It’s been 40 years since Martin Luther King’s Birthday became a national holiday, and the question of how to celebrate it was probably best answered by the late John Lewis. The Georgia representative called it “a day on, not a day off,” “a day of action, a day of love, to give of ourselves to others and begin anew the building of the beloved community.” A new picture book about Lewis and two about Coretta Scott King make for illuminating reading on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday and throughout the year.
Written by Alice Faye Duncan and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, CORETTA’S JOURNEY: The Life and Times of Coretta Scott King (Calkins Creek/Astra, 48 pp., $18.99, ages 7 to 10) provides a stirring introduction to a woman who stood strong before and after her husband’s 1968 assassination. With telling details, Duncan describes the likely sources of Coretta Scott King’s fortitude: her remarkable parents, her religious faith and a willingness to defend herself.Coretta’s mother advised her two daughters to “get an education and try to be somebody,” and the book’s first half shows how Coretta became somebody in Alabama, Ohio and Boston.
From “Coretta’s Journey.”Credit…R. Gregory Christie
Alternating between poems and prose, Duncan’s text is informative as well as emotionally powerful, with a sense of cosmic destiny about Coretta’s future with Martin sprinkled throughout: “Venus and Saturn converged/Two agents for change.” Christie’s illustrations similarly range from dreamlike images (young Coretta sitting on an impossibly high tree branch and gazing at the stars) to real-life documentation (Coretta celebrating her husband’s Nobel Peace Prize with him).
“Coretta’s Journey” includes harrowing episodes, like the burning by white supremacists of her childhood home, alongside the satisfactions of creating change in the world, raising four children and ensuring that Martin’s legacy would be honored. For 15 years, she pressed for a national holiday — the first established to honor someone other than Columbus or an American president.
Turning“My Life, My Love, My Legacy,” a 368-page memoir written for adults, into the picture book CORETTA: The Autobiography of Mrs. Coretta Scott King (Godwin Books/Henry Holt, 40 pp., $18.99, ages 4 to 8) must have been challenging. The text draws directly from the adult book, with bracketed information and ellipses indicating deviations from the original. Perhaps this approach was dictated by contractual necessity, but it distracts from her story. Transitions can be abrupt and some sentences are unwieldy: “Who could have dreamed that a little girl [who at age 10 hired herself out with her sister to pick] cotton for $2 a week in the piercing hot sun would rise to a position that allowed her to help pick U.S. mayors, congresspersons or even presidents?”
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