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Martin's Big Words

The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Cover art of Martin's Big Words, children's picture book

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hyperion Books for Children
Two things set Martin's Big Words apart from the many other picture books about his life. The first is the extraordinary artwork by Bryan Collier and the second is the emphasis the book's author and designer have placed on the actual words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Format and Story in Martin's Big Words

With a minimum of words, Doreen Rappaport does a masterly job of providing a concise overview of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. In Martin's Big Words, Dr. King's words are literally larger (and a different color) than all of the other words on the double-page spreads, highlighting each quotation and focusing the reader's attention on it. Rappaport begins the story of Dr. King's life with his childhood in the South, surrounded by "White Only," signs and continues to his death and the continuing impact of his actions and words.

However, it is the artwork by Bryan Collier that claims the reader's attention and gives greater meaning to Doreen Rappaport's story and Dr. King's words. I found some of the illustrations had such an emotional impact that I could still see them in my mind's eye long after I read Martin's Big Words.

The Artwork by Bryan Collier

Bryan Collier attended Pratt Institute School of Art & Design where he graduated with honors in 1989. The quality of Bryan Collier's artwork in Martin's Big Words makes it obvious why his fine art is so acclaimed. Collier incorporates watercolor paintings into cut paper collages to create dramatic illustrations that pack an emotional punch.

According to Bryan Collier, "Collage is more than just an art style. Collage is all about bringing different elements together. Once you form a sensibility about connection, how different elements relate to each other, you deepen your understanding of yourself and others." (Source: Official Web site of Bryan Collier)

Awards and Recognition for Martin's Big Words

Martin's Big Words has received major recognition for the quality of the book. Among others, this includes the following: Jane Addams Children's Book Award; Blue Ribbon List, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books; National Council of Teachers of English, Orbis Pictus Honor Book; Caldecott Honor Book; Coretta Scott King Honor Book; ALA Notable Children's Book; New York Public Library 100 Best Books; Child Magazine, Best Children’s Book Award. (Source: Official Web site of Doreen Rappaport)

Author Doreen Rappaport and Illustrator Bryan Collier

Doreen Rappaport has written a number of award-winning children's books. In addition to Martin's Big Words, her kids' books include: Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln, illustrated by Kadir Nelson; Lady Liberty: A Biography, illustrated by Matt Tavares; NO MORE! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance, illustrated by Shane Evans; We Are the Many: A Picture Book of American Indians, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu; and Eleanor, Quiet No More: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt, illustrated by Gary Kelley.

Martin's Big Words, published in 2001, is Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier's second children's book together. The first, A Freedom River, which was published in 2000, was recognized as a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. The third, John’s Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon was published in 2004. Other acclaimed children's books illustrated by Bryan Collier include: Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, by Laban Carrick Hill, for which Collier was awarded the 2011 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali, by Charles R. Smith Jr.; and Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni, for which Collier received the 2006 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Collier was awarded both the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and Ezra Jack Keats Award for Uptown, which he both wrote and illustrated.

In an RIF Reading Planet interview, Bryan Collier said that Martin's Big Words was one of his favorites. He said, "When I got into the research and as I tried to understand it as a person, it was really magical and inspiring. I went to the cities where Dr. King was during the Civil Rights movement....I sort of walked in his shoes in a way."

(Sources: RIF Reading Planet, Official Web site of Doreen Rappaport, Children's Literature)

Added Resources

At the beginning of Martin's Big Words, an Author's Note and an Illustrator's Note shed light on Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier's responses to Dr. King's life in their work. At the end of the book, there is an timeline of important dates in the life and history of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as an Additional Books and Web Sites page. The front cover of the book jacket is a portrait of Dr. King, suitable for framing. All of the copy usually found on the front cover of a book (title, subtitle, author, illustrator) is on the back of book jacket. The front and back covers of the actual book are done in the same format.

Martin's Big Words: My Recommendation

I recommend Martin's Big Words for children in fourth grade through high school, as well as for adults. While the picture book format and the brevity of the text may, at first glance, seem to make the book suitable for much younger kids, the emotional impact of the artwork in Martin's Big Words is better suited to a more mature audience. (Hyperion Books for Children, 2001. ISBN: 9780786807147)

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