The Life & Work of Norman Borlaug

By: Peggy Thomas

Illustrated by: Sam Kalda

Published: September 1, 2022

Publisher: Feeding Minds Press


Norman Borlaug grew up near the small Iowa farm I grew up on. He worked hard on his family farm just like my dad did. Unlike my dad, Norman was able to finish high school (which was rare for poor Iowa farm families) and even go on to college where he studied agriculture. Reading about the communities I spent lots of time in as a child and learning their importance to Borlaug’s life was especially interesting to me.

Norman Borlaug was not a man to ever give up. If something didn’t work out the way he thought it would, he would try again and again. A job at DuPont led him to help the military during WWII. But a new offer from the Rockefeller Foundation was an offer he couldn’t refuse. Borlaug was tasked with helping to solve the hunger crisis in Mexico. He spent thousands of hours and drove many miles to test various methods of growing wheat in Mexico, spending twelve years developing the best type of wheat for the conditions there.

After success in Mexico, he was then sent to India to accomplish the same overwhelming task. Through years of trial and error, Borlaug had successfully found wheat that could withstand the harsh growing conditions in Mexico, Pakistan, and India. He called it a semi-dwarf seed. He was met with conflict, refusal, doubt, and sabotage, but through it all, he finally prevailed.

“Plants will talk to you if you listen. But they won’t shout. You’ll never hear them if you stay in an air-conditioned office.”

Norman Borlaug

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 was a huge shock to Borlaug and he accepted the honor humbly and for all those farmers who worked alongside him. A high school classmate wrote in their yearbook that he expected Norman to win the Congressional Award for Valor. There isn’t such an award, but Borlaug is one of five people to receive all three of the highest honors: the Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Gold Medal, and the Medal of Freedom. He shares this honor with Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Elie Weisel, and Nelson Mandela. In 1986, Borlaug created the World Food Prize to honor those who have “advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world”.

Norman Borlaug passed away at the age of 95 in 2009. Millions of lives were saved thanks to Norman Borlaug and his army of farmers. He wasn’t afraid to try something new or to try again. He was always willing to get his hands dirty. He sacrificed time with his family as well as sleep. He never quit and persevered through whatever barriers landed in his path. He was a doer, a teacher, an encourager, and a fighter.

Sprinkled throughout the book are really lovely illustrations that feature Borlaug working in the fields. The end of the book offers ideas for how kids can “be like Norm”. Simple ideas like eating that slightly bruised apple rather than throwing it away, getting produce from local farmers or markets, and donating to food pantries are simple ways to honor Norman Borlaug’s legacy.

“Hunger still exists in places Norm couldn’t reach, and we all owe it to him to remove the threat of famine once and for all.”

U.S. President Jimmy Carter

This middle-grade chapter book is perfect for kids who love learning about people who have made a difference in our world or love farming and agriculture. Anytime I can promote great things from the state of Iowa, I’m thrilled to do it. If you are a teacher or parent in Iowa, get this book for your local school or community library to share the great things about Iowan Norman Borlaug.

Peggy Thomas has always loved true stories, and can’t remember a time when she wasn’t thrilled to find animal bones, musty encyclopedias, or a history plaque by the side of the road. It’s that same curiosity that has fueled the research and writing of more than twenty nonfiction books for children.

With a master’s degree in anthropology, Peggy explores a wide range of subjects, blending history and science to create award-winning titles. Her most recent books include Lincoln Clears a Path (Calkins Creek, 2021) and Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car (Calkins Creek, 2019), which earned NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, 2020 Best Book from the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, and Book of the Year from the Henry Ford Heritage Association.

Peggy is a member of SCBWI, a blogger for Nonfiction Ninjas, and on the creative team behind Nonfiction Fest, a month-long celebration of writing nonfiction for children. Visit her at www.peggythomaswrites.com.

Sam Kalda is an illustrator and artist based in Saint Paul. His commissioned works include editorial, books, advertising, and pattern illustration. In 2017, he received a gold medal in book illustration from the Society of Illustrators in New York. He also won a medal from the Cheese Club in college for being able to identify the most amount of, well, cheeses. His first book, Of Cats and Men: History’s Great Cat-loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen, was published by Ten Speed Press in 2017. He recently illustrated his first picture book, When We Walked on the Moon, written by David Long and published by Wide Eyed Press in 2019, as well as the follow-up When Darwin Sailed the Sea.

He lives in an old house with his husband and two cats, Arthur and Frances. In their role as studio assistants, the cats specialize in houseplant demolition and pencil relocation. He enjoys futzing around in his garden, going to estate sales, and taking long walks. So basically, when he’s not working, he’s retired. He’s taught at CUNY Queens College and Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Visit him at www.samkalda.com.

Feeding Minds Press is a project of the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, whose mission is to build awareness and understanding of agriculture through education. We focus on helping young readers understand where their food comes from, who grows it, and how it gets to them and believe in cultivating curiosity about food and farming and how agriculture plays a role in our daily lives. All books from Feeding Minds Press have accompanying lessons, activities, and videos to further learning available on their website, www.feedingmindspress.com.

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Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to make a purchase through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase.
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