Jan 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, MLK, Jr., My Hero.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.
You’re a hero to so many, but I’d like to take a moment to tell you why you are mine.

When sharing your accomplishments with students, describing the doors you opened, opportunities you produced, changes resulting from your leadership in the USA and the world, my admiration is evident to them.

Then I tell them about my experience in high school.

I was on a mission since elementary school to go away to college, which would be out of the question without a major scholarship. I not only dreamed it, I worked for it: in academics, activities, social choices.  In senior year I achieved an incredible goal- earning a portable scholarship that would give me a “free ride” at any university of my choice, as long as I could get in. (You’ll remember those were the days when $10,000 could actually pay for four years at a premier school.)

And yet I could not even apply to Harvard, Yale, or Notre Dame, nor to any of the military academies. Acceptance at any one of these was an American benchmark of academic success. So whether or not I even chose to attend one of them, I was denied the chance to test my credentials against the best seniors in the country.

At that time, those schools didn’t even accept applications from “my kind” of people.

At this point I can’t resist asking students why I, with my fair skin and blonde hair, would be excluded.

Time after time, someone finally wonders aloud- “Are you really black?”

Once the laughing subsides, I tell them the truth.

I tell them that you are my personal hero because your leadership resulted in laws that ended discrimination against me. And I explain that those laws established the right for each and every one of them to choose goals and work toward them with their only limits being their own hard work and perseverance. 

And that if I wanted to attend any of those universities today I was now free to apply.

Because, thanks to your leadership, risks, and sacrifices, along with those of so many others, now every one of those schools accepts women. That change took place too late for me.

So, Martin, not just on your birthday or during Black History Month, I thank you for your vision and accomplishments. You threw open the doors of opportunity for me and for everyone else to live in a country that guarantees equality, or recourse when that has been denied.

And Martin, we still have a long way to go, but the story of the struggle continues to be told, with picture books often leading the way. Here’s hoping teachers and families will find some here to share.

Martin’s Big Words by Dorren Rappaport/Bryan Collier, 2001 Caldecott Honor Book. Hyperion Books for Children.
Don’t miss the inspiring author’s/illustrator’s notes and Collier’s dedication.

My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers by Christine King Ferris/Chris Soentpiet. 2003. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Read the afterward in which Christine writes about her brother as a young child. Back matter includes the illustrator’s notes and the tribute poem by Mildred D. Johnson- share with kids!

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Kadir Nelson. 2011. Balzer and Bray (Harper Collins)  *Fingers crossed for Caldecott and/or Newberry *
One hundred pages of compelling artwork and first person narration by a fictional African America relating a personally connected history of Africans in America from the 1600’s to the present. Don’t overlook the dedication or the extensive back matter, including timeline, bibliography, author’s note, and index. 

See what young people in the  Milwaukee area have to say about MLKJr's  Legacy in their lives.


  1. I hope many read your post because it is a lesson in history too, & so powerful. Thank you! I was given Heart and Soul for a Christmas gift & love it for the heartfelt stories, in addition to the great information it provides. I'll be sure to look for the other two.

  2. Thanks, Linda. I hope others will also add notes about ways that MLK himself or books about equality and justice have had an impact on their lives. I've added some other super titles linked on the "More Feature Books" tab, too.
    So nice to receive a special book as a gift, isn't it? Shows someone knows what you really love.

  3. Wonderful post!

    This is the Dream by Diane Shore is another really great book about Martin Luther King, Jr.


  4. Thanks for comment and for sharing another great book title: This Is the Dream. I thought I could add a link here for anyone interested in ordering, but I'm still learning the bells and whistles on this system, so...cut and paste instead of an active link: http://amzn.to/z2axZ4.
    (For some reason Indie Books didn't offer it).

  5. I love MARTIN'S BIG WORDS. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful story of how Martin Luther King, Jr. helped so many people, not only African Americans.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Carmela. In the midst of continuing roadblocks and frustrations it is too easy to lose sight of the massive hurdles he and others have eliminated for all of us.

  6. What an inspiring post -- thank you for reminding us that Dr. King's example and work stretched very far indeed.

    1. Beth, thanks for stopping by. The good news is that so much has changed we tend to think things have always been this way. The bad news is that what we don't treasure can be lost to us all too easily.

  7. A beautiful post! I started to think about my aunt and sister who have careers in science, a path opened for women not long ago. Many of us owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. King. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Steph. The truth about women who overcame restrictions (legal and conventional) is often forgotten as well, and that's why I'm so enthusiastic about sharing their stories through non-fiction and historical fiction picture books. They can reach so many with so much impact in so little time. (Future post on some titles is scheduled.)
      Kudos to your relatives and others who continue to set the example for all.

  8. Very nice post! Great trio of books recommended. Good luck with your blog.

    1. Thanks, Eric. When you have a minute check out the titles on the "more feature books" tab. Hope you might find some there that are new to you.

  9. Welcome to the Kidlitopshere!

    This is a great story...and well told. Just one question. Where DID you wind up going to college?!?!

  10. Mary Lee, thanks for the visit and the welcome.
    I ended up at Marquette and loved it. I also applied to Duke, which was considered the Ivy League of the south, and was accepted. In the end Marquette had the programs I wanted. Been in Wisconsin ever since, so all things work out.
    Still, would have liked to know if I could have been accepted...
    Also makes one wonder about the impact of a single decision/restriction on the course of a life...

  11. WOW, what a powerful post! Your story will remain with me for a very long time and that is the mark of a good writer. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us and especially for sharing it on his special day!

  12. Sandra, I appreciate you stopping by and, even more so, your response. It was a powerful time in my own life that shapes me even today, and to think I might convey that effectively is very heartening. Happy to have found your website, too. Your post on the early life of Newton was wonderfully told.

  13. Love the title of this blog! There is so much value in picture books.

  14. Thanks for stopping by. Since quality PBs stay in print much longer than many other kinds of books, it's my hope that every generation will continue find truth about the past and the people who shaped our future. Now, if we can just make sure that classrooms are allowed the freedom to continue to use quality books, not only commercial packages.


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.