Great Illustrated Books

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Doreen Rappaport

Hyperion Book, 2001
Pages : 40
Suggested Ages: 5-10
ISBN: 0786807148

Just look at that welcoming cover, a huge close-up portrait of a smiling Martin Luther King, Jr., done in shades of brown and black watercolors. (There's not even a title or author or illustrator listed; you have to turn to the back cover to find them.) That iconic image, along with the formal stained glass endpapers, only begins to prepare you for the reverence and warmth of this Caldecott Honor winner, a picture book tribute to the civil rights icon. The spare, brief, simple to read but not simplistic prose offers an overview of the events that changed and impelled him, starting with signs saying "WHITE ONLY" that he saw posted everywhere in his own hometown when he was a boy. The young Martin took strength in his mother's words, "You are as good as anyone."

As the son of a minister, listening to his father preach, he thought, "When I grow up, I'm going to get big words, too." And, of course, he did just that. After a description of the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott sparked by Rosa Parks, we read King's inspiring and prophetic quote, "When the history books are written, someone will say there lived black people who had the courage to stand up for their rights." Rappaport doesn't mince her own words, either, saying, "They were jailed and beaten and murdered. But they kept on marching. Some black Americans wanted to fight back with their fists. Martin convinced them not to by reminding them of the power of love." In April, 1968, he went to Memphis, Tennessee to help with the garbage collectors who were on strike. The text concludes with three simple but sobering sentences:

"On his second day there, he was shot.

He died.

His big words are alive for us today."

Our children, who are growing up far removed from the violence and assassinations that marked those turbulent times, will grieve for him, though they will be uplifted by his dream that led to such extraordinary accomplishments. In Collier's Illustrator's Note, he says the image that comes to him when he closes his eyes and thinks of King is that of stained-glass windows in a church. He employed the motifs of windows and light throughout his powerful and vivid watercolor and cut paper collage illustrations. Think of this as an eloquent and radiant vehicle for introducing King's life and work and words to young children, but also a stepping-off point for older children who will want to investigate more about those heady days of the Civil Rights Movement. Use the ten quotations by King, set off in large, colorful letters, as discussion starters, such as, "Sooner or later, all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together." Ask your listeners how they will help to do that. When thinking about King's legacy, it's also inspiring to discuss how his words, actions, and philosophy have had an effect on and even changed the world in profound ways. To do some further research on the web, look up the King Center in Georgia at:

Reviewed by : JF.


If you love this book, then try:

Adler, David A. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday House, 2001.

Adler, David A. A Picture Book of Rosa Parks. Holiday House, 1993.

Bray, Rosemary L. Martin Luther King. Greenwillow, 1995.

Coles, Robert. The Story of Ruby Bridges. Scholastic, 1995.

Farris, Christine King. My Brother Martin. Simon & Schuster, 2003.

Giovanni, Nikki. Rosa. Henry Holt, 2005.

King, Martin Luther. I Have a Dream. Scholastic, 1997.

Livingston, Myra Cohn. Let Freedom Ring: A Ballad of Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday House, 1992.

Lorbiecki, Marybeth. Sister Anne's Hands. Dial, 1998.

Marzollo, Jean. Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King. Scholastic, 1993.

McKissack, Patricia C. Goin' Someplace Special. Atheneum, 2001.

Mitchell, Margaree King. Granddaddy's Gift. BridgeWater, 1997.

Mitchell, Margaree King. Uncle Jed's Barber Shop. Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Parks, Rosa and Jim Haskins. Rosa Parks: My Story. Puffin, 1999.

Shore, Diane Z., and Jessica Alexander. This Is the Dream. HarperCollins, Amistad, 2006.

Wiles, Deborah. Freedom Summer. Atheneum, 2001.

Woodson, Jacqueline. The Other Side. Putnam, 2001.

Woodson, Jacqueline. Show Way. Putnam, 2005.

Critics have said

An elegant, understated pictorial biography.
Publishers Weekly