Books for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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THREE CHILDREN’S BOOKS
FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY
A ROUNDUP

 

 

Be a King cover imageBe a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by James E. Ransome
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

This picture book is a beautiful tribute to the profound impact Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made in his lifetime by espousing a non-violent approach to ending oppressive segregation and other inequalities Black Americans lived with in the Jim Crow era South. The book alternates between spreads of Martin Luther King’s life and a current classroom pursuing inclusive activities.
Ransome’s evocative illustrations coupled with Weatherford’s impactful and poetic prose, provide readers with an accessible way into King’s dream of peace, community and equality for all. Pivotal moments in King’s life are depicted along with how key aspects of his philosophy can be incorporated into the classroom as a microcosm of life itself. “You can be a king. Break the chains of ignorance. Learn as much as you can.” When read individually, each stanza can serve as a conversation starter both at school or at home. The author’s note in the back matter is geared for older readers or a teacher sharing the book with youngsters.

Cover image of Martin Luther King from Martin Luther King: The Peaceful WarriorMartin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior
Written by Ed Clayton (with a new forward by Xernona Clayton)
Illustrated by Donald Bermudez
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

This newly updated edition of Martin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior, is the first authorized middle grade biography of the Nobel Prize winning civil rights leader whose non-violent campaign for equal rights inspired a nationwide movement that led to the passing of Civil Rights Act of 1964. Originally published in 1965, Ed Clayton’s biography of King remains an insightful and relevant read today. Clayton, an editor, author and reporter was an associate of Dr. King’s at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In fact, King’s commitment to civil rights and his humanity were what convinced Ed and Xernona to come onboard to help with PR, speech writing, assisting Coretta Scott King and other crucial and invaluable tasks needed to forward their cause. Fourteen easy-to-read chapters take readers from King’s early school days and his first experiences with racism, on through his time at Morehouse College, learning about Civil Disobedience, attending Crozer Theological Seminary, getting a doctorate and meeting his future wife, Coretta. The years of 1955-1968 are by far his most famous one when his “big words” and oratorial skill played a huge role in creating some of history’s greatest speeches. The biography smoothly moves onto King’s accepting the pastorate of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, to the Montgomery bus boycott, bombings and threats of violence, King’s rise to world renowned status, the March on Washington, winning the Nobel Peace Prize and ultimately his assassination in 1968. New artwork by Donald Bermudez complements each chapter. My favorite illustrations are the ones featuring Rosa Parks being fingerprinted and also the March on Washington. An Afterward addresses the holiday created in King’s honor, the music and lyrics to “We Shall Overcome” and a bibliography for further study. This 114 page engaging read is highly recommended for any child interested in learning more about Dr. King and his lifelong commitment to equal rights

Chasing King's Killer cover imageChasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin
Written by James L. Swanson
(Scholastic Press; $19.99, Ages 12-18)

If it weren’t for my librarian friend, (thanks Deborah T.), I would never have heard about Chasing King’s Killer. This fantastic new young adult nonfiction novel with its fast-paced, fact-filled narrative simply wasn’t on my radar. I sat down and read it in one sitting because I couldn’t tear myself away. At times I was so engrossed that I forgot to highlight pages with snippets I wanted to share in my review. Gripping and enthralling, Swanson’s book is about the worlds of prison escapee, James Earl Ray, and MLK colliding and culminating in King’s tragic assassination. I had no idea about Ray’s troubled background, and despite years of reading picture books about King, I’ll admit I didn’t have anywhere near the full picture of this great leader’s life and the struggles he faced head on with a multitude of people both in the Black community and outside of it. There were many who didn’t agree with either his non-violent philosophy of tackling civil rights or his combining it with his anti-Vietnam War stance. The way Swanson sets up the reader for how the two men end up in Memphis on April 4, 1968 is top-notch, much like what I admire in the adult novelist Erik Larson’s books. The timeline of action takes us year by year through both men’s lives and what other events were happening concurrently to influence both individuals. Meticulously researched, Chasing King’s Killer doesn’t miss a beat and in addition to be an enlightening read, it’s a powerful and timely one too. Over 80 photographs, captions, bibliography, various source notes, and index included making an educational way to stay in the moment if you feel, as I did, that you don’t want the book to end.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford

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Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford
with illustrations by Raul Colón
(Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 5-9)

Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, Booklist & School Library Journal

Leontyne-Price-cvr.jpgI chose to read and review author Carole Boston Weatherford’s nonfiction picture book biography, Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, not only because I’m a HUGE Porgy and Bess fan, but also to honor a powerhouse performer during Black History Month.

Other African-American kids might not have persevered in light of the pervasive prejudice that existed when Leontyne Price was growing up in the deep south, but thankfully she did. Price was born in 1927, just one year after Melba Doretta Liston, another musical talent. She grew up in Laurel, Mississippi to a hard-working, supportive, and music-loving mother and father. At a young age Leontyne found herself moved by the music she heard:  “Singing along to her daddy James’s records and listening to the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday-afternoon radio broadcasts.” Her parents even sold their phonograph so their daughter could get a piano along with lessons.

Like the opera singer Marian Anderson before her, Leontyne felt the music stir within her as she sang in the church choir. Soon she was heading off to college to pursue a teaching career since, in that era, the chances of becoming a successful black singer seemed out of reach. Surely her talent played a part in that educational opportunity as I read online that she received a scholarship to attend university in Ohio. Everything changed however, when her singing talents were heard by the college president who “convinced her to study voice instead.”

It didn’t take long for Leontyne’s star to begin rising when she attended Julliard and began earning acclaim for her singing. Her first break came when she appeared on Broadway in Porgy and Bess. She was also the “the first black singer to star at La Scala, Italy’s famed opera palace.” What I would have given to be in the audience at that performance! Eventually she landed a lead role at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, breaking new ground for generations of African-American performers to come.

Weatherford points out in her Author’s Note that while Leontyne may have achieved great fame, she “still encountered racism in the United States. To her credit, her wondrous voice overcame the obstacles.” This wonderful biography chronicles the life of an iconic 20th century opera singer who followed her dream and ultimately fulfilled it. As an adult, I can recall watching Price on Ed Sullivan but having no idea of what her  challenges would have been to gain recognition and be on TV. In fact, Weatherford says, “Price was the first black opera singer to perform on television in the United States.” What a great story for kids to read who may take for granted the struggles African-Americans like Price faced in the past. Nowadays it may just take a click of a cell phone to get a video made and uploaded onto YouTube for anyone to see, when in the previous century it may have taken an entire lifetime. I like that young readers can use this book as a jumping off point for reading more about influential African-Americans mentioned such as Jessye Norman, Grace Bumbry, Kathleen Battle, and Denyce Graves.

Raul Colón’s illustrations bring the same joy to this picture book that Price’s voice brought to anyone who heard it. From the opening spread, what looks like a rainbow of musical notes, takes on the form of a wave and flows through the book on pages when Leontyne sings. I also like the slight fuzziness of the artwork, as if we’re watching Price’s life unfold as seen on the early days of television broadcasting.

Before reading Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century I had no idea all the firsts this amazing woman achieved and I hope her accomplishments will inspire our 21st century children to keep reaching for the stars.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel