Painting unique portraits: 3 noteworthy picture book biographies on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Oct 13, 2013 by

The picture book is a form that lends itself very well to re-telling stories– even those of famous historical figures we know so much about, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. With different perspectives and visual narratives, these picture book biographies will offer you new ways to understand, discuss and celebrate this iconic activist.

Martin’s Big Words is a visually stunning picture book biography published in 2001  by author  Doreen Rappaport and illustrator Bryan Collier. This book focuses on the inspiring influence of words on Dr. Martin Luther King as a child,  and how he grew up to harness and develop a powerful rhetoric that spear-headed a social revolution. Bryan Collier’s innovative pastiche of watercolour and collage art beautifully mimic Dr. King’s evolution as a man of words, adding depth and meaning to his journey.

Text © 2001 by Doreen Rappaport Illustrations © 2001 by Bryan Collier

Text © 2001 by Doreen Rappaport
Illustrations © 2001 by Bryan Collier

 

At the beginning of the book, there are notes from the author and illustrator on what drew them to their artistic and stylistic choices for this work. It also has a timeline of important dates and additional books and websites mentioned at the end as further reading resources. A thoughtful, engaging reflection on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this book should be part of any collection of picture book biographies.

 

Text © 2001 by Doreen Rappaport Illustrations © 2001 by Bryan Collier

Text © 2001 by Doreen Rappaport
Illustrations © 2001 by Bryan Collier

 

Two new titles published this year also shed new light on this great leader. The first is My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. written by his eldest son Martin Luther King III. Being a first person account, it’s an intimate narrative about the experience of growing up as one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s children; not a perspective you get in the history books. AG Ford‘s photorealistic illustration style makes it feel very personal, highlighting the emotional bond of a parent-child relationship. As he writes in the book, it wasn’t always easy being Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s son, and this work is a window into understanding another side of a man the whole world knew — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the much-loved father.

Text copyright © 2013 by Martin Luther King III Illustrations copyright © 2013 by A G Ford

Text copyright © 2013 by Martin Luther King III
Illustrations copyright © 2013 by A G Ford

 

Text copyright © 2013 by Martin Luther King III Illustrations copyright © 2013 by A G Ford

Text copyright © 2013 by Martin Luther King III
Illustrations copyright © 2013 by A G Ford

 

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song   is a new picture book by author-illustrator couple Andrea Davis Pinkey  and Brian Pinkney . This book pays homage to the deep friendship between gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It shows Mahalia Jackson’s journey in becoming an integral part of the Civil Rights movement and the pivotal role she played in the March on Washington.

Text copyright © 2013 by Andreas Davis Pinkney Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Brian Pinkney

Text copyright © 2013 by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Brian Pinkney

 

Brian Pinkney’s bright and fluid watercolour illustrations flow poetically alongside Andrea Pinkney’s narrative. I love how he uses the image of the dove as a way of weaving the visual narrative together — it makes it as seamless as Andrea’s written text. It’s also a very ingenious way of guiding the reader along. Look at how creatively he uses the silhouette of the dove for the text in the illustration below — this book is full of these surprises and innovative ways of weaving text and pictures together. They also play with reading format, where some spreads are read vertically (like above), which is completely unexpected given the book appears to be printed completely in a landscape format.

 

Text copyright © 2013 by Andreas Davis Pinkney Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Brian Pinkney

Text copyright © 2013 by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Brian Pinkney

 

Much like Martin’s Big Words, this book too has notes by both author and illustrator, a timeline and additional reading material. Given how integral Mahalia Jackson’s music is to the story, I especially loved how they included a select discography of her work as well. I felt it was a very thoughtful addition; helpful as a starting point to unfamiliar readers who would like to discover her work. What makes this book stand out among others is a new perspective on a historical movement;  Mahalia Jackson’s involvement takes us down a historical road, little-known. I highly, highly recommend this book.

Thinking about it now, picture books seem to be the perfect prism for the light of history to be passed through — giving us myriad tellings, re-tellings, but most importantly reflecting untold stories that show you a different way of looking back.

 

 

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