Kids Marching and Organizing for Civil Rights | SLJ Spotlight

Two nonfiction picture books that channel strong kids in history for contemporary young readers.
Monica Clark-Robinson (Let the Children March) and Carole Boston Weatherford (Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You) spin tales of resilient children in each of their latest picture books. Clark-Robinson’s narrative, accompanied by Frank Morrison’s visceral illustrations, details the ways in which the black youth of Birmingham, AL, protested segregation. Weatherford takes a ­lyrical ­journey through time to remind today’s children that they too can embody Martin Luther King Jr.’s ­teachings. James E. Ransome’s artwork provides a thought-provoking dual narrative, great for small group discussions.

redstarClark-Robinson, Monica. Let the Children March. illus. by Frank Morrison. 40p. bibliog. chron. notes. HMH. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544704527.

K-Gr 3–The youth of the Birmingham civil rights movement take center stage in this historical picture book. Clark-Robinson narrates from the voice of an unnamed girl, using simple language to tell the story of the momentous events surrounding the arrest and jailing of hundreds of children protesting racial segregation. The narrator states bluntly, “There were so many things I couldn’t do.” Much of the text will provoke questions and important conversations between children and adult readers. The experiences of segregation are sensitively depicted by Morrison. A playground behind a tall sharp fence sets the stage, while portrait-quality oil paintings of the children and civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. fill the rest of the pages. The defiance, determination, and passion comes through clearly on the faces of the figures. An afterword and author’s and illustrator’s notes provide additional information, as does a cleverly illustrated time line on the endpapers. VERDICT A highly readable historical account which deserves a place on picture book and nonfiction shelves alike.–Clara Hendricks, Cambridge Public Library, MA

redstarWeatherford, Carole Boston. Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You. illus. by James E. Ransome. 40p. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780802723680.

K-Gr 3–In this book inspired by the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Weatherford and Ransome offer advice to a new generation of change-makers. In each spread, Weatherford repeats the refrain “You can be a King” and encourages young readers to continue Dr. King’s work by taking such actions as getting a good education, standing up to bullies, believing in important causes, doing one’s best, having a dream, and helping others. Each piece of advice alludes to Dr. King’s life, and in some cases, recalls his speeches and writing. Ransome’s art, rendered in acrylics, colored pencils, oils, and gouache, adds depth to the deceptively simple text. The illustrations alternate between full spreads depicting important events from Dr. King’s life and the civil rights movement and a contemporary classroom in white space, in which a diverse group of children paint a mural of Dr. King and prepare their own march for social justice. There is a shift in the style of the art here as well; the historical scenes maintain a serious tone, while the contemporary scenes evoke a more childlike quality. An author’s note provides a brief biography of Dr. King and also offers insight into both Weatherford’s text as well as many of the historical moments captured in Ransome’s illustrations. As such, while the book is accessible as an inspiring primer on social justice and taking action, it also challenges more sophisticated readers to make connections between the art, the text, Dr. King’s life, the civil rights movement at large, and the continuing struggle to affect change. VERDICT A first purchase, this book is sure to spark discussion and empower readers of all ages.–Lauren Strohecker, McKinley Elementary School, Elkins Park, PA

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