February 18 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month was instituted by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926 to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. The holiday began as a week-long observance taking place during the second week of February to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976 President Gerald Ford officially established Black History Month. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events in schools, churches, and community centers. The theme for 2021 is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.” Online events will explore the African diaspora and the spread of Black families across the United States through multiple perspectives. For more information about Black History Month, visit the ASALH website and africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.

The Teachers March! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History

Written by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace | Illustrated by Charly Palmer

 

Reverend F. D. Reese taught science at R. B. Hudson High School, but his favorite subject was freedom…. To be treated as less than equal, that just wasn’t right.” Reverend Reese led marches to register Black voters. The police called them “troublemakers” and used billy clubs to stop them from voting. If the people did make it inside the courthouse to register, they faced a test they had to pass—a test with impossible questions, such as “How many drops of water are in the Alabama River?” Reverend Reese decided he needed a “‘triumphant idea’” to change things.

It came to him that the teachers—leaders and respected in the community—should march for freedom. But a judge had made it illegal to march and even talk about voting rights. Most people were too afraid to march, so Reverend Reese looked for a “‘glorious opportunity’” to come his way. It came when he watched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak on television and wrote him a letter inviting him to come to Selma to “help convince the teachers to march.”

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Image copyright Charly Palmer, 2020, text copyright Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Dr. King agreed and spoke to a crowd of 700 people at Brown Chapel. He told the group that everyone should march and “go to jail by the thousands to defend the right to vote.” Two of the people listening to Dr. King were fifteen-year-old Joyce Parrish and her mother, “Two Sweet.” When Reverend Reese asked for teachers to sign up to march, he said that if both parents in a family were teachers, only one should march so that the other could take care of the children if the first went to jail. For Two Sweet it was a difficult decision. She was a teacher and also a single parent. More than 100 teacher signed up, including “Two Sweet.”

On January 22, the day of the march, Two Sweet packed a toothbrush and a sandwich—things she’d need in jail—and hugged Joyce goodbye. That afternoon as Reverend Reese waited alone outside the school alone, he wondered if the teachers would show up. Then one-by-one the teachers emerged from the building, holding their toothbrushes aloft. Reverend Reese called Coach Huggins to the front of the line and they started walking to the courthouse. People gathered along the street to watch, and Joyce paced nervously, wondering what would happen to her mother.

As the teachers crossed into the white section of town, the dirt roads became paved and people swarmed from shops to glare at the marchers, hoping to intimidate them. When they reached the courthouse, the sheriff and his deputies stood atop the steps. Reverend Reese announced that they were there to register to vote, but the sheriff said, “‘You can’t make a plaything out of the corridors of this courthouse.’” He gave the teachers one minute to disperse or face arrest. The teachers stayed put.

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Image copyright Charly Palmer, 2020, text copyright Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

When the time was up, the police grabbed their billy clubs. They pushed Coach Huggins and Reverend Reese, causing the teachers to fall backward. When they got up, the police pushed them harder. Then the school superintendent came out of the courthouse. He had the power to fire every teacher. But Reverend Reese and the teachers stood firm for the right the Constitution guaranteed. The superintendent looked out over the crowd. He knew that if he fired them all, there would be no one to teach at the schools and he would lose his job.

The teachers had won the day. They went back to Brown Chapel, where young people were singing freedom songs. The kids were proud of their teachers, and Joyce hugged her mother. That night, Dr. King preached at Brown Chapel. “He praised Reverend Reese and the teachers for making civil rights history” by being the first leaders to risk their jobs by marching. Now other shop keepers and business people were emboldened to march for the right to vote. Kids and young people marched too. These Selma marchers were arrested by the thousands. Across America people took notice. Why, they wondered, were “respectable citizens in suits and dresses, and school kids carrying books” put in jail.

The president of the United States also noticed. In the summer of 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, ensuring that no test was required to register to vote. In August, Reverend Reese, Two Sweet, and other teachers walked to the federal building and registered to vote. With their first ballot, they voted the sheriff out of office.

