Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

Don Tate
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Peachtree Publishers, 2015   ISBN: 978-1561458257

George loved words, but as a slave living on a farm in North Carolina he had no time to learn how to read. In addition, George knew full well that his master would get very angry if he knew that George wanted to become literate. Most slave owners refused to allow their human possessions to acquire an education. This did not stop George from trying. George listened to the white children reciting their alphabet and memorized what he heard. Then he found an old spelling book and though it was incomplete, George used it to teach himself how to read.

George read verses from the bible and every other scrap of writing that he could find. More than any other form of writing George loved poetry. As he worked on his master’s farm, George composed his own verse, and he stored it all in his head because he did not yet know how to write.

When George was seventeen, his master divided up his possessions, including his slaves, among his family members. George went to live with his master’s son. His life was now lonely without his family and the work was dreadful. Every Sunday George took produce to the University of North Carolina campus. The students teased George, who coped by reciting the poetry that he had composed himself. The young men who had mocked him were stunned when they heard George’s beautiful verse, and then they began to help the young man who so badly wanted to learn. They gave him books to read and they also hired George to compose love poems for them.

Caroline Lee Hentz, the wife of one of the professors at the university, who was a professional writer and poet, was very impressed by George’s poems, and she set about teaching him how to write. Caroline also helped George get his poems published in newspapers, and for the first time a slave used verse to talk about “his enslavement.”

In this compelling true story, Don Tate describes the life of a man who managed to share his love of words with others at a time when African-Americans were actively discouraged from learning how to read and write. Some of his poems helped his readers understand what it was like to be a slave, a possession who had no rights.

Throughout the book Don Tate’s illustrations beautifully complement the text. Quotes from George’s writings also appear on many of the pages. At the back of the book there is an author’s note in which Don Tate tells us about himself and how he came to write and illustrate this title.