As anyone who spends time around children knows, kids pay attention to everything. This can lead to the truly embarrassing cringe-worthy comments, “But Mommy, you said to Daddy that Aunt Celia …” and cutie patootie moments as well. Many times it lends itself to questions both big and small. With so much input all of time, it’s no wonder that inquiries about what is screaming from the headlines and glaring from the television often become topics of conversation.
Our little ones learn early that words express ideas. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used words eloquently to speak to the world about the meaning of freedom. In commemorating his legacy, particularly this year in light of the recent developments in Ferguson and elsewhere where the refrains of “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” have become rallying cries for racial equality, we have an opportunity to talk about the power of words with even our smallest readers.
The first, Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, intersperses a very simple narrative about King and the purpose of the Civil Rights Movement with quotes from its leader. The illustrations, created by Bryan Collier, are lovely collages that complement the text. “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” is paired with several sentences about teachings on Gandhi and a picture of King leaning pensively on a podium. Beautifully told and illustrated, Martin’s Big Words is a perfect introduction to this iconic man.
The second book is I Have a Dream with paintings by Kadir Nelson. King’s moving speech is excerpted and accompanied by incredible pictures that commemorate August 1963, when King stood at the Lincoln Memorial, with people of all colors gathered around the reflecting pool. The book includes a cd recording from the March on Washington. The beauty of this book is the way in which it translates King’s glorious words and ideas into pictures that even the youngest will understand.
For early readers, the recent National Book Award winner and biography, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a marvel. Written in verse, it invites readers into the world of a bright and thoughtful youngster growing up in the disparate worlds of North Carolina and New York in the 1960s as the Civil Rights and Women’s Movement are changing America.
For older readers, The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon is a profoundly moving coming of age story of a boy caught between his father, a disciple of Martin Luther King, and his brother, who joins the newly-formed, Black Panthers. One believes in passive disobedience the other in more direct action. It is an amazing book about learning about your own individual truth.
In the midst of the noise surrounding us from the media, pick up a book and revel in a moment of clarity about King and his legacy. For more suggestions, please visit The Ivy Bookshop.