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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Powerful Words from a Powerful Voice

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NOTE: This review was originally posted on Jan. 17, 2012, but we felt it was fitting to repost to mark the 50th anniversary of MLK’s March on Washington.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this special day in America, we take the time to think about the forward-thinking, visionary leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. His courage and wisdom are even more inspiring as time passes. That’s why I was thrilled to read My Uncle Martin’s Words for America ($19.95, Abrams Books, ages 5+). The author, Angelina Farris Watkins, PhD, is the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr.  (She is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA.)

My Uncle Martin’s Words for America is a wonderful summary of the highlights of this extraordinary leader’s journey to promote justice, freedom and equality for all Americans. Young readers are introduced to segregation, Jim Crow laws, King’s incarceration, protests, speeches and the events the led up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the back of the book you’ll find an excellent chart summarizing the protests MLK led, matched with the resulting changes in civil rights. There’s also a helpful glossary. I respect the fact that this book does not focus on the assassination, but rather on his philosophies and accomplishments.

I have read and reviewed countless children’s picture books, and only a few of them really stand out as momentous as far as the quality of the illustrations; this book is indeed one of them. To simply say that the Coretta Scott King award-winning illustrator, Eric Velasquez, is extremely talented is just not enough. Not often does one come across illustrations so realistic, vibrant and beautiful as these. He paints with oils on watercolor paper, and it is a glorious combination. Just take a look at the jacket cover – front and back – and you’ll have no choice but to open this book and take it all in. It’s obvious that Eric Velasquez has a calling in life, and he answers that call each every time he paints a picture. Oh how I’d love to have one of his paintings on my wall at home!

Once you read this book, I think you’ll agree that it should be on the bookshelf in every elementary school classroom in America. (There’s a second title, too, Uncle Martin’s Big Heart, written and illustrated by the same author and artist as this book.)

Read my interview with illustrator Eric Velasquez.

This book is reviewed by Debbie Glade.

P.S. As I wrote this review, there was a woman on my local news station at an MLK parade in Miami being interviewed about this holiday. She said, “What Martin Luther King, Jr. did was not just for black people, but for all people.” I could not have summed up his achievements any better than that.


We Can All Drink From The Same Fountain

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The title, White Water (16.99, Candlewick Press, ages 5 – 8) brings rafting to mind, but this book has nothing to do with that kind of white water. Based upon a true childhood experience, this story is about an African American boy who discovers the deep pain of discrimination and segregation in 1962, during the time of Jim Crow Laws. When he takes a drink out of a “colored” fountain, he is disgusted with the gritty tasting water. He realizes that the white boy next to him, who is drinking out of the “white” fountain, is taking a long drink and seems to be enjoying his water. The black boy becomes obsessed with the notion that “white” water is cleaner and better tasting than “colored” water. So later he sneaks back to town to try to drink from the white fountain to confirm his suspicions.  What he discovers in the process is life changing.

This special book is based upon the real childhood experiences of author Michael S. Bandy. The story is co-authored with Eric Stein and is beautifully illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Both captivating and truly unique in its approach, this story is also educational and an important one to share. It is the sort of book that every child in America should read. The message is not just about discrimination; it is also about how our lives are limited only by the way we think.

On the back of the book jacket is a quote by Bill Cosby that says, “White Water is a wonderful way to give children an American history lesson proving that racism is a waste of time.” I could not have said it better.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade