In this episode we discuss Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy. We also look at books that help children learn to stand up for others in helpful and creative ways.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
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As we’re coming up on Martin Luther King Jr Day, I wanted to talk a little bit about some books that deal with diversity, that deal with some of the race issues that our nation is facing. But I wanted to do it in the spirit of what Martin Luther King Jr. Tried to teach us and how he encouraged us to stand up for our beliefs with a willingness to hurt, to be ridiculed and attacked. He told all of the people who marched with him that they were not to resist. They were not to fight back and to understand that they could be beaten and they could be killed and they could be hurt. That is just unreal to me and a little frightening. I think that people who marched with him had to really weigh how sold out they were to what they were standing up for. And I think as we take a stand for whatever in our lives, our faith or for the civil rights of others or for what is right and wrong, that we have to also weigh those questions in our own mind. Are we willing to stand up under whatever happens? Are we willing to stand up and face the consequences for our choices to take a stand? And so I want to talk about that today and helping our children to understand the importance of conviction and commitment to whatever cause we stand for. Also to acknowledge that there are differences between people,–every person is unique and uniquely created by God, fearfully and wonderfully made. We each are different. Now. Also I want to emphasize that according to the Bible, there is no race. We are the human race and that is it. Everyone is created in the image of God. Everyone is an individual called by God to fulfill a purpose that God has ordained before we were even born, that God has known each one of us before we were born, as he knit us together in our mother’s wombs. When we understand that and we teach our kids that, that is the foundation from which everything else should grow. And so we learn to love each other and to respect each other because we know we were all created in God’s image. We are all special. We are all called then out from that. In talking to some of my friends and other people who are African-American, they have said, but don’t ignore the skin color, don’t ignore the culture from which we come. There are different cultures we’re raised in. Even within our one country, we each have a family culture. We each have a church culture. We each have our own ethnic culture. To ignore color is not good either. And so it’s kind of a tightrope. It’s kind of a balancing act to understand each other and our differences in culture, our differences in attitude, while still understanding that we are all equal. We are all people created in God’s image, and we are all one race–the human race created by God. It’s a hard choice that we have to make, and we have to help our kids think through that when they need to take a stand, when some child is bullying another child, how do they respond? What do they do? So this is not an easy and simple issue. This is one of those heavy conversations we have with our kids. So like I said, as we’re coming up on Martin Luther King Jr Day, I wanted to kind of talk about these issues that we need to discuss with our kids.
The first book I want to share with you is called Different Like Me by Xochitl E Dixon and illustrated by Bonnie Lui. This book starts out with Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image. In the image of God, he created them. Male and female He created them.” It says, “I look all around me and what do I see? So many kids who are different from me. Different shades, different hair, different eyes, different smiles. Even our bodies are all different styles. We speak different languages, some talk with their hands. Some come from next door. Some from far away lands. I look all around me and what do I see? So many kids who are different from me.” And then she talks about many of the differences that we have, including disabilities, including culture, where we come from and how we live in our families. We have different homes, different names. So it talks about all the many differences we have. In the middle of the book it changes to: “I look all around me and what do I see? So many kids not so different from me. We all laugh and act silly. We hurt and we cry. We bounce with excitement. We hide an act shy.” So then the rest of the book talks about how we’re similar. “I Look all around me and what do I see? God made every kid different and special like me.” And then it ends with a quote from Psalm 39:13-14, “For you created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well.” And so this is just a very sweet book, and it ends with some questions that you can talk with your children about that can open up some really good conversations. Xochitl has also written several devotional books that have been published or has written parts of them. And you might want to check those out for yourself, but this is a very sweet story book.
