Book: Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton
Author: Don Tate
Age Range: 6-8
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate is pretty much the perfect companion to The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, which was written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Don Tate. Both of these picture book biographies feature slaves who transcended their lot as well as circumstances allowed, and left behind inspirational legacies.
George Moses Horton was a North Carolina slave before (and during) the time of the Civil War. As summarized in an Author's Note, he "taught himself to read, sold poetry to college students, and published several books--all at a time when African-American literacy was discouraged, devalued, even outlawed in this country." Horton's story is remarkable, and true (Tate relied heavily on Horton's own autobiography).
Tate convey's Horton's story directly. He doesn't shrink from details like the fact that Horton was separated from his family as a teenager, and didn't become free until he was sixty-six, but he doesn't dwell on them, either. We see George's despair when people try to free him, but his master refuses to sell, and his hopelessness when he has to return to the backbreaking work of the farm. But most of the time, his head is held high, as shown on the cover.
The text in Poet is fairly dense, and the details of Horton's situation are unusual for the time period. Together, these things make Poet a better fit for slightly older kids - I would say six to nine, rather than for preschoolers. Here's a snippet (taken from a single page):
"George composed more than a dozen love poems a week, selling them for 25 cents each. Some paid him with fine suits and shoes instead of money. In time, George dressed as sharply as the students themselves.
With money, nice clothes, and newfound status, George felt freer than he ever had in all of his life.
But he was not free. He remained the property of his master. George continued to work on the farm during the week and visit Chapel Hill on the weekends."
Tate's mixed media illustrations show George's emotions, through expressions and posture. We see him grow older throughout the book, but his appearance remains distinctive and consistent. My favorite illustration is one in which George is devastated at his master's refusal to sell him. Tate shows George's head in his hands, a poem streaming from his head (it's hard to describe, but quite powerful).
A detailed author's note fills in gaps, as well as giving some background regarding the author's own initial reluctance to write about slavery, and why he changed his mind. A bibliography may inspire kids to further reading.
Reading about a boy who had to teach himself to read by firelight, using a cast-off spelling book, at personal peril, ought to inspire kids of today who could read, but choose not to make the effort. One can only hope, anyway. Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, belongs in libraries and classrooms everywhere. Highly recommended!
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (@PeachtreePub)
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Source of Book: Advanc review copy from the publisher
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