Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5
What did you like about the book? Schoolchildren everywhere in the United States know the basics about the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and this chapter book biography covers no new ground. It does set his story in historical context, devoting the first chapter of the book to the history of Black America from slavery, through segregation, with a brief mention of present day struggles and the Black Lives Matter movement. King’s life is chronicled against this backdrop, with a look at how he experienced prejudice from a young age, while being brought up happily in a loving home in a fairly privileged setting. The many mentors and collaborators who influenced him throughout his education and adult life are given special attention, as is his devotion to the teachings of Gandhi. It is important for 21st century students to understand the struggles that King and his contemporaries faced, that he wasn’t just a great leader and orator for us to admire, but someone that was confronted by hatred and violence on a daily basis. Violent incidents, be they personal attacks against King or police response to protests and marches, are handled in an objective and sensitive manner; the author doesn’t flinch from mentioning them but presents them in kid-friendly terms.
This densely packed, comprehensive biography will be very useful for research projects and for furthering general knowledge. This series is clearly aimed at the “Who Was…” audience, but adds so many additional fact boxes and sidebars throughout the text that it is almost overwhelming. The backmatter is also extensive: a multi-page timeline, bibliography for further reading, as well as a glossary and a helpful index. Black and white illustrations – some accompanied by famous quotes in speech bubbles – shed a little light and life to some of the anecdotes. One area of King’s life that is not really covered is his role as a father; students are often surprised to learn that he even had children and are always interested to learn more about them. The book talks a lot about his family growing up, and his courtship of Coretta Scott, but merely mentions the births of his children as life events.
Anything you did not like about the book? As I’ve mentioned, the number of fact boxes throughout the book – there is at least one on nearly every page spread – is somewhat distracting to the flow of the narrative. This might be more of a problem in a biography about someone whose story is less familiar to young readers than Dr. King’s.
To whom would you recommend this book? Upper elementary and middle school researchers and biographers will get a lot of information for a project from this book; and it is a serviceable, up-to-date addition to library collections that can’t keep up with demand for books about Dr. King.
Who should buy this book? Public, elementary and middle school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Biography
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? no
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.
Date of review: 2/18/2021