Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton written and illustrated by Don Tate (2015)
Summary: George Moses Horton was born a slave. More than anything besides his freedom, George wanted to learn to read and write. By listening in on lessons, George taught himself to read using his mother’s hymnal. The words and rhythms stayed with him and gave him a sense of freedom he had never known before. While he worked, George created poetry which he committed to memory since he couldn’t write. Eventually, he was given the responsibility of selling fresh fruits at a market on a college campus. There he was respected for his poetry and given books by some of the students and professors. George sold poems to the students and earned enough to buy new clothes for himself. His master allowed him to live on campus as long as he could earn enough to pay his own wages, but he was still not free. One of the professor’s wives helped George and taught him how to write. Now, George could write his own poems. He sold several poems to newspapers and published two books while still a slave. During the years of the Civil War, George was forced to return to the fields because there weren’t enough people left on campus to buy his poems. After the war, George traveled west with the Union army as a free man. He wrote poems about his life experiences along the way. He was sixty-six years old! After he was free, George continued to write and published another book of poetry.
Although the extended audience for this picture book is the older picture book reader (ages 6-8), it can be pared down for younger children by talking about each picture instead of reading each word. Older students and adults will enjoy reading this fascinating story about a remarkable man and his freedom journey.
The biographer, Don Tate, shared more about his research and his personal struggle at the end of the story. One of the interesting facts, was that there are no known authenticated photographs of George Moses Horton. But being an artist, Don Tate imagined what George might have looked like. And in at least two of the drawings, George looks an awful lot like Don (in my opinion). Doesn’t it make sense that the artist would see himself in his character? What would your image of George look like? Would have have any of your facial features or characteristics?
Make a portrait of yourself, someone you know well, or a hero of your own.