As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
This book uses all of its real estate: A historical timeline with children holding up cards like protest signs is printed inside the cover, which is clever and visually appealing.
The illustrations capture that time perfectly with their retro colors. Let the Children March opens with a child’s-eye view of a chain-link fence supporting a White Only sign.
Although it is stated that Dr. King is in a church, a Bible passage he used should have been included (though I can understand the author wanting this book to appeal to more than just Christians, as equality is an issue that should transcend religion). The page of Dr. King in profile behind the microphone with his Bible on the pulpit was a powerful image and an extraordinary likeness.
This book contains some of the best children’s illustrations I’ve seen, as so much depth of emotion is conveyed in the faces of the main characters.
I understood why the adults felt like they didn’t have the freedom to march—as exercising that freedom would come with consequences—losing their livelihoods. You’re told you have these rights, but if you exercise them, there are dire consequences. No one should have to choose between their jobs and their freedom.
March showed the fearlessness of children—children who could do what their parents could not. They represented an almost innocent sacrifice, though it is stated that Dr. King did not like children being put in harm’s way. It is heartbreaking that children had to fight for what adults should have been able to fight for them rather than just being children. How frightening it must have been to march towards the unknown, knowing it was filled with angry people who were much bigger than you.
The aerial shot of the children surrounded by hate in the form of angry dogs and rushing water made my throat catch. The policeman with the hat over his eyes, pulling the curtain on the windows to his soul as he pushed a little girl by the neck and locked these young children into a jail cell, was chilling.
Children need to see that Dr. King promoted nonviolence. It would’ve also been nice to include the song lyrics to the songs of freedom.
“For they are doing a job for not only themselves, but for all of America and for all mankind,” Dr. King says. What is not good for everyone is often good for no one.
The juxtaposition of the white parents whose children sat safely between them in the comfort of their own home, watching the television where this ugliness was not a part of their world but something they saw on TV with the black parents being separated from theirs, not knowing what might happen to them, struck a chord. I could just feel love and relief emanating from the black parents who held their children in their arms as if they never wanted to let them go. This tableau contrasted with the white parents who didn’t have to hold onto their children so tightly, knowing their children would never be targeted because of their racial makeup.
The last picture shows children in the park (bringing it back to the beginning), black and white, playing together. It was never the children who minded but only some (not all) adults who wished the races to remain separate.
Let the Children March is a beautiful book that will help any child “walk in another’s shoes.”
Suggested activity: Read Dr. King’s most famous speech, but if you can, listen to it in his voice. It’s all the difference between reading someone else’s poem to yourself and listening to the poet who wrote it.