Saturday, April 14, 2007

Book Review - George Washington Carver: An Innovative Life

In February I wrote a post on African American Scientists and Inventors. Sadly, as I worked to describe books I share with my students, I realized that the list of titles numbered only five. I am happy to report the I have a new book to add to this list, and it is a remarkable addition.
While most people know that George Washington Carver was responsible for finding more than 300 uses for peanuts and more than 150 for sweet potatoes, there is much more to discover about one of the Tuskegee Institute's most famous professors. Did you know that George Washington Carver:
  • was an artist and gifted painter (largely creating compositions of flowers and plants)?
  • lived as a homesteader in western Kansas for about three years?
  • sang and played the accordion?
  • entered college at the age of 26, determined to study art?
  • exhibited a painting at the World's Fair in Chicago?
  • earned a Masters degree and became the first African American teacher at Iowa State?
I loved learning about the journeys in life that made George the man he was. Too often history is taught as a collection of names and dates, with little attention to the fact that extraordinary things are accomplished by ordinary people, often in the face of great adversity. History comes alive for students when we remember to focus on these individuals, and look at the events of time through the eyes of those who lived it.

This book is the latest addition to the Snapshots biography collection, a series that highlights important figures through accessible text that is supported by photographs, newspaper excerpts, journal pages, timelines and more. Elizabeth MacLeod has done a tremendous job of writing an engaging text that introduces readers to a George Washington Carver that just isn't described in most biographies for children. The quotes in the text are moving, and one can't help but cheer for George as the book marches on through events in his life, even though the outcome is known. From his birth to his death and the lingering impact of his work, MacLeod has written a book that celebrates and illuminates the life that was George Washington Carver's.

The dearth of well-written books for children on African American scientists and inventors is marked. This volume successfully begins the work of filling the void. My hope is that volumes on others of note, such as Benjamin Banneker and Lewis Latimer, will follow.

Teachers engaged in study of George Washington Carver should find that this text will make an engaging read aloud. Here is an excerpt.
George was a small boy and often sick, so he helped Aunt Sue with indoor work such as laundry, cleaning and cooking.

When George's chores were done for the day, he headed off to collect rocks, insects and plants. He carefully dug up flowers and replanted them in a secret garden he kept. There he watched over them, finding out how to make them grow better.

George also helped Aunt Sue with her vegetable and flower gardens. He gained a reputation for being able to make any plant grow and was nicknamed "Plant Doctor." Years later, George's love of plants would make him famous around the world.
This is a fine book that deserves a home in school and classroom libraries. I give it my highest recommendation.

Book: George Washington Carver: An Innovative Life
Author: Elizabeth MacLeod
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: February, 2007
Pages: 32
Grades: 3 and up
ISBN-10: 1-553379063
ISBN-13: 978-1553379065
Source of Book: Copy received from Raab Associates, Inc.


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  2. Tricia,

    I have a book you may want to add to your list. It's THE REAL MCCOY: THE LIFE OF AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN INVENTOR, which was written by Wendy Towle and illustrated by Wil Clay. This is a picture book biography. Most two-page spreads have just one or two paragraphs of text. (Scholastic, 1993)

  3. Hi Elaine,
    I wrote a chapter for a book on Elijah McCoy and found him just fascinating. I will definitely look for this book. Thanks for sharing it!