Written and illustrated by Don Tate
Peachtree Publishing 2015, ages 7-10
Topics: African-American pride, creativity, life experience, literacy, perseverance, poetry, slavery
This award winning story begins, “George loved words. He wanted to learn how to read, but George was enslaved.”
George Moses Horton taught himself to read using an old spelling book and he learned to love poetry.
As he worked on his master’s farm in North Carolina, he composed his own poems and memorized them. His poetry enabled him to educate himself further and earn money with the help of college students who admired his efforts.
Eventually a professional writer helped him get his poems printed in a Massachusetts newspaper—poems protesting his enslavement. He was the first American slave to do that. George endured many hardships before he was freed around 1863, following the civil war. He continued to write poems inspired by his experiences.
Top Ten Reasons I love Poet: The Remarkable story of George Moses Horton
- This is a powerful tale of a survivor—a survivor of slavery who found his own dynamic way to protest his enslavement.
- George is a dreamer, with twin dreams—to learn how to read, and to be free. And his story begins with a love of words.
- The experiences of George Moses Horton highlight the resilience of the African-American people.
- Both words and pictures illustrate that life goals can be achieved against great odds and at any stage of life.
- Life is shown as a complex journey filled with roadblocks. But George navigates the roadblocks with determination and creativity, and in the end he succeeds.
- We see how creativity can lift a person up and enrich a life.
- Talent is shown as requiring both perseverance and practice.
- Author Don Tate tells us George’s age. Sixty-six at the end of the text when he is finally a free man.
- Children learn that growth and character development of an individual continues over many years. Life does not end at age 21. Adulthood is not static.
- In fact, life experiences are an asset.
Activist Ashton Applewhite states, “The older we grow, the more complexly layered identity becomes, the fatter the file in which our knowledge and memories are stored, in which, in turn, our sense of self resides.” (Find her new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto against Ageism.)
Author/illustrator Don Tate seems to consistently concur. Near the end of Poet, Don writes of George—
“He wrote poems about his travels, about his family and friends back home, and about all the things he had experienced in his long life.”
In his first book Don Tate shared the story of a late bloomer– It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (Lee & Low Books).
Self-taught artist Bill Traylor first picked up a pencil to draw at age 85, and he was inspired by his long life experience. Stories like these run counter to the frequent narrative of old age as a time to mourn what we’ve lost. (Read review.)
Amazing new accomplishments can pop up in later life, seemingly out of nowhere, or like George Moses Horton, building on skills nurtured over decades.
Both books Don Tate has authored won the Ezra Jack Keats Award. Read an interview of Don at their website.
On stories about slavery and countering stereotypes—
The extensive author’s note shares more on George, and author Don Tate talks of his early aversion to stories about slavery as an illustrator of books for children.
“It seemed to me that whenever the topic of slavery came up, it was always in relation to slavery, about how black people were once the property of white people—no more human than a horse or a wheelbarrow.”
Don later decided it’s important to demonstrate the resilience of African-American people and to take pride in that. This message resonates with respect to many aspects of prejudice.
Kids are influenced in their views on people who are different from themselves through media, including picture books. Different because of race, gender, religion, and so on–age included.
Does it matter that having celebrated multiple birthdays often diminishes a person in the view of many people?
“People aren’t born ageist, but it starts young. Research suggests that children develop negative stereotypes about old age in early childhood, around the same time that attitudes to race and gender begin to form,” says Ashton Applewhite in This Chair Rocks.
We need more thoughtful, powerful picture books like Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton to push pride in both African-American heritage and age into the light. Thank you Don Tate!
Activities related to Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton can be found here.
Don founded the blog The Brown Bookshelf–increasing awareness of African American voices writing for kids.
Read more on diversity in aging in picture books.
Review copy provided by Peachtree Publishing. Copyrighted images provided by Don Tate and used with permission.
Find more Perfect Picture Books at PPBF!