Saturday, April 23, 2011

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

There are many books published about the honorable, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  However, none have had the emotional impact on me like this one.  Martin’s Big Words is an exceptional children’s biography about Dr. King.   It is a Caldecott Honor book and it received the Coretta Scott King Award.
This book is written and designed very well.  From the cover of the book there is a large photograph of Dr. King with a smile on his face.  The title, author and illustrator are on the back.  The end papers are beautiful stained glass windows with four distinct shades in each quad and a diamond in the center.  Bryan Collier uses these windows as a metaphor.  The multi-colors symbolize the multi- races.  These windows allow you to see through or look past where you are. 
Rapport is able to make a long story short which flows smoothly.  Each two page spread tells about King and his crusade for civil rights.  It also has a quote from King in bold, oversized font.  This book addresses some of the issues of that time; oppression, prejudice, racism, and overcoming violence in a non-violent way. 
The collage and watercolor by Bryan Collier add depth to the sometimes simple text on a page.  He does a wonderful job extending the story.  I was moved by the African American girl standing in front of an American flag.  There are shades of green and yellow on the girls face, head band, and on the flag.  It made me think about how this country was at war with race.  There is also a little bit of yellow. The yellow, green and red reminded me of an African flag.  The text on the page states, “He cared about people all over the world.”  Bryan includes an author’s note at the beginning of the book.  “I wanted to bring a fresh spin to a story that’s been told many times.  In some places, the imagery had to stay true to history.  In others, I tried to push to an emotional level that allows the reader to bring his or her own experience to it, without actually losing the intensity or the intention of the story.  Collage is a perfect medium for this; it allows me to piece together many different things that have no relationship to each other, until they’re put together to form a oneness.”   The last illustration in the book was moving and it showed perspective.  There is a picture of Dr. King in the center of the stain glass windows in a church.  There appears to be some distance and it looks like he is looking through a window with blinds.  There are horizontal lines going across his face.  These lines suggest order and tranquility for Dr. King.  At this point in the book, Dr. King has passed.  There are also four pillar candles illuminating the church.  According to Collier's author's note, the four candles in the last illustration represent the four girls who were killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist church.  Overall around the stain glass windows it is black.  This adds to the mood of the story.  The text on the page next to this illustration is powerful.  “His big words are alive for us today.”  Then there are oversized words that say, “Freedom,”  “PEACE,” “Together,” I have a dream,” and “LOVE.”
Rapport and Collier worked well together to tell about Dr. King’s courage, commitment, and sacrifice in a moving way.  There is also an author’s note and at the beginning of the book.  Rapport had been introduced to the philosophy of nonviolence as high school student.  As a teacher she saw the sit-ins of the 1960’s.  In preparation for this book, Rapport “reread his autobiography, speeches, sermons, and articles.”  Rapport is able to use poetic language to help the reader understand who Dr. King was and Collier’s illustrations added depth and he was able to extend the story to move the reader beyond the print of each page.
At the end of the book there is a timeline of important dates; from his birth to the holiday that we celebrate each year.  There are also additional books suggested and it even offers information to a child about how to use the Web to find research.  “To find Web sites, use the name Martin Luther King as your search word.” 
This is certainly a quality nonfiction piece of literature that is a work of art.  As we continue to be a diverse society our children can be left with some profound words by the late, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  “You are as good as anyone.”  “Everyone can be great.”  “Hate cannot drive out hate.  Only love can do that.”  “Love is the key to the problems of the world.”
 I have posted a link to a photo-story of this book that is on teachertube.  It is narrated by Michael Clark Duncan.   Martin's Big Words  This video does a great job of bringing this story to life.
“His big words are alive for us today.”

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