I have some favorite books to read when celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and his tremendous life. One, is Martin’s Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport. Like me, most teachers love Martin’s Big Words as well. So finding something different but accessible to young audiences is a always a challenge for me in the library.
Here is a book that I discovered this year that I love for younger audiences. Published in 2006, it provides a different perspective on this great man’s life that students haven’t heard before. When I introduce this book to my students, I remind them that before Dr. King became “Dr. King”, he was a child just like them. My Brother Martin was written by Christine King Farris, Dr. King’s older sister.
In My Brother Martin, Ms. King Farris tells of Dr. King’s childhood on Auburn Street in Atlanta, Georgia. There are funny pranks that the children, Christine, M.L. (Martin Luther) and their younger brother A.D. (Alfred Daniel) played on neighbors and their piano teacher. These stories made all my students smile. Ms. King Farris also tells of the painful time when the children of a white store owner on their street were no longer allowed to play with Negroes (a word I had to explain to my younger students). The white family sold their store and moved away. After years of shielding their children from the injustice and cruelty dealt to black people, this episode brought all that home. Christine, M.L. and A.D. were confused about why their friends would no longer play with them. Their mother explained about all the “Whites Only” signs. She also told her children that this injustice was there, “Because they just don’t understand that everyone is the same, but someday, it will be better.” M.L. then replied, “Mother Dear, one day I’m going to turn this world upside down.” And that he did.
M.L. and his sister and brother now were aware of segregation. They watched as their father, a minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church spoke out against it and how he practiced what he preached. Their father did not allow others to treat him differently because of his skin color and took his business elsewhere when store owners did. Their parents’ example and the pain of their childhood friends’ leaving provided the inspiration for Dr. King’s pursuit of justice.
This is a heartening and inspiring story of Dr. King that provides insights other books don’t provide. I highly recommend it to elementary school audiences. The illustrations by Chris Soentpiet are wonderful.