Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! Dr. King would be 90 years old if he were alive today. With the memorial holiday reminding us to reflect and continue to press on in the civil rights movement Dr. King helped orchestrate, this book is an excellent addition to the day. Here is Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier, 2001.

The book begins with Martin as a boy, constantly confronted by signs around his hometown that declare “White Only.” The words make Martin feel bad, but his mother’s words remind him that he is as good as anyone. Martin grew up listening to his father preach and loved the words he read in the hymns and the Bible. He hoped to grow into big words too.

And Martin did just that. He grew to be a minister like his father and he had very big words. Words about greatness. Words about hate. And words about love. When Rosa Parks was arrested for not moving on the bus, Martin joined the bus boycott. He encouraged with his words and his participation in song and prayer as people marched for equal rights for the next ten years.

Through threats, arrests, anger, and violence, Martin’s big words kept calling for love and change and pushing the movement forward. As more and more Americans listened to Martin’s big words, Martin continued to preach about fighting injustice with words, not the fist. He went wherever people needed help. Until the day he was shot and died. His big words remain for us today.

My girls love this book. They love to hear about Dr. King. They love to try to read and quote Martin’s big bolded words. Doreen Rappaport has done an excellent job telling the story of Dr. King from boyhood to death in a way that is honest and challenging and approachable for any age. I love the title of this book as Dr. King’s words are some of the most quoted and most memorable parts about his legacy. His words remain relevant and empowering charges to this day. The design decision to bold some of his sayings on each page is an incredible aspect of this book. You can flip through, only reading his words; or you can slowly walk through the book reading about his life, punctuating every page with his words.

From the incredible, unforgettable cover, to the bold, dark collaged interiors throughout, Bryan Collier’s illustrations are immensely powerful. Dark, yet not menacing. Beautiful, but also mournful. The tone of his illustrations are just right. I love the use of stained glass imagery throughout, paraphrased from Collier’s introduction: they are metaphors “like beams of light,” “multicolors symbolizing multi races,” and “vehicles that we use to tell the story of Jesus.” “And, whether you’re on the inside or the outside, windows allow you to look past where you are.” 

Wishing you a lovely, safe, thoughtful Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Use this day wisely. Read, think, act.

“Love is the key to the problems of the world.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.