Following the text are an extensive Author’s Note about the Teachers’ March and its leaders, with photographs as well as an Illustrator’s Note explains how the illustrations were created. A Timeline follows the 1965 Voting Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama from 1936 to 2018. A photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Reverend Reese leading the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery is also included. A selected bibliography of resources used in writing the book, as well as websites where readers can learn more, close out the excellent backmatter.

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Image copyright Charly Palmer, 2020, text copyright Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Compelling and comprehensive, Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace’s story about the teachers march of 1964 is exhilarating reading. Powerful for its personal focus on Reverend Reese, Joyce, and Two Sweet and their fears, doubts, and courage, the story includes vital details that reveal inequalities of the time beyond the issue of voting rights and which will resonate with children aware of continuing inequalities, protests, gerrymandering, and other current issues in the news. Sandra and Rich Wallace build suspense through evocative descriptions to draw children in and immerse them in a reading experience that will have emotional impact.

Charly Palmer’s acrylic on board illustrations capture the motion and emotion of the teachers’ march and the events leading up to that day. All the more moving for their abstract quality, the images portray telling glances (on the first page a student looks out at the reader as Reverend Reese lectures about equal rights at the chalkboard); seminal moments, such as when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. strides into Brown Chapel and Coach Huggins signs his name, promising to march; and the moments when the sheriff and his deputies confront the teachers with billy clubs raised. The reunion between a worried Joyce and her mother is poignant, and the final illustration of Reverend Reese putting his ballot into the box, reminds all readers of the successes of the past, but also that vigilance and action continues to be needed.

Superb for social studies, American history, homeschooling, and civics lessons, The Teachers March! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History  is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 7– 10 and up

Calkins Creek, 2020 | ISBN 978-1629794525

Discover more about Sandra Neil Wallace, and her books on her website. You can also find a downloadable Educator’s Guide for The Teachers March! and other books by Sandra.

You can learn more about Rich Wallace and his books on his website.

To learn more about Charly Palmer and view a portfolio of his art, visit his website.

Watch the trailer for The Teachers March!

 

Black History Month Activity

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Role Model Coloring Pages

 

Whether you’re interested in law and politics, science, sports, or the arts, you can find a role model in the people in the printable coloring pages below. 

Dr. Mae Jemison | Jackie Robinson | Maya Angelou  | Louis Armstrong | Garrett Morgan | Rosa Parks

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You can find The Teachers March! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 16 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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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 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 and how you can help promote justice and equality for all. Consider volunteering in your community where help is needed.

I am Martin Luther King, Jr.

Written by Brad Meltzer | Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

 

Standing inside a church, Martin Luther King, Jr. introduces himself with two anecdotes from his childhood that demonstrate his world outlook. “When I was little,” he says, “I used to get into a lot of accidents.” He was hit in the head by a baseball bat, knocked down by cars and once even “tumbled over our banister, then bounced through an open door into the basement.” While these incidents could have made him cautious, Martin instead was determined to keep “getting back up.” His second influence were the books in which he could find “big words.” Even as a child Martin recognized that “there is power in words.”

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

Before he went to school, Martin relates, his best friend was a white boy whose father owned a nearby store. They did everything together until school started. Then Martin went to a school with only black students while his friend went to a white-students-only school. Soon, Martin’s friend told him his father didn’t want them to play together anymore. Martin was confused. When his parents told him the reason was that they had different colored skin, Martin felt angry. He wanted to hate his friend and his father, but Martin’s parents taught him to love his friend, and his mother told him, “you must never feel that you are less than anyone else.”

It was a difficult lesson when all around him he saw inequality. White schools had better equipment, there were different elevators, bathrooms, water fountains, and other facilities for black people and white people, on buses black riders had to give up their seats to white riders. Everywhere black people and white people were segregated.

