American holidays are a window into our country's history as well as our current way of life. In particular, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and Presidents' Day offer unique opportunities to explore aspects of both recent and past history in the ESOL classroom. They also relate to topics that are included in the American Citizenship test.
The life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the events of the civil rights movement of which he was a champion have been examined and discussed in hundreds of books, including many published for the children's book market. The list below suggests just a few titles from the children's collection that would be highly appropriate to share with adult ESOL and ABE students. Many others will be available at the library. Suggestions for books appropriate for Presidents' Day will be forthcoming.
Beginning New Readers
Fine, Edith Hope. Martin Luther King, Jr: Champion of Civil Rights. Series title: Heroes of American History. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Elementary, 2005. Beginning-Intermediate new reader.
There are numerous biographies of M.L. King, written at a wide range of reading levels, published for the children's market, and many of them are factual presentations, well illustrated, that would appeal to adults. This is a particularly good example, with text and photographs well spaced and visually appealing. The text reviews his family background, major influences in his life, and relevant events in the Civil Rights Movement. A glossary, index, and list of additional books and web sites to explore provide opportunities to introduce basic research skills to more advanced students.
Lawrence, Jacob. Harriet and the Promised Land. New York: Simon Schuster, 1993. Beginning new reader.
With vivid colors and dramatic lines and shapes, artist Lawrence conveys the physical, spiritual, and emotional power of the amazing accomplishments of the woman known as the Moses of her people. The simple verse accompanying the drawings tells the story of Harriet Tubman, a slave who escaped to freedom then returned to the South 19 times to lead others on that perilous journey north.
Parks, Rosa. I Am Rosa Parks. With Jim Haskins. Illustrated by Wil Clay. New York: Dial, 1997. Beginning new reader.
In her own words, Parks briefly recalls her personal background. She then describes the day she refused to relinquish her seat on a bus to a white man as well as the events of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that followed her courageous decision.
Rappaport, Doreen. Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. New York: Hyperion, 2001. Beginning new reader.
Rappaport inserts quotes from King's speeches into this brief overview of his life. The striking and dramatic illustrations help convey a sense of the magnitude of purpose that characterized his time as a leader of the civil rights movement.
Intermediate New Readers
Colbert, Jan and Ann McMillan Harms. Dear Dr. King: Letters from Today's Children to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photographs by Ernest C. Withers and and Roy Cajero. New York: Hyperion Books, 1998. Intermediate-advanced new readers.
This book is a collection of letters written by children in Mephis, Tennessee, after studying a unit on the life work - and death, in their city - of Martin Luther KIng. Although the layout of the book changes from page to page, which could present some problems for new readers, the words and ideas expressed in the letters are honest and poignant, in the manner of children, and could perhaps inspire students of any age to write about events that have had a significant impact on their lives.
Farris, Christine King. March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World. Illustrated by London Ladd. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. Intermediate new reader.
Farris describes the day her brother, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous and oft-quoted "I Have a Dream" speech at the rally at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. She describes the anticipation and exhiliration of the crowds on that hot August day as well as the family and historical influences that brought MLK to that particular place and time. Large, colorful illustrations reflect the power and impact of that day while they also help explain quoted sections of the speech.
Giovanni, Nikki. Rosa. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. New York: Henry Holt, 2005. Intermediate new reader.
The story of Rosa Parks and her act of refusal on that Montgomery, Alabama bus is inextricably linked to the story of Martin Luther King, given that he was the young minister in that city who became the spokesperson for the bus boycott that followed. As she relates the details of that particular event, Giovanni also describes the cultural context in which Rosa Parks, and all black Americans, lived at that time. The illustrations make the story, now more than 50 years in the past, come back to vivid life.
Myers, Walter Dean. Harlem: A Poem. Illustrated by Christopher Myers. New York: Scholastic, 1997. Intermediate new reader.
In free verse incorporating the rhythms of jazz and the blues, Myers' poem offers a kind of syncopated survey of African American history, evoking images of Harlem, weaving in references to Africa, the American south, civil rights leaders, and black singers and artists. Given its many historical references, this illustrated poem would enrich any discussion of books about the black experience in America.
Summer, L.S. The March on Washington. Chanhassan, MN: Child's World, 2001. Intermediate-advanced new reader.
Despite the name of the publisher, this book is a very informative overview of the major events leading up to the massive march in August, 1963, during which Dr. King delivered the speech that became a rallying cry for civil rights. The many photographs are instructive in themselves, well captioned, and clearly laid out with text.
Weatherford, Carole Boston. Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-ins. Illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue. New York: Dial, 2005. Intermediate new reader.
The "sit-in" at the Greensboro, N.C. lunch counter in 1960 was a pivotal event in the burgeoning civil rights movement. The characters in this book who "witness" this event are fictional, but the facts of the story they tell are true, as a brief explanation at the end of the book explains. This is but one example of many picture books that illuminate important moments in history, keeping the stories they tell alive for succeeding generations.
Advanced New Reader
Hossell, Karen Price. I Have a Dream. Series title: Voices of Freedom. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2006. Advanced new reader.
The text is a little harder than in the books described above, and the background information is more inclusive, but this very informative book would be an excellent source of information as well as reading practice for the more advanced ESOL student. The book includes many photographs, including pictures of archival documents that attest to the many and varied struggles that preceded the movement of which Martin Luther King became the champion.
KIng, Martin Luther, Jr. I Have a Dream. Illustrated by fifteen award winning illustrators. New York: Scholastic Press, 1997. Advanced new reader.
The text of this book is the text of King's speech, so it is not an easy text to read, but an important document in American history. The illustrations are as extraordinary as they are varied, given that they are the work of different artists, all highly acclaimed in their field. Some reflect the ideas of the speech; others recall events in history referred to in the speech. Together, words and pictures caption an important moment in American history and present it in a beautiful work of art.