Last weekend, I stopped by the library to pick up some books for the kids and I to read about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the books, Martin's Big Words The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to Noah and Maya in a way no other book we've read about MLK has before. I highly recommend picking up a copy from your local library if you want to teach your kids a little bit about Martin Luther King. The book comes with an audio cd that reads the story as you flip through the pages. This allowed the kids to ask me questions and me to answer them easily. Here are some of the conversations Martin's Big Words sparked between the kids and me.
Noah looking at a page full of brown people in the book: Mom, where are the black people? When are we going to see what the black people look like?
Me: When they say black people in this book, they mean brown people. For instance, people would call Daddy black. And they would call me white. When the book says white people they mean people that have a skin tone similar to mine.
Noah: So when did your skin change from white? You used to be white like paper?!? I'm black and white? Will the bad guys hurt me?
After a longer discussion and many reassurances, we moved on to the rest of the story.
We turned the page to the story of Rosa Parks on the bus in Montgomery. As the narrator spoke, I saw both kids eyes narrowing.
*Narrator: A white man told her to get up from her seat on the bus so he could sit. She said No, and she was arrested.
Noah: The people in this story make really bad choices. I don't like it, Mom.
We talked about the choices people made and how Martin Luther King worked hard to change their minds and to teach them better. The story went on to tell them about the Montgomery bus boycott.
Narrator: Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.
Me: That comes from a real quote from Martin Luther King that says, 'Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.' Do you know what that means?
Noah: Like nighttime?
Me: Yes, if it is dark outside and we add more dark what do we get?
Noah and Maya: Dark!
Me: What if we turn on a light?
Noah: We can see!
Me: Yes. That's right. So if someone hates someone else hate only makes that worse, but what could make it better?
Noah: Jiu Jitsu! We could use my jiu jitsu on the bad guys. I'll knock them down so they can't hurt anyone.
Me: Martin Luther King believed we should use our words and love to change their minds not hurt their bodies.
The kids were not convinced that Martin Luther King meant what he said.
***Spoiler Alert***** Not a real spoiler. Martin Luther King dies in the book and this upset my children.
Maya looking at the picture of Martin Luther King: Why does he look like that?
Noah: This is going to be the part where he becomes a statue, Maya.
Narrator on MLK helping the garbage collectors on strike in Memphis: He walked with them and talked with them and sang with them and prayed with them. One his second day there, he was shot. He died.
Noah burst into tears: The bad guys made Martin Luther King a statue! Will they kill me? I'm going to find them and use my jiu jitsu on them. I won't let them do that to Martin Luther King. We have to get them!
We discussed the feelings of anger and pain and hurt the kids felt about what happened to Martin Luther King and how he asked that we use nonviolence to fight the people that made and continue to make bad choices like the people in the book.
And then, a moment I've always known would come, and I pray about daily came.
Maya with her face scrunched up: Mommy, are you a bad guy? Did you kill Martin Luther King?
*The narrator mentioned above is the narrator on the audio cd that accompanies Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, narrated by Michael Clarke Duncan.