I realize that since this past Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and a holiday is celebrated in our country in his honor, I’m about a week late with this post. As I’ve said so many times before, just consider this extra early preparation for next year’s holiday, or a little advanced preparation for Black History Month next month, whatever floats your boat. 🙂
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport probably doesn’t even need mentioning, with all the accolades it has to its credit. I just happened to remember it when I went to the library last Friday and snagged it off the biography shelf, where it sat amidst a handful of longer works about Martin Luther King, Jr. The Civil Rights movement isn’t something I’ve ever intentionally brought up with my girls, but since we live in a state that gained so much notoriety during that period, I thought Monday’s holiday would be a good opportunity to begin the dialogue. Martin’s Big Words is a beautiful picture book that gives an overview of the movement and MLK, Jr.’s part in it. Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parkes, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Memphis garbage collectors strike–they’re all mentioned, but it’s Martin and his “big words” that take center stage. The cadence of Martin’s speech is echoed in this story, a refrain that Rappaport uses repeatedly in the course of this picture book:
Martin walked with them and talked with them
and sang with them and prayed with them.
Bryan Collier‘s Caldecott honor-winning watercolor and cut paper collage illustrations work with the text both in terms of sound and sight. The illustrations capture the spirit of the text, but the text itself communicates the importance of Martin’s “big words,” since quotes from his sermons and speeches appear on almost every page, and they are differentiated from the text of the story by the color and size of the typeface. I think my girls, at 6.5 and 5 years, are at a good age to begin to grasp this particular era in our nation’s history, and this picture book couldn’t be a better introduction. I am eager to seek out Rappaport’s other historical picture books. You can see what else she has written by visiting her website here. Highly Recommended.
Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey has been languishing in my to-be-reviewed pile for months upon months. The nice folks at Lerner Publishing Group sent it to me in exchange for my honest review, but I kept it on the back burner because I thought it would be above my girls’ understanding. I meant to read it myself, but I just never got around to it. After reading Martin’s Big Words on Monday, I was inspired yesterday to pull it out of the stack and give it a go, cold. (How many of you know this can be a dangerous thing to do?) Well, I am so glad I did! The Ruth in this story appears to be not much older than my girls, so there was an immediate connection. She and her family are traveling to Alabama (of course!) from Chicago to visit her grandmother, there’s connection number two. Ruth takes along her beloved Brown Bear, and since both my girls still have “loveys,” there’s connection number three. Score! 🙂 The problem in this story is that because of the skin color of Ruth and her family, they are forbidden from being served at gas stations and restaurants between Chicago and Alabama. The further south they go, the worse the situation grows. However, Ruth’s daddy’s old soldier buddy, with whom they stay in Tennesse, tells them that Esso service stations are the ones to watch for, since these service stations would serve customers without regard to race. They stop at an Esso station and purchase (at the suggestion of the gas attendant) The Negro Motorist Green Book, a pamphlet which lists businesses that welcome blacks. Having this little booklet makes all the difference to their journey, and at the end it made Ruth “feel like [she] was part of one big family” of people helping each other. Floyd Cooper‘s illustrations are lovely–they have a certain 1950s luminosity (Is that a word? Yes, it is!) that is beautiful. They have a slightly grainy appearance, which really helps to give them an historical feel. The only quibble I have with this book–and it’s a tiny one–is the typeface/font used. It’s some sort of sans-serif font, which I think gives the book an unpolished look. This is merely my opinion, though, and is probably influenced by the years I’ve spent grading essays in Times New Roman. 😉 I couldn’t have “accidentally” had a better story to introduce my girls to the idea of racial segregation, and I thank Lerner Publishing Group for the chance to review this book. You can go here to access all sorts of additional information to go along with this story.
Do any of you have any books that you’ve used with your children to discuss difficult topics like the Civil Rights Movement? Do share in the comments! Whatever you’re reading together, link up your Read Aloud Thursday post, or simply tell us about it in the comments. Be sure to come back tomorrow for a R.A.T. Links post! 🙂
Happy Read Aloud Thursday!