Kelly's Reviews > Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
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Sep 05, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: children-s-literature, race-ethnicity, african-and-african-american, biography-and-history, informational-texts-for-children
Read in January, 2011

I have a read quite a few books about MLK designed for use with children. This is my favorite. Collier is such a gifted illustrator and his collage work is captivating to children and adults. (And carries quite a few symbolic historical ties to other things happening just outside the frame of the story being told.) I work with young children (four and five year olds) and for many of them, they are being introduced to MLK and his legacy for the first time. And, they have limited (or no) knowledge and/or understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. And the historical content can be challenging for them to grasp. (Which is a developmentally appropriate response. Children at that age are still developing a sense of time (past, present, future, and degrees of each -- short time ago, long time ago, etc.). Plus, they are young enough that they are still learning how the world works right NOW, so to present information about how things have been in the PAST can be confusing. You can talk about, for example, how playgrounds used to have signs saying "Whites Only" and if your skin wasn't white (which is also confusing to children because no one is white like white paint or paper), then you couldn't play. The children's response is often something like, "Well, moms and dads and police would tell you you couldn't do that." It hard for them to accept that people they trust would/could/do enforce divisive rules.) What I like about Martin's Big Word is that it is accessible to even young readers. It connects to what young children understand -- being a child growing up, feeling that something is unfair, and trying to figure out what to do about it. While reading, we had to stop several times to put some of the pages in context -- explaining the 'rules' that applied to Rosa Parks and her resulting arrest, explaining what a boycott is, and explaining what non-violence is -- but the children were engaged and many were surprised (and perhaps confused?) that this was a real story based on a real person and real experiences. My only wish for the book was that the end could have been drawn out a big more, maybe giving examples of MLK's legacy. I say this because the last two page read something like this: "The second day he was with them, he was shot. And he died. But his words live on." I understand why this literary choice was made, but for the children I work with, the last thoughts with which the book leaves them are of assassination, rather than the power of MLK's life. As a result, we dealt in my classroom with a lot of (relevant and understandable) questions related to the details of MLK's death. (Ex. - "Who shot him?" "Where'd they get the gun?" "Why didn't the police stop him?" "Where did he get shot?" And so on.) While these are important questions to answer for young children, my hope for children at this age is to focus on what we can learn from MLK's message and its applicability to our lives right now. The goal is to give MLK's message a tangible root in our lives RIGHT NOW. (In my classroom, we got to that part with a transition something like, "The man who shot MLK used violence. He hadn't learned some of the lessons that MLK had learned and was trying to teach others -- to choose peace over war, togetherness over separation, and love over hate [all references to the text]. What other lessons did MLK try to teach? What were some of his 'big words'? How do you think we can choose peace, love, togetherness, etc. in our lives and in our classroom?")
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