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Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By on January 6, 2017

Among the heroes in our nation’s history, we recognize one whose adult life invites us to think about the important freedoms we cherish. The Reverend Dr. King, Jr. led a movement that inspires us today. Many civil rights we now often take for granted required work to pass laws that guarantee us those freedoms today. These books are among many that tell us stories about the often hidden history of people and their struggles for freedom. Take time to share these inspiring picture books, and have a conversation about our country’s history. Enjoy!

by Meribeth C. Shank 

Hope’s Gift by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Don Tate

books-hopeWhen Papa goes to fight in the war against slavery, he gives Hope a conch shell. He tells her to hold it to her ear and listen for the sound of freedom. “Nothing can stop it from coming. Nothing,” he tells her. Time passes but he has not returned. Hope, her brother, and her mother miss Papa terribly. Life is hard, especially when Hope has to work in the cotton fields. There is whispering among the slaves about freedom coming.

Colored pencil and gouache illustrations are simple, but beautifully rendered with faces and bodies expressing sadness, fear, love, anger, hope, and celebration. The story highlights the contrasts and similarities between Papa’s leaving to fight for freedom and the Master’s leaving his daughter to fight for slavery. Each leave-taking is painful for each child. Award-winning art seamlessly matches the matter-of-fact text.

One day Hope sees soldiers dressed in Union blue, among them, Papa! Finally back, bringing the promise — freedom is near. This is a gentle but powerful story of separation, love, and sacrifice.

Putnam, $16.99; Interest Level: Grades 1-3
(This book is available to borrow at the Miami Dade Library: Allapattah, North Dade Regional. Also, may be purchased from local and online booksellers.)


Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud, illustrated by John Holyfield

books-belleBased on a true story from the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, a small African American community in Alabama is featured in this low-key story with powerful change at its center. While he’s waiting on his mother, young Alex watches an old mule eat collard greens from a neighboring garden. An older woman tells a story to explain why Belle, the mule, is a hero and can eat what she wants.

The residents of Gee’s Bend (called “Benders”) were very pleased when the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr came to encourage them to register to vote. They took the ferryboat across the river to Camden in such great numbers that the local authorities closed the ferry. So, with help from the mules, they arranged heir own transportation. They had to do it again when they went to vote. When some of them lost their jobs as a result of voting, together they created beautiful quilts.

Vibrant colorful acrylic artwork pairs with the carefully researched and well-written language of the story. Following Dr King’s assassination, the Benders were once again called on for assistance. Dr King had requested that mules pull a farm cart carrying his casket. The Benders took two mules, one of them Belle, and found a solution to barriers the authorities once again put in their way.

This thoughtful story shows how ordinary people can change the world.

Candlewick Press, $16.99 (hardcover), $7.99 (paperback); Interest Level: Grades 1-3
(This book is available to borrow at the Miami Dade Library: Main Branch, Allapattah, Coral Reef, Lemon City, North Dade Regional, North Shore, Opa Locka, West Dade Regional. Also, may be purchased from local and online booksellers.)


Preaching to the Chickens: The story of young John Lewis  by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

books-chickensLiving civil rights legend and Georgia congressman John Lewis was once an Alabama farm boy who cared for his family’s flock of chickens. He knew them by name and recognized them by their actions. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he would tell the ones fighting over breakfast.

As their protector, he rescued them when they fell into the well, and even brought back to life a nearly drowned chick. He also figured out a way to trade with a local businessman without losing one of his chickens.

Sunlit spring mornings are featured in illustrator Lewis’ signature watercolor illustrations. The lively chickens and young John’s tender care are highlighted in this engaging picture book. Appealingly blended impressionistic art and affectionately written text feature young Lewis’ faith and family as cornerstones in his growing years. At the conclusion of the story is an Author’s Note about his conversations with former Freedom Rider and U.S. Representative John Lewis.

Penguin, $17.99, Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 4
(This book is available to borrow at the Miami Dade Library: Coral Reef. Also, may be purchased from local and online booksellers.)


Meribeth Shank works in the Media Center at Miami Country Day School, an independent school in Miami Shores, Florida, has taught classes on Writing Books for Children, and earned her MFA in Writing for children from Vermont College. You can also find her on the web: http://meribeths.blogspot.com

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