Junius G. Groves, named “Potato King of the World” by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1902, was the richest black man “living between the Missouri River and the Rockies,” according to the Indianapolis Recorder.
This entertaining biography celebrates an African-American hero born into slavery in the late 1850s in Kentucky who realized his dreams for himself and eventually for his large family. Settling in the Great Kaw Valley, Kansas, Junius began working on a potato farm for 40 cents a day, “almost starvation wages,” but he was determined to own a farm one day. First renting their land, Junius and his wife, Matilda, worked hard and saved, buying 80 acres in 1884 and paying off the balance in a year with the help of their three sons. Eventually he bought over 500 acres on which he grew 72,150 bushels—roughly 12 million potatoes—in one year, 1902. With 12 children and lots of hired hands, Junius built Groves Park, the community of Groves Center, a church, a store, and even a golf course. Every few pages, a sidebar punctuates Bolden’s chatty, colloquial narrative with words from Groves himself. The mixed-media illustrations, awash in blues, greens, and browns, successfully represent the expansiveness of the land and the momentous nature of Groves’ accomplishments. A glossary, a timeline, and other helpful backmatter make this an excellent research resource for teachers and students alike.
This a-peel-ing story will give readers a new appreciation for spuds. (Picture book/biography. 5-8)