“Love is the key to the problems of the world.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.
For this holiday celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr., we recommend an award-winning picture book to read with your children: Martin’s Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport. In simple, direct language—much of it in King’s own words—this beautiful biography honors King’s determination to end segregation through peaceful means.
As a little boy, Martin saw signs posted in his town with hurtful words. Yet he also heard affirming, encouraging words from his mother and at church listening to his father preach. Martin decided that he wanted “to get big words, too.” As a student reading about Mahatma Gandhi, he thought about ways to fight segregation with words, not fists: “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” He went on to write inspiring sermons that moved Rosa Parks and thousands of other citizens to protest and march. More and more Americans, including presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, began to listen to Martin’s words. Before his assassination, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. The book closes with: “His big words are alive for us today.”
Bryan Collier’s striking illustrations, in watercolor and collage, show that images as well as words have power. For instance, the front cover of the book has no text at all—only King’s portrait. The last picture is of four candles burning in front of a stained-glass window, the illustrator’s way of quietly honoring the little girls who died in the Birmingham church bombing. An appendix gives a compact time line of the civil rights movement and a list of other resources to investigate. Martin’s Big Words was a 2002 Caldecott Honor Book, a Coretta Scott King Award Honor book and the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book for 2001.
Scholastic has created an animated, read-aloud version of Martin’s Big Words, available on YouTube. The video ends with a fragment of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the National Mall, so your children can hear his voice and experience his unforgettable eloquence.
To pay homage to the undying impact of King’s rhetoric, we close with his words at the Great March on Detroit in 1963: “I have a dream this afternoon that the brotherhood of man will become a reality in this day. And with this faith I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair. With this faith, I will go out with you and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”
May all of our children grow up to share King’s dream of hope, brotherhood and bright tomorrows.