Like the Tendrils on a Vine: A Review of ‘In the Garden with Dr. Carver’

“Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God.” –George Washington Carver

Reading Level:

Grades 2-3

Review and Comments:

“Some people come in and out of your life, as quick as a hummingbird darting at a trumpet vine.  And some of them, when gone, leave something behind that sticks in your heart or mind.  It sticks to you like a little burr on your sock.  It wraps around like the tendrils of a vine.”

These are the thoughts expressed by a little girl named Sally after meeting Dr. George Washington Carver. She first sees Dr. Carver with an old wagon he calls his “movable school.”  She recognizes him from his reputation as the plant scientist from Tuskegee.  Dr. Carver has done much research with plants and now he is sharing that knowledge with others.  He teaches people how to improve their lives by making poor soil rich again and simple foods into other products.

While visiting, Dr. Carver agrees to help with the school garden but first he has lessons to teach.  Sally is excited and eagerly takes in all the information he shares.  He puts her to the test when he asks her to study a plant that is not healthy.  He encourages her to observe and listen to the plant because “plants always tell you what they need.”  She notices the plant is not getting enough sun so they decide to move it to a new location.

A spider’s web is used to show how all things in nature work in harmony and are connected like the threads of the web.  He also gives a lesson about dandelions.  The children think of them as weeds, but Dr. Carver shows how the leaves could be used for food.  He encourages the children to eat all kinds of fruits and vegetables.

Then the families have a picnic made from recipes Dr. Carver invented:  sweet-potato-flour bread, “chicken” made from peanuts, salad of wild weeds, and peanut ice cream and cake.

After the meal, Dr. Carver helps plant the kitchen garden at the school.  The children do not think it will work because the lot they chose cannot even grow weeds. They go to the woods and gather leafy loom.  Dr. Carver teaches them that rotting plants are good to feed the soil of their new garden, and he explains that a lot of what we throw away can be put back in the soil to make it better. The children clear the lot of rocks, turn the soil, and mix the loom into the soil.  They plant a variety of vegetables.

Dr. Carver’s lessons also include a bit of information about himself.  He tells the children when he was young he loved to draw and study plants. He always asked questions because he wanted to know the name of every plant and animal in a garden. Then, the students follow his example and sketch and observe life in their own garden.

Before he leaves he gives the teacher a guide to use with the children and instructions on how to make their own compost.

Now, every time Sally is among flowers, trees, or vegetables she remembers the wisdom of Dr. Carver that a plant will tell you what it needs.

There are many lessons throughout this story of George Washington Carver that children will enjoy. This book integrates the prominent issue of the environment, which may be part of the reason it is included on the list of common core literature.  Teachers will find the current message of reduce, reuse, recycle throughout Dr. Carver’s lessons.  We cannot overlook his important lesson about using the resources of God’s creation to improve the world and further show how God provides us with all that we need.  Dr. Carver’s example of asking questions is also a good model for young children’s curiosity.  Finally, Dr. Carver himself is a marvelous historical figure who not only inspired the people of his time but continues to teach each new generation of budding scientists.

Possible Issues:

There are no issues with this book.

Further Discussion:

  • Carver’s lessons with the children in the garden are a perfect introduction to the scientific method. While reading, use his lessons to teach the steps in the scientific method.
  1. Ask a Question
  2. Make a Prediction
  3. Make a Plan and Follow It
  4. Observe
  5. Record the Results
  6. Draw a Conclusion

[This list is simplified list that is suited for primary grades.]

  • has many crafts and learning activities about Carver that are very appropriate for children. One in particular, Collection of God’s Creations, is very good.
  • A George Washington Carver Coloring and Activity Book can be found here.
  • Make sweet potato chips with your kids.  Find directions here.
  • Write a question about something in a garden. Investigate the answer. Write a paragraph about those findings using the question as a main idea sentence.

Catholic Resources:

  • St. Albert is the patron saint of scientists. “He was among the first and greatest of the natural scientists, gaining a reputation for expertise in biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geography, metaphysics, and mathematics.” His feast day is November 17.
  • Genesis 1: 28-30 “God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.  God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food. And so it happened.”
  • CCC 2415 “The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.”