developed easier ways to grow and use crops.
I really enjoyed this book mostly because it was written in poems. Even though it was like a biography of George Carver it was written really well. I liked that it actually had little photographs after the end of every poem to provided proof of the events.
Classroom Extension ideas:
1.) Discuss life now compared to it back then
2.) Discuss slavery and how it affect the world
Arranged chronologically as signposts in Carver's life, nevertheless each of Nelson's poems stands alone. The opening verses, for example, relay the musings of a mercenary hired to hunt down a missing woman, Mary, and Mary’s infant son. The mercenary finds the boy, but not Mary, and is rewarded. That boy is Carver, and the mercenary’s tale of triumph and reward serves as Carver’s “origin story”. (We never hear from the mercenary again.) Nelson builds up a picture of Carver from many such poems: singular, isolated, most observing the man from distance. Carver is revealed to be amiable, curious, generous, and accomplished, but always a person apart.
Nelson in her verse observes Carver's personal qualities, evoking images and tones, avoiding Biblical inventory of ancestral history, Homeric tallies of the dead and their deeds. Seemingly recognizing that most readers will be almost wholly unfamiliar with Carver's biography, however, she appends relevant documentary detail in occasional footnotes: bulleted almanac entries with the necessary detail for a fuller appreciation of a given poem. Not all poems need them; in one instance, a photograph explains an obscure reference. It was not wholly clear to me, in that first poem, what tale the mercenary was telling, or the significance of his hiring, until the poem’s footnote was read, but the story was in the poem, not the footnote.
Typically Nelson's poems assume the perspective of someone not among Carver’s intimates. In this way the poems mimic the position of the book’s readers: outside looking in on a life, telling a story from what little can be known without having participated. There are several exceptions: perhaps three (of almost 60 poems). One is narrated by Carver, "My beloved friend", reading as though we've opened a letter intended for someone else. Another appears to quote from a different letter, then proceeds to observe the letterwriter without comment. "Last Talk with Jim Hardwick" is subtitled “a found poem”; whether wholly invented or taken from a diary, however, is unclear.
I opened this book knowing no more than I learned in primary school: Carver was a black scientist who found countless uses for the humble peanut. Having read it, somehow I know Carver as a person brimming over with talent and insight, a man of science and of spiritual visions, all of this tempered by his gentle demeanor. I am all the better for meeting him.