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

When Martin was only 15 he was admitted to college. At 19 he entered the seminary where he learned about civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance—ways to use “love and peaceful methods to change unfair things in society.” These were lessons Martin wanted to share with others. His chance to put his thoughts into action came when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat to a white man. Martin advocated a peaceful protest—a boycott of public buses. He reasoned that without the money from black riders, the bus companies would change their policies.

As the boycott began working, Martin gave a speech in Montgomery, Alabama, motivating people to continue their peaceful protest. Martin was put in jail and his house was bombed, but the boycott continued for more than a year. Eventually, the bus companies changed their rules. Other peaceful protests began to take place in restaurants and other public places.

One protest took place in Birmingham, Alabama.  Martin was again put in prison, where he wrote one of his most famous speeches. Children also took part in the Birmingham protest. The Children’s Crusade attracted more than 1,000 kids. On the first day 900 of them were arrested, but that only inspired the children more. On the second day 2,500 children showed up. They stood firm while they were sprayed with water hoses and attacked by police dogs. People—both black and white—watching the news reports were aghast. Three months later the rules began to change.

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

“By the summer of 1963, an estimated one million Americans held their own protests in cities across the country.” Then A. Philip Randolph suggested a single huge march to convince “Congress and the president to pass laws so that no one in America can treat people differently based on skin color.” On August 28, 1963 the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place. Martin gave what may now be considered his most famous speech in which he talked about his dreams for the country, for the people, and for their children.

Although Congress began passing new laws, the ability and right to vote in elections still eluded black people. To change the voting rules another march was organized to walk 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. The 600 walkers were met by police who stopped them. Two days later 2,500 activists tried again but could not get through. On the third try 8,000 marchers showed up. This time, with the world watching on television, the activists made it to Montgomery, protected by troops sent by President Johnson.

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Martin continued to speak out, relating his philosophy and dreams for the nation. “To reach our goals, we must walk the path of peace,” he said. “We must lock arms with our brothers and sisters. We must march together. When we do…Our voices will be heard, and freedom will ring.” The lessons Martin Luther King taught still resonate today. He stands “as proof that no matter how hard the struggle, we must fight for what is right and work to change what is wrong.…if we stand together, if we remain united, nothing can stop our dream.”

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Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World: I am… series of biographies are well-known for showing young readers that they can achieve their dreams and make a difference no matter what those hopes may be. In his biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Meltzer depicts several incidents from King’s childhood and early adulthood that influenced his future work. These help readers understand not only the types of prejudice King and other African Americans experienced, but also the people who inspired his philosophy of peace.

Meltzer’s inclusion of King’s imprisonments and the violence that met the peaceful protesters deepens the understanding of the dangers King and other protesters faced, and provides an opportunity to open a discussion between adults and children about those times and what they now see in the news. Meltzer’s description of the Children’s Crusade will inspire readers, making them proud of children in the past and stirring them to actions of their own. Sections from King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and his most famous speeches are presented in speech bubbles. The text is followed by photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr. with his family and at the March on Washington as well as a timeline of his life. Sources and resources for further reading are also included.

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In keeping with the style of all of Meltzer’s and Christopher Eliopoulos’s Ordinary People Change the World: I am… biographies, the illustrations are vibrant and cartoon-inspired. Martin Luther King, Jr. is depicted with the size of a child but the features of an adult, reinforcing the idea contained in the text of the dual nature of the future adult residing in the child and the ideals of the child remaining in the adult that appeals to ambitious young readers. Speech bubbles highlight text that carry emotional dialogue. Settings, including churches, Birmingham jail, Washington DC, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument give children a look at the cities and places described in the text.

For young readers, I am Martin Luther King, Jr. offers a comprehensive biography of the man who was a national and world leader in the fight for equal rights for all people and makes an excellent starting place for classroom lessons and personal discussions.

Ages 5 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0525428527

Discover more about Brad Meltzer and his books for adults and children as well as other goodies on his website!

Learn more about Christopher Eliopoulos, his books, and his comics on his website!

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait

 

Color this printable Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait and then hang it in your room or locker to inspire you!

Picture Book Review