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16 December 2020 WHO WAS MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.? (Board Book) by Lisbeth Kaiser and Stanley Chow, ill., Penguin, December 2020, 24p., ISBN: 978-0-593-22273-7


“We can change the world

Rearrange the world

It’s dying to get better”

--Graham Nash, “Chicago” (1971)


The United States government recognizes ten federal holidays, three of which are named after specific people. Having the government enact a federal holiday in honor of an individual is a unique distinction. Why does one of these ten holidays commemorate the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Because he inspired and helped change the world for the better, affecting the lives of billions of people.


A generation ago, in the years following Congressional enactment of a federal holiday commemorating Dr. King, I was the director of an urban preschool with a diverse population. Every year I worked to craft an engaging and relevant curriculum for the days surrounding MLK Day. But there were no books about Dr. King that were fully age appropriate for preschoolers. 


WHO WAS MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.? is the resource I wish I’d had back then. It’s a picture book biography that would have been perfect for my young students at circle time, and for my own kids at home. It’s a story that speaks to the sensibilities and comprehension of preschoolers. It includes an expression of feelings and examination of principles to which young children can relate. 


Nowadays, my two students are my four-year-old grandchildren whom I am entertaining and teaching from a distance. I cannot wait to share this excellent picture book bio over FaceTime. 


“When Martin grew up, he became a reverend and an activist. He was a leader in his community. 

When he spoke, his words came from his big, strong heart and filled people with love and kindness.

Martin said that everyone should be treated fairly, and that we should never hurt one another. 

He said that we could change the world peacefully.

Not everyone wanted things to change, but lots and lots of people agreed with Martin.

Martin showed them that they could be brave and peaceful, even when they felt scared or angry. Together they worked to show everyone else that things needed to change.”


WHO WAS MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.? is the result of Penguin’s decision to add some new biographies in the board book format to their long-running “Who Was?” series. It’s invaluable to have books specifically crafted for parents and teachers to share with preschoolers..


The story begins with Dr. King’s mostly-happy childhood. It includes a depiction of a sad incident when his best friend, who was white, was forbidden to play with Martin because of his skin color. 


The illustrations  expand beyond the text, providing opportunities for parents and caregivers to further discuss Dr. King’s work. For instance, in the three spreads that accompany the above excerpt, we see Dr. King preaching at church; carrying a boycott sign and leading a line of pedestrians past an empty bus; and remaining calm amidst conflict, as some visibly angry white people, who are being restrained by a uniformed member of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, are yelling at Dr. King, Mrs. King, and other marchers.


“And we all know everything

That he stood for time will bring

For peace in our hearts will sing

Thanks to Martin Luther King”

-- Stevie Wonder, “Happy Birthday” (1980)


WHO WAS MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.? provides an introduction to this man of peace who changed the world. It could inspire preschoolers to learn more about this national hero whose life we celebrate.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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