Marilyn Nelson

Poems about the African American inventor, botanist, artist, and teacher.

George Washington Carver was born a slave in Missouri about 1864 and raised by the childless white couple who had owned his mother. In 1877 he left home in search of an education, eventually earning a master’s degree. In 1896 Booker T. Washington invited Carver to start the agricultural department at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute, where he spent the rest of his life seeking solutions to the poverty among landless black farmers by developing new uses for soil-replenishing crops such as peanuts, cowpeas, and sweet potatoes. Carver’s achievements as a botanist and inventor were balanced by his gifts as a painter, musician, and teacher.

This collection of poems by award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson provides a compelling and revealing portrait of Carver’s complex, richly interior, profoundly devout life.

  • Ages: 11 - 14
  • Grades: 6 and up
  • Pages: 112


Recent Reviews

7 An unmatchable picture not only of Carver’s life but also of his impact within his time as well as in history. …the book has a resonance and heart that will gratify the knowledgeable and naive alike (and that also invites reading aloud).

—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Handsome book is footnoted with biographical detail and decorated with photographs.

—New York Times Book Review

The structure of Nelson’s books is as inspired as its occasional use of black-and-white photographs. The poems are simple, sincere, and sometimes so beautiful they seem not works of artifice, but honest statements of pure, natural truths.

—School Library Journal

In a fine biography in poems, Nelson beautifully and movingly revives [Carver’s] reputation.


These poems … are powerful, moving, and thorough.

—Book Report

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 … will captivate readers with it uncommon sensitivity and soul.

—Voice of Youth Advocates

Nelson’s poems are vivid snapshots that together create an album of Carver’s life.

—Houston Chronicle

Nelson set new standards for young people's poetry in this volume.

—School Library Journal

An award-winning poet, Nelson crafts the poems to near transparency so as not to intrude upon the story she’s chosen to tell. … She brings full circle not only Carver’s story, but a poetic journey begun with her 1990 collection, The Homeplace, a sequence that tells of her father’s experiences as one of that squadron.

—Foreword Magazine

Honors for Carver

  • Newbery Honor Award
  • National Book Award Finalist
  • Coretta Scot King Honor Award
  • Boston Globe—Horn Book Award
  • African American Booklist (100 titles that celebrate African American heritage, tradition and achievement)—National Education Association
  • ALA Notable Book
  • William Allen White Children's Book Award master list
  • Connecticut Book Award in Literature, Design, and Poetry
  • Coretta Scott King Honor Book
  • Notable Books for a Global Society—IRA
  • Best Books for Young Adults—ALA

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