George Washington Carver tended a secret garden of flowers before becoming known for his skill in agriculture.
The book opens in 1921 as Carver addresses the U.S. Congress, astounding them with dozens of uses for the peanut. The narration then takes readers back to Carver’s childhood to discover how he reached that career highlight. As a child, he loved flowers, but he was warned not to waste time on plants that couldn’t be eaten or sold, so he kept his colorful garden hidden in the woods. Shut out of schools because he was black, he studied nature independently and learned through experimentation. Eventually, he started caring for neighbors’ sick plants, becoming known as “the Plant Doctor.” At 12, he left the farm on which he was raised and attained a formal education, after which he taught students at the Tuskegee Institute and farmers with a mobile classroom mounted on a wagon. This journey through Carver’s childhood and accomplishments ends with Carver’s simple but memorable words, “Regard Nature. Revere Nature. Respect Nature.” The substantial text holds readers on each spread long enough to appreciate not only the subject matter of the painted illustrations, but Morrison’s artistic techniques—strong strokes and careful dots, artful combinations of textures and shapes—which create lush forest scenes and portraitlike human faces and forms. The childhood story feels more cohesive than the final pages, which list his adult accomplishments but lack the narrative thread.
Memorable art earns this biography a respectable place on the shelf. (timeline, bibliography, further reading) (Picture book/biography. 4-9)