Books

BOOK REVIEW: ‘No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas’ by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Don Tate

c.2018, Knopf
$17.99 ($23.99 Canada)
40 pages

Hard work pays off.

Your parents have said that; your teachers, too. Stop messin’, start paying attention, knuckle down, do your work, and see what happens. Hard work pays off, and in the new book “No Small Potatoes” by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Don Tate, hard work grows an empire.

Forty cents a day.

That’s how much Junius G. Groves made at his first paid job. Before that, he worked for no pay because he was born a slave in Kentucky but as soon as “freedom came,” he headed west. At 20 years old then, and strong: some say young Junius G. walked the whole way to Kansas, over 500 miles. When he got to the Great Kew Valley, he landed a job for 40 cents a day.

Junius G. worked hard, and soon he was making 75 cents a day. Then he was appointed foreman and started making a $1.25 a day. He saved some of his money, and he used the rest to rent farmland, where he and his wife, Mathilda, planted potatoes and chopped wood for sale so that they could save even more money.

Junius G., you see, had a big dream.

A plot of land near Edwardsville, Kansas, was for sale and Junius wanted it. The problem was, those 80 acres cost more than all the money the Groveses had. That bothered Junius G. but what could he do, except to go into debt? He moved to the land, promising that he would pay the loan off in one year – and he got to work.

First, there was a house to build. There was a forest to clear so he could plant more potatoes. The Groveses had children to raise by then, and the kids pitched in. In a years’ time, they paid every penny they owed, and you know what they did then…

By 1902, Junius G. was known as “Potato King of the World.” He sent potatoes north to Canada and south to Mexico. He grew so many potatoes that the railroad built a “hub” to him. He eventually “grew jobs,” ten children, a community, and a church.

This sounds like a beautiful little life-lesson fable; or a tale to encourage industriousness, except that “No Small Potatoes” is a true story.

It’s a delightful one, at that. Author Tonya Bolden shares this hidden story most uniquely: her story weaves between the words of Junius G. Groves himself, which shows his strength and ways of thinking. That determination appears to be no big deal, but young readers will know better. Bolden tells it in a way that makes it truly relatable through words and language that a child might use, while the artwork by Don Tate makes it feel comfortable.

Will you want fries with that? Maybe, because this book also speaks to young foodies who could eat spuds at every meal, as well as 4- to 8-year-olds who enjoy hidden tales. If that’s your child, finding “No Small Potatoes” will really pay off.

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