Monday, January 18, 2016

Worship & Picture Books That Would Please MLK

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the states. To honor this man and the strides we have made in Birmingham, my church, First United Methodist, and Saint John’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, worshiped together yesterday. The music and message were so inspiring. I was especially moved when MLK’s I Have a Dream speech was recited by various congregants from both churches.

We have come a long way in downtown Birmingham and in my church where African American children and adults are beloved members and involved in planning and worship. Dr. King once said, “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” If only he could have been present to witness the love and joy in our sanctuary yesterday and in the reception afterwards where we enjoyed one another.

Today’s books are offered in memory of Dr. King who I believe would have enjoyed reading them to his children.
The first book is a celebration of the ingenuity, determination and faith of pilot James Banning & mechanic Thomas Allen, the first African Americans to fly across the US. Despite the hardships of the Great Depression and the limits of segregation, these 2 men repaired a rundown plane. Friends, family, and people they met along the journey from Los Angeles to Harlem signed their names on the wings in exchange for food, supplies, and fuel. This story is a testament to what community, bravery, and perseverance can achieve.

The illustrations here are dazzling! You feel like you are riding beside them and you see some highlights of American geographical beauty. Children will especially love to hear that when it got really hot, the men rode in just their underwear! Be careful not to assume only African American children would enjoy this story, and please don’t set it aside because it is not February, Black History Month. You’ll find a Note from the Author who is amazed that he didn’t know more of this story since he is a student and teacher of history. He explains that the book is fiction but based on historical record.

The theological connections here are obvious. Both men say “Hallelujah!” when touching down safely and when lifting off the dirt of particularly racist locales. This flight could easily be connected to Biblical stories such as the journeys of the Israelites in the Wilderness, Jesus & his disciples, or Paul and other missionaries.

Picture Book: The Hallelujah Flight
Author: Phil Bildner
Illustrator: John Holyfield
Original Publisher & Date: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
The other book I offer today has significantly more text, reads at a much higher level, and would be perfect for a private school or homeschool that is studying Christian perseverance or American heroes.
I confess I had not heard of Howard Thurman until I was in my 40s despite the influence he had on so many Christian theologians and ministers, including Dr. King who he mentored. 

Here we read Howard Thurmon’s life as having a continual thirst for knowledge, intellectual achievement, and opportunity. Despite living in segregated Daytona, Florida where there was one school for African Americans and it went only through 7th grade, Howard did become highly educated. His intelligence and passion for learning encouraged those who met him to facilitate his education. He became an influential theologian, minister, advocate for civil rights, and Dean of the Chapel at both Howard University and Boston College.

The most pivotal moment in this story occurs when Howard’s dreams are almost derailed by an unexpected expense at a railroad station while he was traveling out of town to attend a private high school. An African American bystander in overalls gives Howard the coins he needs to continue his journey.

Like the PBT book above, this book is a testament to the value of a spiritual journey and the support of community. In the story you’ll find phrases from Howard’s mother and grandmother that offer much in the way of theological discussion. They are:
God will take care.
Make a way, dear Lord, make a way.
God had made a way.

Picture Book: Howard Thurman’s Great Hope
Author: Kai Jackson Issa
Illustrator: Arthur L. Dawson
Original Publisher & Date: Lee and Low Books, 2008
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 7 and up, 2 and up

Formats other than Book: None at present