Thursday, January 14, 2010

I Have a Dream

I have a dream that is not nearly as inspiring as Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. My dream this week is that people will use a part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday to think about peace, justice, and equity. You could throw in a few books about King himself.

In fact, books are about King may be the easiest to find. For a first biography as well as beautiful illustrations, check out Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. This award winning book lets the story of King's life grow from quotes from his speeches. The words of the story itself are sparse. Text changes in font, size, and color to bring emphasis. Some of the concepts are not easy to grasp, so parents will want to share this book with their children for the first read. Then you can expect to see your child reading it again to fully appreciate the art and the words.

Search your library for the longer biography of King that best suits your interests and needs. There are many and I hesitate to suggest any one as my favorite. You will find many that are wonderful. You will also find some that were written to get to get on the bandwagon with little to offer in terms of writing or information. Look carefully.

If you want to address the Civil Rights Movement, there are many options.

In Warriors Don't Cry Melba Patillo Beals tells a moving story of her experiences as one of the students who integrated Little Rock High School. Young adults and adults will be touched by the courage that it took to face angry classmates and their angrier parents every day.

The brilliantly illustrated Rosa by Niki Giovanni is the most beautiful of the many biographies of Rosa Parks. Parks has also written an autobiography for middle grade readers.

Not everyone wants to read non-fiction. Luckily for all of us, there are many wonderful novels that address the inequalities that lead to the painful fight for civil rights.

For the reader in grades four and up it is hard to beat the works of Christopher Paul Curtis and the best of his works for talking about Civil Rights is The Watsons go to Birmingham--1964. As with all of the books by Curtis, its ability to capture the voice of a young boy with healthy dose of humor soon has the reader engulfed in the story. Because we are so comfortable with the characters as they travel from Flint, Michigan, to visit relatives Alabama, the ending is especially moving and meaningful. If you know what happened in Birmingham in 1964, you can already predict the event what event changes the story and the lives of its characters.

My two favorite picture books that give a poignant look at the 1960s are best shared with students in grade two or older because they include topics that require explanation and thought. Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles features two young boys who ignore the differences in their skin color because they are friends. Then the city decides that rather than integrate the swimming pool as the new Civil Rights Act decrees, they will see that no one gets to swim. The emotions of the boys are the feelings any boy on a hot summer day would feel but also bring them to the realization of how differently the world views each of them.

A Taste of Colored Water by Matt Faulkner follows two young white children into town where they hope to see the "colored" water fountain. In their minds this means rainbow colored water that probably also means wonderful flavors. What they encounter is a group of protesters and police. It is a powerful story.

Let us not dwell entirely on the African American experience. There are many other fights that continue today for justice and equality as well as many others who have worked to make change.

Demi has created a beautifully illustrated biography simply titled Gandhi. The story is detailed but the lush pictures with gold accents will draw younger readers to listen to parts of the story. There seems to be a growing interest in offering Gandhi's story to elementary and grade school readers. Keep looking for a biography that appeals to you.

Biographies of Caesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, and many more have found their way into juvenile literature. Explore libraries and bookstores to find stories of your favorite leader of change.

Ultimately, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is about working for peace and understanding. With beautiful photographs from around the world, A Little Peace by Barbara Kerley offers simple ways to find peace around us all and to spread the message to others.

The Peace Book by Todd Parr is an even simpler, brightly colored discussion of peace. It strives to show very young readers that peace can be as simple as appreciating the right to wear different clothing or that not everyone likes the same things.

World Book has collected essays and thoughts on peace and human rights in Stand Up for Your Rights. Not all of these will appeal to everyone but it will not take you long to find something that appeals to you.

Look also for a book called We Are Born Free--The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures which, as the title indicates, offers a variety of illustrations to help everyone more clearly understand the intent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Find your own way to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and celebrate his day by finding a way in which you can work to make a positive change in the world.

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