THE SECRET GARDEN OF GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER
Written by Gene Barretta
Illustrated by Frank Morrison
Katherine Tegen Books 1/01/2020
32 Pages Age 4—8
Genre: Children’s Picture Book, Historical Nonfiction
Themes: Historical Figures, Value of Peanuts, Segregation
When George Washington Carver was just a young child, he had a secret: a garden of his own.
Here, he rolled dirt between his fingers to check if plants needed more rain or sun. He protected roots through harsh winters so plants could be reborn in the spring. He trimmed flowers, spread soil, studied life cycles. And it was in this very place that George’s love of nature sprouted into something so much more—his future.
Gene Barretta’s moving words and Frank Morrison’s beautiful paintings tell the inspiring life and history of George Washington Carver, from a baby born into slavery to a celebrated botanist, scientist, and inventor. His passion and determination are the seeds of a lasting story about triumph over hardship—a tale that begins in a secret garden. (from jacket flap)
Washington, DC, 1921. George Washington Carver addresses the US Congress.
“We are just beginning to learn the value of the peanut,” Carver told the congressmen. Some of them laughed. One man made a racist remark. As a Black man speaking to a room of all-white representatives, Carver was not among friends.
Why I like this book
The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver is a remarkable picture book. The author, Gene Barretta, covers George Washington Carver’s life, from birth to adulthood in detail, yet the book flows nicely without the didactic flavor many historical fiction becomes. George was a sickly child; because of this, he worked less, using the extra time to explore and self-learn. He loved plants and made his own garden, a secret garden. Here, he planted flowers and learned about various plants, the soil, the sun, and water. He helped others with sick plants, which he would nurse back to health earning him the nickname “The Plant Doctor.”
Segregation kept an official education from George until later in life, when at age twelve, George left the Carvers to explore the world and have an adventure. His love of and care for plants followed him to college and the rest of his life. George became distinguished as an environmentalist, a reasoned voice in regards to racial relations, an adviser to world leaders, and an advocate of the value of peanuts. His ten minutes speech to US Congress ran longer due to impressing the representatives. People gathered to hear him speak . . . And it all began at a little secret garden.
I find it amazing the amount of information about George Washington Carver included in this picture book, with even more information in the timeline. There is more text than usual for a picture book and the intended reader may be older than the stated age of 4 to 8. All the information would have made a wonderful chapter book, perfect for the classroom. As a picture book, it is also perfect for classrooms. I’m guessing the author and editor spent a lot of time figuring out what information to keep and what to cut. Suitable for story hours and history sections in early grades, teachers will love all the information included. Unfortunately, many older, middle grade kids will never read this mighty picture book.
Frank Morrison’s illustrations are gorgeous, beginning the book with a distinguished Carver standing before congress, speaking the virtues of the little powerhouse peanut. Carver found more than 300 uses for peanuts, impressing representatives who at first, were only willing to give lip service to this man due to his color, not his knowledge. At the end of Carver’s allotted ten minutes, he was given “unlimited” time to continue speaking, according to Barretta. In my early grades, I learned about George Washington Carver. The most important thing—and maybe the only thing—expected to remember, was Carver’s connection to the peanut. He was so very much more, as Barretta and Morrison have shown.
Back to the art, George looks inquisitive as a young child, reading and rereading the one book he owned. Closer to middle grade age, Carver looks attentive, intent, and determined. At each stage of his life, Carver is depicted as studious, interested, focused, and determined. As a young man, Carver becomes even more intent on an official education, which shows on George’s face, thanks to Morrison’s artwork. In 1896, at age 32, George finally graduates from the Iowa Agricultural College. At Tuskegee Institute, George taught agriculture and put together a free traveling school for anyone needing to know more about their farm and the plants they harvest. His interest in peanuts grows when he needs a plant that can fortify farms decimated by the cotton plant.
The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver is a must-read for children through middle grade. Teachers will find 32 pages of wonderful information, making George Washington Carver an interesting book for young children and elementary kids. While quite wordy for the genre, not a word is wasted. The timeline at the end of the book contains even more information. The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver must have been difficult to edit, wanting to keep the story flowing, the facts correct, and all of it interesting to children. AIl I can say is, “Job well-done.” Children’s historical nonfiction has never been so complete, interesting, and useful in the classroom as The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver is for young children.
I like George Washington Carver’s 3-R’s for nature.
He said this in 1860’s and it is as important now as it was then. With climate control basically ignored or denied for decades, government would have done wonders if only they had remembered Carter’s 3-Rs.
George Washington Carver’s life, as depicted in a Timeline, reads more like cliff notes for the book, giving readers even more information than in the story. There is also a Bibliography and suggestions for Further Reading.
Illustrations Rendered in oil on illustration board.
Available at Amazon
THE SECRET GARDEN OF GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER. Text Copyright © 2020 by Gene Barretta. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Frank Morrison. Published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY.
Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
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