Martin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior, Ed Clayton, Candlewick Press, 2017.

During a road trip one summer, Megan and I made a stop in Birmingham, Alabama. There, we went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. As we walked through the museum, retracing the steps of the Civil Rights Movement, we walked pass Martin Luther King Jr.’s jail cell where he wrote his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Crowded with large families, summer school programs, and other vacationers like us, the Institute was challenging to navigate. I noticed a museum employee pulling a cart through the crowd, politely asking people to make a path for him. On the cart was a bench. I watched as the employee took the concrete bench to the Birmingham jail cell.

Dr. King’s bench had passed by.

It was one of those moments when history brushed against you. And all I wanted was to spend some quality time with it. Contemplate the days Dr. King sat on that bench, behind bars, writing along the edges of a newsletter. Ponder what he must have thought, and praying, as he responded to other Christian pastors, reminding them that God is bigger than any box we place him in.

Ed Clayton may have been one of the first biographers of the minister. A speechwriter for Dr. King, Clayton was given permission to write a biography of the activist for children. At the time, it was unprecedented access. No other writer would have this opportunity. His book, The Peaceful Warrior, was originally published in 1964 and is ideal for children in third to seventh grades.

When it was first published, King was considered “one of the more controversial characters on the current scene,” (according to Kirkus.)  Yet, Clayton’s classic children’s book avoids controversy and allows the story of King’s life to speak for itself.

Dr. King is introduced to the reader as a child who did not understand why things were the way they were, asking lots of questions. Also, a boy who allowed himself to wonder about a country where no one was judged based on the color of their skin.

Young readers meet a boy who wanted to use big words with purpose.

They meet a boy who started using his words at home and at church, speaking up and singing, sharing his thoughts. As young Martin grows up, the readers see how his use of big words led to the use of non-violent protests.

In telling King’s story this way, Clayton encourages young people to listen to their inner voice, to use their big words, and to be the change. And it provides children with a lens through which to consider their own vocations.

As a parent, I watch my child as she uses her imagination, or when she engages us in conversation, and I ponder, “What great thing will you do?” I wonder what change she will lead in our world. Will she raise up her hands in protest of discrimination and racism? Or will she be a warrior of peace in some other way?

Every day, history-making moments pass by us.

As parents, clergy, educators, and overall influencers in the lives of children, Clayton’s biography is a reminder that vocational call often happens in childhood. Every day we are opportunities arise to celebrate our children as warriors of peace. History-making moments happen every day.

And one day, their use of big words, or their want to hug and not hit, will grow into leading others to be instruments of peace.

You can buy your own copy by clicking on the image below.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy.