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Books for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day




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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How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration

Tomorrow we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, America’s great civil rights leader, but today I’d like to step back in time to 1957 to share the story of Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration ($8.95, Compass Point Books, ages 10 and up) by Shelley Tougas.

Imagine being a parent, sending your child off to school and then finding out that the National Guard was sent by your state’s governor to prevent your child from entering school? Shameful? Deplorable? Racist? Well this is precisely what happened to Elizabeth Eckford, an African-American, when she tried to attend Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas only 55 years ago.

The plan had been for Elizabeth to join eight other African-American students (forever to be known as the Little Rock Nine) selected because of their outstanding academic records to be the first to integrate the Little Rock high school. However Elizabeth never got the phone call and attempted to go to school on her own. Unaware of what opposition lay before her, Elizabeth exited her school bus and walked towards the entrance to school. Hateful shouts of  “Go home! Whites have rights too” greeted this fearful and stunned teenager.  Thinking the Arkansas National Guards were there to protect her, she soon saw them cross their rifles to prevent her from going through the school’s door! One kind looking woman who Elizabeth looked to for safety “lunged forward and spit on her.”

It took several weeks and the intervention of President Eisenhower to get those nine students into the school and it may have taken a lot longer had it not been for the photograph that was seen around the world.  Hometown boy, Will Counts, a budding photographic journalist from the Arkansas Democrat, captured a picture of Elizabeth Eckford walking just steps ahead of an angry mob, harassed in particular by Hazel Bryan, a white teenager.  This sad moment in our history exemplified the determination of locals to keep their schools segregated.  Tougas’s terrific book details the unbelievable story of these nine teenagers’ traumatic time seeking a public education that was their right and shows how powerful the medium of photography was in getting the message out to the public.

In just four chapters along with a timeline, glossary and additional resources section, Little Rock Girl 1957 is a must-have for any classroom and student interested in the story behind this amazing photograph and history-changing moment.

Part of the Captured History series of nonfiction middle grade books, Little Rock Girl 1957 has given me a broader perspective on these troubled times and will give student readers insight into the strength and courage displayed by the Little Rock Nine in the face of blatant discrimination and shocking, unlawful behavior.

This book was reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

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