The nonfiction picture book Rooting for Plants by Janice N. Harrington and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III (Calkins Creek, August 2023) tells the story of, as the subtitle states, “The Unstoppable Charles S. Parker, Black Botanist and Collector.” This unknown-to-me Black scientist provided many insights into plants and fungi over the course of his lifetime, identifying diseases that affected plants in order to help stave off diseases.
Charles Parker grew up well-to-do in Spokane, Washington in the early twentieth century. Because he was well-to-do, he was able to pursue a college education in botany. Although he couldn’t buy a farm as he wanted, his scientific endeavors far exceeded what his farm could have accomplished! Rooting for Plants covers many aspects of Charles Parker’s success, starting with a childhood of curiosity about plants. From Spokane and then Maryland, Parker worked as a professor and “botanized” native plants as he continued his studies. He also traveled to Canada to “botanize” there and helped develop some initial understanding of fungi as one of the first Black mycologists.
The picture book has friendly and clear illustrations, and the font layout nicely complements the illustrations. A few pages have creative layouts that enhance the interest in the picture book. (For example, when it mentions that Charles Parker made the news, the illustrations and text appear to be in a newspaper.) The accounts of his scientific feats are balanced by the details of his life, and his status as one of the first renowned Black scientists in his field is underscored. The final message of this great picture book is that curiosity is what helped Parker and his students make new discoveries and contribute to science. His story encourages everyone to keep asking questions and observing the world around us.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance review copy of this book provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.