Let's face it. Most of us love a great party on our birthday and the good company and great gifts the celebration brings. I can only imagine Dr. King smiles down on his birthday because each year he receives the gift of thanks from all, or at least from us. I've always enjoyed celebrating his day. I have an African American brother so it has always been important to me to express that our skin is human skin and the color of it does not define us any more than the color of our hair or eyes.
As a caregiver of children and a mother, I believe it is my responsibility to share Martin Luther King's story and the stories of other important figures during the Civil Rights Movement. Our library had a few fantastic books on Rosa Parks, MLK and Ruby Bridges that we took out in an instant.
My Brother Martin by Catherine King Farris
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
It is difficult to read through these stories and answer questions regarding some of the mental and illustrated imagery that comes with them but I think we sometimes underestimate what our children can comprehend. There are ways of teaching respect and love that don't have to be so complicated. I loved My Brother Martin as it focuses on Martin as a boy from his sister's perspective. Children can relate to his scheming and playing as a child. This allows children to see first that Martin was a child just like them and eventually his eyes are opened to discrimination. The big question in this book is why Martin and his family are treated as they are by white people during that time and the mother's honest and simple answer was enough for me. Rosa gives a detailed account of her work as a seamstress and her exhaust after a long day which, again, a child identifies with as they see how pooped we adults gets after a long day. The play by play of her resting on a bus seat and ending up with jail time as a result can sound really scary especially since police officers were in on the arrest. In stories like this I try to explain the times and how police officers can sometimes do the wrong thing. The Cart That Carried Martin details his humble cart that carried his coffin as well as how they found the cart. This was a really interesting story I was not aware of and was more objective regarding the idea that you can be a very important person and not care about very fancy things. Teaching children to be humble and focusing more on the simple things in life is of SO much value nowadays. Ruby Bridges' Through My Eyes is certainly the most frightening to tell children mostly because she is just a little girl and sees more hate than our children will ever see in their life. I still can't get the photo out of my head of grown men and women with their children carrying a black baby doll in a small coffin while they scream at Miss Ruby. I simply can't put the pieces together or imagine what that could have meant to her young mind. The most important part of what Ruby Bridges went through was the time she took to pray before encountering the protesters each day. For a little one to know enough to pray for those who despise her is the most powerful thing anyone can do. I always remind Addison to pray for those who seem not to deserve it for they NEED our prayers.
While reading books like this to my daughter, I am conscious that she is not understanding or necessarily paying attention to all of it. There is a lot of serious content in those books but we always get through any books like that. I know her mind will pull what it can from the books and, more importantly, talking about certain themes and topics within any book will help engage them in the story. I made a craft for the kids, shown below, in which they were encouraged to make the kids any color they wanted. Feel free to pull this file or request the HQ, PDF version.