My Uncle Martin's Words for America: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Niece Tells How He Made a Difference

Overview

In this inspirational story about Martin Luther King Jr.—told from the perspective of his niece Angela Farris Watkins—readers learn how King used his message of love and peace to effectively fight for African Americans’ civil rights.

Focusing on important words and phrases from his speeches, such as justice, freedom, and equality, Watkins uses King’s language to expose young readers to important events during the civil rights era. The simple yet striking text, along with a ...

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Overview

In this inspirational story about Martin Luther King Jr.—told from the perspective of his niece Angela Farris Watkins—readers learn how King used his message of love and peace to effectively fight for African Americans’ civil rights.

Focusing on important words and phrases from his speeches, such as justice, freedom, and equality, Watkins uses King’s language to expose young readers to important events during the civil rights era. The simple yet striking text, along with a timeline and glossary, makes this book an accessible tool for helping a young audience learn about the importance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of nonviolence and his contributions to American history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This companion to My Uncle Martin's Big Heart offers a more encompassing look at Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and accomplishments than the earlier, more personal book, which was drawn largely from Watkins's memories of her uncle. Focusing on King's public persona, Watkins (seen as an elementary school–aged girl in the opening spread) explains how her uncle "used the power of words to help make America better." Her language is direct yet lyrical, though at times verges on oversimplification ("Uncle Martin believed that the solution to changing Jim Crow laws was love"). The words Watkins highlights match tenets of King's philosophy—nonviolence, justice, freedom, equality, brotherhood—and tie into benchmark events in King's civil rights crusade, among them the Montgomery bus boycott, the Selma to Montgomery march, his "I Have a Dream" speech, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. With each word she introduces, Watkins emphasizes that when King spoke that word, "people listened, and things changed!" Velasquez's rich portraits of King and his contemporaries capture the tensions of the era as well as King's passion, compassion, and efficacy. Ages 5–9. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
This handsome volume embodies all seven Kwanzaa principles and could be a just-right title to give or read from at a Kwanzaa celebration. It acquaints readers with the mission of Martin Luther King Jr. by examining certain words—nonviolence, justice, freedom, brotherhood and equality—that were key to his philosophy of peaceful but inexorable social change. His niece Dr. Angela Farris Watkins explains these words and their impact on the United States in accessible language while the attendant artwork by Eric Velasquez depicts powerful scenes from the Civil Rights era. For example, Watkins explains King's "nonviolence" as his refusal to use "hate, weapons or harmful words to solve...problems" and the illustrations show him comforting his family after their home was bombed by prejudiced people. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4—This book is a worthy successor to My Uncle Martin's Big Heart (Abrams, 2010). Told from the perspective of Martin Luther King's niece as a young girl, the moving text powerfully describes the tremendous societal and legal changes that resulted from Dr. King's leadership of the Civil Rights Movement. Terms such as "justice" and "brotherhood" receive clear and succinct definitions, and repetitive phrases encourage children's understanding of them. ("When Uncle Martin used the word NONVIOLENCE, people listened, and things began to change!" "When Uncle Martin used the word FREEDOM, people listened, and things changed!") The book depicts the oppression and persecution the Kings endured, including the bombing of their home and Dr. King's arrest, with no mention of his assassination. The narrative captures the complexity of the era while maintaining a fully realized child-centered voice. A comprehensive index features topics barely mentioned in the text, and the author's note seems unnecessary. Paintings in a vibrant palette show recognizable portraits of famous African Americans. A personable and powerful account of the human voice that emboldened a nation.—Meg Smith, Cumberland County Public Library, Fayetteville, NC
Kirkus Reviews

Following My Uncle Martin's Big Heart (2010), this effort focuses more on King's work to end segregation than his life as a family man.

Explaining Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights movement to a very young audience is not easy, but Watkins and Velasquez rise to the challenge with grace and warmth. Using a childlike voice, Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece simply and clearly emphasizes themes of love, nonviolence, freedom and equality. The repetitive text instills the message "people listened, and things changed" and focuses on the positive. While the prejudice and violence of segregation is broached, such as when King's home is bombed with his wife and baby daughter inside, the intensity and extent of that violence is omitted. The result is a condensed introduction to this moment in American history and to the man who made great changes using words, not violence. Rich, expressive illustrations depict some scenes from the Civil Rights movement that many adults will find familiar. The artist gives the images his own style of realism lightened by warm colors and soft lines. Author's and illustrator's notes are followed by a chart outlining King's work and the resulting outcomes.

Though picture books about Dr. King by his family members and others abound, this stands out for its graceful, age-appropriate treatment of the Movement. (glossary, bibliography, books for young readers, index) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781419700224
  • Publisher: Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2011
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 1,399,987
  • Age range: 5 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 12.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Angela Farris Watkins, PhD, is Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece. An associate professor of psychology at Spelman College, she lives in Atlanta. Eric Velasquez illustrated My Friend Maya Loves to Dance and received the Coretta Scott King–John Steptoe Award. He lives in Hartsdale, New York.

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