With Monday's commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I'm sharing two recent releases that uniquely celebrate and extend his legacy.
Given Nelson Mandela's recent death, the release of the picture book biography "Nelson Mandela" (2013, HarperCollins Publishers, words and paintings by Kadir Nelson, ages 4-8) is particularly timely.
The large pages glow with Nelson's stunning paintings. The text, arranged in a free verse style, leads the reader through Mandela's childhood and schooling and introduces readers to the situation in South Africa.
"Nelson organized rallies to fight apartheid," it reads. "'We must win back Africa,' he told them. 'South Africa is for all South Africans. Amandia!' he shouted. 'Ngawethu!' they responded. Power to the people! And the people loved him."
Following Mandela's growth as a leader, the book chronicles his time in prison, release and election as South Africa's leader.
"South Africa was free at last and finally at peace," we read at the end.
While the text is not particularly lyrical, it is straightforward and nicely organized, providing children with a good overall understanding of Mandela's life and accomplishments, as well as South Africa's historical fight against apartheid. The detailed close-up paintings of Mandela in action at different times of his life infuse the book with emotion and passion.
In "Knock Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me" (2013, Little Brown and Company, written by Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier, ages 3-7), award-winning actor, singer, writer and composer Daniel Beaty tells the story of his childhood.
"Every morning, I play a game with my father," says the young boy as the book begins. "He goes KNOCK KNOCK on the door, and I pretend to be asleep"
Until one day the knock never comes. Bryan Collier's poignant watercolor and collage illustrations portray the child's loneliness as he realizes that his father has left and waits for him to return to their city apartment.
In a letter, the child writes, "Papa, come home, 'cause there are things I don't know, and when I get older I thought you could teach me. Papa come home, 'cause I want to be just like you, but I'm forgetting who you are."
Two months later, the boy finds a response. "To My Dear Son.For every lesson I will not be there to teach you, hear these words: No longer will I be there to knock on your door, so you must learn to knock for yourself. KNOCK KNOCK down the doors that I could not. KNOCK KNOCK to open new doors to your dreams. KNOCK KNOCK for me, for as long as you become your best, the best of me still lives in you."
The spare, powerful text will likely ring true to readers living in single-parent homes. For every child, this deeply felt story of love and loss shows the importance of hope — and the power of dreams.
Alice B. McGinty (http://www.alicebmcginty.com) is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children as well as the director of Words on Fire, a summer writing camp for teens. She is a writing teacher, manuscript coach and the co-regional adviser for the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.