No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas

No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas
by Tonya Bolden; illus. by Don Tate
Primary, Intermediate    Knopf    40 pp.    g
10/18    978-0-385-75276-3    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-385-75277-0    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-385-75278-7    $10.99

This informational picture book spotlights the life, work, and legacy of African American farmer and businessman Junius G. Groves (1858?–1925), known as the “Potato King of the World.” Groves was born into slavery in Kentucky and freed as a child in 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. As a young man, he relocated to Kansas with other “Exodusters.” He found work on a potato farm; saved money; rented — and later purchased — land; and over time, built a potato empire. Groves’s success helped grow his family, his estate, and an entire community. Bolden’s use of alliteration and folksy language (“Junius G. could so easily have pitied himself over his piddling pay, but he didn’t”) lightens the fact-packed narrative, which includes “Potato Math” as added context (“1 bushel = about 60 pounds / 1 pound = about 3 potatoes”). Quotes from Groves fill boxed insets in Tate’s unpretentious art, mostly expansive double-page spreads rendered in sunny, gentle hues that evoke the Great Plains setting. The risks and challenges Groves faced are presented in a straightforward fashion, and his success is attributed to hard work and sacrifice. Bolden’s word choices (for example, “they say that he…”) acknowledge some of the limitations of known historical information. Back matter includes an artist’s note (in which Tate recounts research that revealed that a landowner from whom Groves purchased eighty acres was a Native businesswoman), a glossary, source notes, selected sources, and a timeline.

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elisa Gall
Elisa Gall is the Youth Collection Development Librarian at the Deerfield Public Library in Illinois.

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