Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have two biographies for Dr. King’s birthday. Because of the power of his words and the significance of his life’s work I have found that elementary school children are fascinated to learn about his life and death, just like the rest of us. There are many aspects of the Civil Rights movement that are hard to explain to young children. The injustice and cruelty of racist laws of segregation are horrifying and incomprehensible to preschoolers and kindergarteners. For that reason I think it is better to focus on King’s words of peace and unity and hope without giving a lot of details about the depth of the struggles. Older children can intuitively relate to the injustice of separate water fountains and being forced to ride in the back of the bus so more details are appropriate for primary and middle grade children. I found first and second graders to be particularly interested in his “I Have A Dream” speech and the hope for black boys and girls to one day play and go to school with white boys and girls, especially when they can look around the room and see that it is a dream that has somewhat succeeded.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney is the book I am planning to read to Buddy Boy this weekend. He is four years old and just beginning to understand ideas of justice and fairness. Marzollo’s gentle and affirming way of presenting King’s life is just right for four to six year olds. She emphasizes his strong family roots, his nurture and education and his following in his father’s footsteps as a Baptist preacher. She shows Dr. King caring for people in the hospital, leading them in prayer and song in church and helping children learn to solve problems peacefully on the playground. Marzollo explains that Rev. King became famous because he worked to change some of our country’s laws that were unfair. She gives examples of riding in the back of the bus and drinking from segregated drinking fountains. She talks about how Rosa Parks and many other people worked together with King to make our country better. The protest marches and the speech in Washington are explained as examples of his great leadership and dream of a “world where people live and work together without being mean to one another.” King’s death and his funeral are mentioned simply. In the Forward to Parents and Teachers at the beginning of the book Marzollo explains that King’s murder may be something your child is not ready to deal with and you might want to change the words to just say he died. I appreciate her sensitivity and understanding that children are individuals and parents or teachers should be prepared to adjust the reading of the book to accommodate their development and emotional maturity. Time enough for them to grow into understanding of the most terrible realities. Mazollo ends with words of hope and beauty, celebrating his work and honoring his life.

Martin’s Big Words; the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier is another lovely book. It has won many awards and deserves a place of honor in every library. In the introduction Rappaport says that in preparing to write the book she read that “as a child he was determined to use “big words.” I reread his autobiography, speeches, sermons, and articles. I found his “big words.” They are simple and direct, yet profound and poetic. His words continue to inspire me today.” Through out the book she quotes Dr. King’s words, putting them in large and colorful print.
“Everyone can be great.”
“Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
“Love is the key to the problems of the world.”
I think the full text of this book, which goes into more detail about the Montgomery Bus Boycott with the jailings and beatings and hatred they faced is more appropriate for middle grades and older. I would like to show this book to Buddy for the evocative, beautiful pictures and just read the quotes of Dr. King. I think he will be entranced by the power and emotion shown in the faces of Dr. King and his family and followers. Bryan Collier in his introduction talks about how he was inspired by the image of stained glass windows in a church and the ability of collage to bring together different elements to form a new and deeper oneness. The faces shine with determination, joy, hope and conviction. In the back of the book are two pages of information, including a timeline of King’s life and a list of additional books and websites for further study. Older students can use these leads to extend their reading and learn about his life work and the Civil Rights movement in depth. Rappaport and Collier have each done a masterful job and together their book is genius.

We are planning to take part in an MLK day of service event this weekend in our community with other families of adoption. What are you planning to do to honor King’s life time of service?


QAZSE said...

One of my favorite quotes of Dr. King:

"While it rarely achieves any creative goal, rioting is the voice of the voiceless who have nothing to lose." (to my best recollection)

I think this applies to so many situations such as behavioral, political, and environmental.

I paraphrase it as: rioting is the voice of the unheard.

wonderful post.

Thank you.

PS: it shows that you love what you do. said...

I teach a beautiful young half black young woman for free. She is shy and gorgeous and one of my favourites.

That's what I will keep doing to celebrate Dr. King. I want to pay it forward.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Thanks for the book rec for the four year old. I haven't done anything proactive to celebrate MLK's birthday since I left college. But hey! Martin Luther King, Jr. Way is my cross-street. :)