Most historical figures are chronicled according to their fame or their accomplishments with the examination of their private lives limited to exceptional anecdotes. Thus, most readers know George Washington Carver as merely the peanut product inventor and as a key faculty member of the Tuskeegee Institute. Poet Nelson challenges this typical biography format with her more deeply focused profile. Her collage of poems echoes the irregular regularity of Carver's lifethe child of enslaved parents who was raised by a white couple, a chemist who loved flowers and nature, and a scientist with a contemplative spirit. A man who shunned high fashion, his clothing is described as neat but threadbare. Although the poems, written as observations and musings by those whose lives Carver touched, cannot be considered with the same credibility as a collection of primary sources, Nelson allows readers to see Carver as contemporaries might have seen him, with the "light of genius / through the dusky window of his skin." Footnote time lines and photographs of Carver and his effects fill in the barest facts of his life, framing the poems in a historic space. This poetry biography is not a choice for the fact-hunting student; however, it will captivate readers with its uncommon sensitivity and soul. Photos. Source Notes. VOYA CODES: 5Q 2P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Front Street, 103p, $16.95. Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Amy S. Pattee SOURCE: VOYA, August 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
Marilyn Nelson unites poetry and biography in Carver: A Life in Poems, a Newbery-honor book. These are not simple verses, but intricate expressions of Carver's enigmatic and complex personality. Carver was driven by a desire to know and he paid for his education by becoming "a wizard with a washboard,/a genie of elbow grease and suds...the best washerwoman in town." Nelson writes of his reactions to lynchings and injustice, his relationship with Booker T. Washington and the success that came from his curiosity and ambition to do right by his people. How fitting that poetry is used to convey the way Carver married art and science to reach other human beings! These fifty-nine vignettes give glimpses that leave us wondering and seeking more information, a perfect representation of a man who did the same. Whether it's changing perspectives, reflecting life, explaining emotions, or intriguing with images, story delivered through verse clears a path to appreciation and understanding. 2001, Front Street, $16.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
Gr 6 Up-By offering glimpses into George Washington Carver's life story through a series of lyrical poems, the structure of Nelson's book is as inspired as its occasional use of black-and-white photographs as illustrations. The poems are simple, sincere, and sometimes so beautiful they seem not works of artifice, but honest statements of pure, natural truths ("The Prayer of Miss Budd" and "Lovingly Sons," in particular). Ironically, the book's greatest strength, its writing, is also occasionally its weakness. In a few of the poems the language and the structure seem haphazard and these selections come across as underwritten ("Odalisque," "1905") or as little better than notes for selections yet to come ("Driving Dr. Carver," "Letter to Mrs. Hardwick"). Still, students will find much to glean from this volume and many of the poems will be perfect for reading aloud and make good monologues. A final grace note: the book will undoubtedly encourage some young people to learn more about this remarkable man.-Herman Sutter, Saint Agnes Academy, Houston, TX Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.