Celebrating Black History Month!
Title: Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses HortonPoet:
Author and illustrator: Don Tate
Publisher: Peachtree Books, 2015
Themes: slavery, illiteracy, poetry, African American, perseverance,
GEORGE LOVED WORDS. He wanted to learn how to read, but George was enslaved. He and his family lived on a farm in Chatham County, North Carolina, where they were forced to work long hours. There wasn’t time for much else. Besides, George knew his master would not approve But that did not stop George form admiring the language that was all around him: Inspirational words read from the Bible. Hopeful words delivered in a sermon. Lively words sung in songs.
George Moses Horton was born in 1798, in a tabacco plantation in Northampton County, North Carolina. He was a slave. Like his parents, brothers and sisters. But he was determined to learn how to read. It seemed impossible, but this did not deter his love of language. He listened to the white children when they practiced their school lessons, and then he found an old, ripped apart spelling book and taught himself how to read by staying up late and studying it by firelight. As a teenager he sold fruit and vegetables grown on his farm to the students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also recited poetry he had composed. Soon students were paying him to compose love poems to their girlfriends. Then the wife of a professor, a poet herself, arranged for his poems to be published. George was soon making enough money to negotiate with his master to pay him for his time away from the farm so he could write full-time. As George created the best life he could while still living a slave, the country was changing and a war for freedom began. Though George fell back on hard times during the war because of continued discrimination and had to return temporarily to farm work, this war would eventually win George his freedom. In 1863 when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation George was finally free. He was then 66 years old. (Goodreads)
Why I like this book:
Tate captures the life and times of this remarkable poet with wonder and passion rather than pity. It is a beautiful text and ode to the love of words and what Horton managed to do in his lifetime under slavery. As readers watch Horton grow up and then fight for his freedom in his own way, with words, they will be devastated when he continues to be a slave despite his best efforts. Even the work of others on his behalf could not get him free. This reality needs to be shared in elementary classrooms looking at this period of American history.
Tate’s illustrations are warm and wonderful. One can see the yearning for education on Horton’s face as he watches the white children learn to read. Tate also makes sure that Horton’s image shines on the page. He is regularly lit from outside lights of candles and the sun, creating a light around him. The historical details of North Carolina in the mid-1800s and Chapel Hill in particular, bear witness to extensive research. Tate also incorporates some of Horton’s poems into the illustrations.
This biographical picture book that shows the strength of one man under adversity, his intelligence and the power of literacy and poetry. It is an exceptional addition to African American literature for children.
I would read some of Horton’s poems with older elementary children.
There is a helpful biography at the back of the book and an author’s note well worth reading with children.
Don Tate’s website contains a POET activity guide and a POETRY AS FREEDOM workshop guide.
Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.