Monday, November 10, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: George Washington Carver

The Groundbreaking, Chance-Taking Life of George Washington Carver and Science and Invention in America written and illustrated by Cheryl Harness. National Geographic, 2008 (978-1-4263-0196-4) $16.95

The title and cover of this book give you a clue right away that it doesn't want to be a standard dry biography and indeed, it is a particularly engaging one. Part of the immediate appeal is its design: it's chock-full of black and white line drawings, many of which are interesting hand-drawn maps and diagrams. There's an ongoing illustrated time-line that puts the chronological story in historical perspective, showing important dates in world history, science, and black history. Essentially, almost all of the purely factual scientific and historical information is presented in an eye-catching format that cries out to be read. (A Carver chronology, science websites list, bibliography and index are also included.)

The main text of the book is just as attractive, taking an informal, opinionated style that moves quickly. It tells not only the known (and guessed) facts of Carver's childhood and life, but thoughtfully considers his place in history as a black man and a scientist: "Regardless of their ethnicity, poor folks who were struggling through hard times found encouragement in the way George climbed so high from so low-down. He became famous because of his wisdom, inspiring personality, life story, and his blackness--not because he was a great scientist. He wasn't? No, but he was a great thinker, one who used science and art to help himself and others understand the world."

With many quotes from Carver himself, and descriptions of his habits and interests, this book brings him close to us as a creative, idealistic and likable person, as well as an important figure in history. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a biography written for children more. * (8 & up)

(Check out more interesting books at the Nonfiction Monday round-up.)

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