It is Martin Luther King’s birthday. It seems particularly important to pay attention this year to Dr. King’s life and the dreams he fought and died for. I have traditions for this day – reading the I Have a Dream Speech – listening to Shed a Little Light at least once and this year I will start a new tradition. It will include a yearly reading of Cynthia Levinson’s THE YOUNGEST MARCHER – The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist. It’s so fitting that Cynthia’s story, beautifully illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton would be launched this week as Audrey Faye Hendricks was the youngest known child to be arrested for a civil rights protest. This book seems a wonderful follow-up to Cynthia’s book WE’VE GOT A JOB which tells the story of the 4,000 black elementary-, middle-, and high school students who voluntarily went to jail in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.
Thinking about Audrey got me thinking about other young activists. Many of us know the story of young Malala Yousafzai who was living under Taliban rule in Pakistan, where young girls were at times forbidden to attend school. She started writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC at the age of 11, detailing what life was like and sharing her views on education for girls. Her passion and activism earned her several television and print interviews. Unfortunately, in 2012, a gunman boarded her school bus, asked for Malala by name and shot her in the head. Although in critical condition after the attack, Malala eventually stabilized enough to be sent to a hospital in England to recover in safety. She speaks about the rights of women and girls often and won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. She has been nominated twice for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize – the youngest person and only girl to ever be nominated.
Fewer have heard the story of Ryan Hreljac who in 1998, at six years old, learned that kids in Africa often had to walk several kilometers for clean water. This seemed wrong to Ryan. Using money he earned from household chores and funds he raised from speaking publicly at different events about Africa’s clean water issues, Ryan managed to fund the construction of his first well in a Northern Ugandan village in 1999. From there he established Ryan’s Well Foundation, an organization that has helped build thousands of water projects and latrines, bringing safe water and improved sanitation to close to a million people.
As 2017 dawns many of us are feeling the need to do more. As children’s writers we can make sure all children see themselves in the books they read and show them that they’re never too young to make a difference. Cynthia Levinson has raised this bar with THE YOUNGEST MARCHER. Join me in making this book part of your Marin Luther King Day celebration.
About Darcey Rosenblatt
Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in August 2017. LOST BOYS, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and perfect daughter, some fish, and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and costumes for a 5-8 year old theater.