Of course, if we’re going to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. We also have to include a biography or two about him. My favorite one of several different biographies about Martin Luther King Jr. is Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.? By Bonnie Bader and Who HQ and illustrated by Elizabeth Wolf. And this is a popular series of biographies that are available. And all of them are written really well. I like the way that the illustrations are in this book and the way it’s written. There’s another one that’s really cute. That is, it’s more of a storybook. This one is more of a chapter book. It’s short chapters and goes into detail about his family history and shows how, when Martin Luther King Jr was alive, slavery had been abolished like a hundred years before, but the Jim Crow laws and injustices were happening all over the place and his struggle with what he could do and what he should become. And should he be a minister, et cetera. It talks about his father’s family and his mother’s family. So it gives a lot of history. It gives us a timeline in the book to show us the setting and the time of when this was all taking place, which I think is very important because children, when they’re reading and learning about these historical events, I’ve seen many of them get confused of when were slaves a part of US history. And when was Martin Luther King Jr.? What was he protesting? And understanding the differences. I think that’s important to distinguish with students so that they can keep the timeline straight and understand what happened when in the different parts of history. So I really like that book for that purpose as well. It gives you a timeline of his life, as well as a timeline of history during that time.
But this other book is called, I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. And it is written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. And this one is kind of silly in the way it’s illustrated. Even as a kid, Martin Luther King Jr. Has a mustache, which is just kind of strange. His best friend when he was young was a little white boy who lived near him. And he looks an awful lot like Calvin in Calvin and Hobbs, but the story is there and it tells about his life. And so I like it for the younger children who are not ready for chapter books. Although, like I said, the chapter book I did mention has very short chapters. And so it is still geared toward a younger elementary student.
There are others, of course, that are geared more toward older students. But I feel like if your student, your child, is in middle school or higher, or the upper elementary grades, that having them read the actual writings of Martin Luther King Jr. Especially his letter from jail. His writing was brilliant and so powerful. I love using his writing to show examples of good writing, especially when you’re talking about logos, pathos and ethos, he mastered that he was a brilliant as a speaker and a writer. And so yes, we should read the biographies about his life, but reading his own words, I think is one of the most powerful things we can do. And so going to those primary sources as our children are older, I think are really beneficial and really powerful.
Rosa Parks, her protest was in 1955, which was during Martin Luther King Jr’s work and his time of protesting and leading marches and all of those things. So they were contemporaries of each other. Now this one book that I mentioned, I Am Martin Luther King Jr. It’s from the series Ordinary People Change the World. This same series has one about Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman was during the slave years. But Rosa Parks, like I said, was a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr.
Now some other good books about this topic and about injustice, protests, bullying, those kinds of things. There’s lots of books out there. I’ve found some cute ones. One is called Strictly No Elephants. And it is by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. And in this book, there’s a pet club, and this little boy has a pet elephant, but elephants are not allowed in the pet club. And so they’re left out, and they feel like they’re different and unaccepted. And the little boy goes, and he finds out that there are others who have been excluded for no real reason other than the pet club only wants dogs and cats and birds. He makes his own pet club. It’s a good example of kind way and an alternative way to deal with injustice rather than becoming hateful and angry and violent. Instead finding a positive way to include those who have been excluded and to make a difference by your example. And so I really like that about this story.
Another one is–it’s a very interesting book because it truly is a picture book. And so as you look at this book, it’s called I Walk with Vanessa: A Story about a Simple Act of Kindness, and it’s by Kerascoët. In this book, the illustrations are really cute. With your child, you would need to look at the pictures and discuss what’s happening in the pictures. So this one is for four to eight year olds, preschool through third grade. And it shows a little boy who bullies the one little girl, Vanessa, and the other little girl decides she will walk with Vanessa, and her act of kindness helps the little girl feel better. So it’s very, very cute and very well done. I love that. It tells the story without words and shows the story happening and unfolding just through the illustrations.
