Monday, January 18, 2010

"Big Words" for Small Readers

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Martin Luther King, Jr., was a small boy, he discovered the power of "big words." He determined to use them to do good. Words like love, peace, equality, and courage flowed from his mouth. They flowed through his actions, defining the way he lived. His words uplifted, inspired, soothed, united. His martyrdom only made his "big words" more powerful. Today, we celebrate more than just the words - we honor the man who had the courage to speak them.

Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport offers a brief biography of the Civil Rights leader in language that is - like King's - simple, direct and effective. Although the book focuses on his words, it also highlights the ways in which his actions pushed the fight for equal rights forward. It paints him as a man of the people, always willing to help, to encourage, to protest peacefully the injustices suffered by black people in 1960s America. With quotes from King's speeches intertwined with the text, Rappaport proves just how mighty his words really were. As relevant today as they were 50 years ago, King's "big words" still resonate with passion, truth and power. Rappaport's book gifts his ideas of peace, unity and equality to a new generation. Pray it listens.

Almost more affecting than Rapparport's prose are Bryan Collier's illustrations. In a style described as "a combination of collage and watercolor," he brings Dr. King to vibrant life. With great beauty and subtle symbolism, his pictures enhance every word Rappaport writes. Although Collier's portraits of King are strong, the most moving pictures in the book are not of the leader himself, but depictions of his ideals (I particularly love the one of a young woman standing in front of the American flag, which you can see here).

The combination of colorful pictures and stirring text makes Martin's Big Words a simple, but impactful summary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life. From the little boy who dreams of using "big words" to change the world to the man who campaigns tirelessly for equal rights to the martyr silenced by an assassin's bullet - King's story is always inspiring. Rappaport and Collier boil it down to a child's level: simple, pure, powerful.

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: G (not because it's a Disney fairy tale, but because it's written in a way that is appropriate for young readers)

To the FTC, with love: Disney/Hyperion kindly sent me this book off its backlist. It was published in 2007 under Hyperion's Jump at the Sun imprint.

2 comments:

  1. I love this book... I read it to my class on Friday. It was SUCH a good choice (I have a very diverse learning group.. 10 - 13 year olds with grade ranges between 2nd grade level and 8th) They really did enjoy it too :)

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