About the Holiday
Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the life and legacy of the man who dedicated his life and work to teaching—as Coretta Scott King once stated—“the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service” and led a non-violent Civil Rights movement to enact racial equality and justice throughout state and federal law. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, setting it on the third Monday of January to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on January 15. The holiday was officially observed in all 50 states in 2000. Today, learn more about the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. We still have a long way to go before there is justice and equality for all, but this year – even this week – gives us a new start. Look for ways you can offer help and hope.
Martin Luther King Jr. (Little People BIG DREAMS)
Written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara | Illustrated by Mai Ly Degnan
“Martin Luther was a spiritual boy from Atlanta who came from a long line of preachers.” It was thought that he might grow up to be one too. One day, a White friend invited him to his house to play, but when his mother wouldn’t let him in, Martin “realized something terrible was going on.” He discovered that Blacks weren’t welcome in the same places as Whites. Businesses, transportation, and other public places were segregated, which meant there were separate areas for Black and White people. Martin and his friend even had to go to different schools.
Martin believed people should speak up when something is wrong. He decided that he would “fight injustice with the most power weapon of all: words.” As he grew up and went to college, he learned about ways people could peacefully protest things they felt were wrong. After he graduated, Martin did become a preacher in Alabama. On Sundays, he encouraged his congregation to make their voices heard.
When Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, Martin asked people to avoid taking the bus until the law was changed, and they responded. For nearly a year people walked and the buses were empty. Finally, segregation of buses ended. This was only the beginning of peaceful protests aimed at overturning the country’s segregation laws. Despite being attacked and arrested, Martin and his followers remained peaceful. Martin “knew that hate can’t drive out hate; only love can.”
In a huge protest march on Washington DC, thousands of people assembled to hear Martin speak. His speech began with “four simple yet powerful words: ‘I have a dream.’” The next year, Martin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Little Martin’s words and dream still ring in your heart, and if you listen you can help make that dream “of a world where we are judged by our character, not by the color of our skin.”
A timeline of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, accompanied with photographs, follows the text.
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara’s series of biographies for youngest readers are little gems that create a personal connection between the reader and the subject while presenting a clear overview of the person’s life and work. A highlight of the series is Vegara’s early focus on events in the subject’s childhood that changed their perspective and informed their later profession or influence and which will resonate with kids. Here, these include his family’s legacy, a forbidden friendship, and his discovery of the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.
Vegara’s storytelling is simple and straightforward, presenting the facts of formative events in language that young children will understand but which never talks down to them. She highlights times when community members were instrumental in changing the laws of segregation, showing children that they too can affect change through their actions, words, and the way they treat others. She then leaves children with words of hope and encouragement on how they can carry on Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.
Mai Ly Degnan’s stylized and sophisticated illustrations invite children to learn about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life through images they will connect with intellectually and emotionally. Kids will enjoy seeing Martin dressed up in his father’s robe that pools around his feet as he preaches to his friends and will not need words to understand the angry face and outstretched pointing arm of his friend’s mother.
Other events, such as Rosa Park’s arrest and the bus boycott are depicted from the community’s viewpoint, allowing children to be part of the audience or crowd. Other images, such as Martin’s arrest, a peaceful protest, and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, give children and adults opportunities to discuss and expand on the text. Degnan’s final spread echoes back to the day when Martin was sent away from his friend’s house – but this time with acceptance – as a Black boy stands with his arm slung over the shoulder of his White friend as they stand in a diverse crowd of people.
Empowering and informative, Martin Luther King Jr.: Little People BIG DREAMS is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections.
The book can also be found as part of a boxed set Little People BIG DREAMS Black Voices, which includes biographies of Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks.
Ages 4 – 7
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245679 | Little People BIG DREAMS Black Voices, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711262539
You can connect with Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara on Twitter.
To learn more about Mai Ly Degnan, her books, and her art, visit her website.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity
Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait
To inspire your dreams of a better future for all, c olor this printable coloring page and hang it in your room!
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