My daughter tells me that when she was in kindergarten or first grade that she kept looking for the crown on the king as they discussed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. That is just one of the many confusions that children find about this day of honoring King and civil rights movement. Adults worry that too much information will upset young children but we want to teach the importance of his words and deeds on the lives they lead today. Then we struggle over when and how to introduce more of the events and people of this time and the issues that still resonate with us in today's world. Whatever the books I share with children on this issue my main purpose is to instill a sense of self-worth and self confidence in the children while helping them shape ideas of how they can work for positive change in their lives and their world.
There are myriad books available about the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Some are simple biographies and others are anthems to the man, sometimes making him a king of sorts. Parents looking at these books will want to decide what is the message that they most want to convey.
For me, the words of King are a large part of what inspired people to join him in the cause. These words form the core of the beautiful, awarding winning Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport. Illustrations in watercolor and collage dominate the over-sized pages of this picture book while the sparse text centers around quotes from King's speeches. The story ends not with his death, which is briefly presented
("...(H)e was shot. He died." )but with the promise that his words are immortal. While this book is aimed at children aged four to nine, it will be appreciated by all ages.
Perhaps the most often quoted words of Dr. King come from his "I Have a Dream" speech. King's sister Christine King Farris has written a picture book for slightly older (grades 2 and up) students remembering the days when her brother was writing his famous speech. March On!: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World begins with some facts about Dr. King but its main focus is on the day in 1963 when he gave his speech as well as the work he put into making the speech one that would move every listener. The reader of this book will be carried directly to the midst of the crowd who listened and took the speech to heart. In My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Farris tells more personal details of her brother in a picture book for slightly younger listeners.
Walter Dean Myers is an author whose work spans from picture books to young adult fiction with a generous dose of non-fiction and poetry thrown in for good measure. He, too, has written a picture book biography of Dr. King. I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. begins in 1965 with the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott and ends with King's support of the striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968 and the assassination a few days later. The highs and lows of the these turbulent years are both covered with an emphasis on the nonviolence that King preached, a concept made more powerful by the illustrations of the violent response to the marches.
Older readers (grades 4 and up) searching for more information on Dr. King will find a lot to enjoy in Tonya Bolden's M.L.K.: The Journey of a King which primarily employs photographs to supplement the biography. Some readers will be surprised by the reluctance that Dr. King expressed at being drawn into a leadership role. Sidebars and extended quotes add depth to the comfortable writing style.
In future posts I will touch on books that look at other leaders of the civil rights movement. The books here will give you a start for celebrating the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.