Another one is by Peter H. Reynolds, whom I’ve shared several of his books before. I really like his writing. This one’s called Say Something. In it he talks about how the world needs to hear everyone’s voice and that we can share that voice. Well, he says, “The world needs your voice. Say something with your words, with your art, with your music, with your poetry, with your courage, or simply with your presence.” And so it starts out, it shows this little girl and it says, “‘The world needs your voice.’ ‘Mine?’ ‘Yes, yours. Go ahead. It doesn’t need to be perfect as long as it’s from your heart. You don’t have to be loud. Powerful words can be a whisper. You can say something in so many ways, with words, with action, with creativity. If you see someone lonely, say something by just being there for them.”‘ And so I really like the way he approaches life. In all of his books, it’s the small acts. It’s the small choices that make a difference. And he always focuses on how each of us were made to be creative. And in our creativity, we can change the world and affect the lives of others in positive ways.
I mentioned Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. I wanted to read just a little bit from this letter because I think it is so powerful. First of all, it is an open letter written to other pastors in Birmingham. He says, “My dear fellow clergymen, while confined here in the Birmingham City Jail, I came across your recent statement, calling my present activities, ‘unwise and untimely.’ Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas, …but since I feel that you are men of genuine goodwill and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms. I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham since you have been influenced by the view, which argues against ‘outsiders coming in.’ I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every Southern state with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some 85 affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian movement for human rights. Frequently, we share staff, educational, and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago, the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call, to engage in a non-violent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented. And when the hour came, we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, I’m here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here. But more basically I am in Birmingham because injustice is here just as the prophets of the eighth century, BC left their villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their home towns. And just as the apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid. Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and States. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be about what happens in Birmingham in justice. Anywhere is a threat to justice. Everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny, whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again, can we afford to live with the narrow provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds…
In any nonviolent campaign, there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist, negotiation, self purification, and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gain saying the fact that racial injustice engulfs, this community Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case….We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community mindful of the difficulties involved. We decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on non-violence and we repeatedly asked ourselves: ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’ ‘Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?’… Sometimes the law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance, which requires a permit for a parade, but such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens, the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest. I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist that would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality, expressing the highest respect for law.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience….It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman empire to a degree. Academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practice civil disobedience in our own nation, the Boston tea party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.”
I love what he does with his writing. He appeals to these pastors with scripture. He clearly acknowledges his education and his authority to be able to write this letter and to present this argument, and he does so eloquently as he writes so beautifully and expresses all of his ideas and reasons for what they’re doing and how they have not done this carelessly, but that it was carefully thought out and decided upon after gathering much information and after seeing promises broken. Through this, we can teach our kids so much about how to write a persuasive argument. Again, this is such a beautiful letter, so well-written and can teach us so much about so many things with our writing and with our standing up for the rights of others.
I want to end with another devotional thought from the book Grace for the Moment by Max Lucado. And this one is from the May 19th entry. And it says, “God is for you. Romans 8:31 says, ‘If God is for you, who can be against you?’ The question is not simply who can be against us. You could answer that one: who is against you? The bully in gym class, the mean girl, sickness, sadness, tiredness, loneliness, and all those other ‘nesses’ that make such messes in our lives. If Paul’s question were only who can be against us, we could list our enemies. It would be much easier for us to simply list them than to fight them. But that is not the question. The question is ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ God is for you. A bully may have picked on you. Your teacher may have overlooked you. Your brothers and sisters may not speak to you, but within earshot of your prayers is the one who made the oceans–God. He is for you, and he fights for you.
Thank you for joining us for books that spark a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope this discussion will spark meaningful conversations with the children in your life. Please check out my website at TerrieHellardBrown.com. Remember when you sign up for my mailing list, you receive several freebies, and joining my mailing list, you will get one to two emails typically each week: one when the podcast posts on Tuesdays, and one when I put up my blog post on Thursdays.
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.
Disclaimer: Although Terrie majored in psychology and sociology for her bachelor’s degree and has taught AP Psychology, she is NOT a licensed therapist. She sometimes mentions items in her blog and podcast that could be considered comments on psychology, but these comments are based on ministry experience and ministering to people through the missions and church work she’s done for the past 36 years. If you have questions about psychological disorders or counseling needs, please consider finding a reputable, licensed counselor in your area. Terrie’s comments should be seen as anecdotal and ministry-experience-related or scripture-based. Thank you!