Books for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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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The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting

This post was originally shared last January. 

Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
With This Junior Library Guild Selection

★ Starred review from Booklist

The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting with illustrations by Don Tate

The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting with illustrations by Don Tate, Charlesbridge, 2013.

We all love holidays, but Monday, January 20th is different. It’s not a day off from work and school to shop or spend time on social media. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (aka MLK Day), a day of reflection on this great leader’s life and contribution to society and also now a national day of service.

Inspired by an article she read in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Pasadena author Eve Bunting has crafted a stand-out story in The Cart That Carried Martin (Charlesbridge, $16.95, eBook $9.99, Ages 6-9) with illustrations by Don Tate, one that children will always want to read when they learn about the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The understated poignance and significance of this picture book is not lost on adults either, many of whom will recall Dr. King’s funeral on April 9, 1968.

The Cart That Carried Martin opens with an illustration of an old cart for sale in front of an antique shop, Cook’s Antiques and Stuff. Two men decide they’ll borrow the cart and return it after they’ve used it. Its paint was faded, but friends painted it green.

“It’s the color of grass when it rains,” a woman said.

“He would like that,” said a man.

These types of short, subtle sentences full of meaning are what appealed to me the most when reading the book. The marriage of Tate’s muted watercolors and Bunting’s powerful yet understated language work so well in this picture book about an old cart destined to carry the coffin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his Atlanta funeral procession. The cart was attached to two mules, a symbol of freedom recalled one stander-by. “Each slave got a mule and forty acres when he was freed.” Everywhere, crowds gathered, people wept and remembered.

Along his funeral procession, Martin’s widow followed the cart as it made its way from the first funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church to the second service at Morehouse College. The mules, Belle and Ada, pulled so much more than a borrowed cart. The cart they pulled contained the coffin of a man who changed history. One of my favorite illustrations is of two wagon wheels in the foreground and Georgia’s state capitol building in the background with throngs of people watching, many mourners holding hands, singing songs or standing quietly to pay their respect. “Sometimes they stood in holy silence, and the only sound was the rumble of wooden wheels.” This newly painted green cart carrying King’s funeral casket was symbolic in that it was simple yet sturdy and strong enough to transport an almost larger than life individual named Martin Luther King, Jr. to his final resting place.

Interior spread from The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting

Interior illustration by Don Tate from The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting

Though he was born on January 15, 1929, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on the third Monday of January every year. Back matter in The Cart That Carried Martin includes a color photograph of the cart that can now be seen at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site as well as a brief summary of King’s life.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

If you have a child interested in the civil rights movement, click here for my review of another great book to share, Little Rock Girl 1957.

 

 

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