In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I’m re-posting a review of three books that celebrate the history of African Americans and their struggle for civil rights.
“Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Barack could run. Barack ran so all our children could fly.” (Kiari Day)
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Henry Holt & Company, New York, 2005
This story, along with Collier’s evocative paintings, successfully depicts the heat and tension of the South in the 1950s. Many of the details of Rosa’s simple, but powerful gesture, were new to me and will help inform children of today about a time in history when people of color did not have the same rights as white people. It is a time we must never forget and this book explains, in Giovanni’s beautiful prose, how Rosa Parks started a movement by the very simple gesture of refusing to give up her seat on a bus. The story will certainly shock children who’ve never heard it, and the details will undoubtedly enlighten many adults reading it.
The story of Rosa parks shows children how simple, seemingly small, courageous gestures can change history and even the world. And hopefully many of these young people will, in the future, learn to “fly.”
I’ve Seen the Promised Land by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins. Harper Collins Publishers Amistad, New York, 2004.
This book starts and ends in 1968: the year of anti-war marches, civil unrest and assassinations. Then, the story goes back in time to cover Rosa Parks and the bus boycott; Dr. King being arrested and his subsequent trip to India to study the non-violent civil disobedience techniques of Gandhi. King’s insistence that any action for justice remain non-violent did not sit well with some of his followers. But Myers stresses that this was an unshakable belief of Dr. King’s: that he would not hate those who hated him.
Children today are confronted with many situations that could lead to violence in school, on the playground and in their neighborhoods. Martin Luther King can be a guiding light for kids who are impoverished, hungry and angry; kids who are bullied and want to fight back. King’s nonviolent message can be a beacon for those children shining a light on the possibility that small gestures can warm cold hearts and cool hot tempers.
Barack Obama, Son of Promise, Child of Hope, by Nikki Grimes, Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2008.
“’Who’s that?’ David asks his mother, pointing to the screen…. ‘That’s Barack Obama,’” she replies. This story within a story, beautifully written by distinguished poet, Nikki Grimes, not only tells of the hopes of Barack Obama, but of David’s hopes, the young boy listening to his mother. The mother in the story tells her son of the life of our 44th. President using a poetic cadence: “His family stretched from Kansas to Kenya, his mama, white as whipped cream, his daddy, black as ink.” When she tells David how important Barack’s grandparents were to him, the boy wishes his grandparents lived closer. “Barry” grows up in Hawaii with kids of all different ethnicities. And they all get along. “Like the kids in my class” David replies. When Mother tells him that Barry’s dad left when he was a little boy, David can relate. “I miss my dad too.”
The watercolor and collage illustrations, Collier explains “act as a metaphor for piecing different parts or issues together to make something new, whole or complete.”
This poetic picture book was published in June of 2008, before anyone knew if Obama would be our next President. Its message should instill hope in every child’s heart who hears it and every parent who reads this outstanding story about a transformational, history-making figure of our time.