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Views and opinions: Ex-slave’s rise to success is really no small potatoes

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.

He was about 20 years old then, and strong; some say he walked the whole way to Kansas, more than 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 $1.25. 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 they could save even more money.

Junius G., you see, had a big dream. A plot of land near Edwardsville, Kan., was for sale and Junius wanted it. Problem was, those 80 acres cost more than all the money the Groveses had.

That bothered Junius G., but what could he do except go into debt? He moved to the land, promising 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 year’s 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,” 10 children, a community and a church.

This sounds like a wonderful little life-lesson fable, doesn’t it? A nice tale to encourage industriousness, right? Except that No Small Potatoes is a true story.

It’s a delightful one, at that. Author Tonya Bolden shares this hidden tale in a most unique way; her story weaves between the words of Junius G. Groves himself, which shows his strength and ways of thinking.

That determination is told as though it’s no big deal, but kids will know better. It truly helps that the story, on Bolden’s side, is made completely relatable through words and language that a child might use, while artwork by Don Tate makes it feel comfortable.

Will you want fries with that? Maybe, because this book will also speak 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.


Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 14,000 books.