10 activities based on the picture book Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You

8 Jan

Be a King

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream and You, illustrated by James E. Ransome, is an un-biography. Rather than a story about King’s life, the book is inspiration to live by his example.

Here’s what the Barnes & Noble blog had to say about the book: “While many books indirectly inspire conversations about the continued relevance of Dr. King’s work, this is the first one I’ve seen to make such a clear connection to the lives of today’s children. This is the perfect book to purchase when your children are young, and revisit in increasingly complex ways as they mature.”

Here’s how you can use the book in your classroom.

  • Reader’s theater or choral reading: With its affirming refrain, “You can be a King,” the book is tailor-made for choral reading. Add costumes for a staged reading. Intersperse protest songs from the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Decorate a door or bulletin board: Give students Post-It notes to pledge how they will be a King in their own classroom or community.

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  • Plant a dream: Give students an outline of a shoe. Have them write and/or draw a future goal on the shoe. Or give each student a seed to represent their dreams. Students will plant and germinate the seeds. Write dreams on masking tape and affix to the seed pots.
  • Stop bullying: Do role plays of bullying scenarios to show ways that students can intervene on a peer’s behalf.
  • King mural project: Take a cue from the class in the book and create portraits of King. Paper a door or  bulletin board with students art.
  • King Collage: Create a collage using scenes from King’s life. The collage could be a portrait of King or a symbol of the movement that he led.
  • Blackout poem: Use King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to create a blackout poem.
  • Add a spread to the book. Start with the refrain, “You can be a King.” Add two more lines suggesting a way to serve others or foster tolerance. Illustrate your text.
  • Name a King and Queen of help in your class or school. Vote for the winner.
  • Check out the 13 extension activities created by this enterprising educator.


Gift Books

10 Dec

For strong women, mothers of sons, WWII history buffs, baseball buffs, movie fans, hip hop heads, dog lovers and people of faith. SHOP


Veterans Day: Honoring the US Colored Troops & the Tuskegee Airmen

9 Nov

Pictured clockwise from top left: Isaac Copper, USCT; book cover of You Can Fly; illustration of U.S. Colored Troops by Jeffery Weatherford. 

My great-great grandfather Isaac Copper was born into slavery at Wye House, Maryland’s largest slave-holding plantation–once home to Frederick Douglass. As a young man, he was sold by his master to Union Troops and enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops 7th Infantry Regiment. He fought in the Siege of Petersburg and marched on Appomattox Courthouse, where Lee surrendered. Isaac went on to co-found the village of  Unionville on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

My father fought in the Pacific theater during World War II. He didn’t talk much about his military service or the war. But I thought of him when I wrote the verse novel YOU CAN FLY: THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN, which my son Jeffery Weatherford illustrated.

On Veterans’ Day, I salute my own ancestors and all veteran who fought for freedom and democracy.

Harriet, a film on the power of faith

5 Nov

As I watched the movie, HARRIET, I felt as if my book MOSES, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, were coming to life. However, to say that the movie, or my book, was faithful to her biography would be false. Masterfully executed, the film included composite and archetypal characters, as well as dramatic episodes which were not in the 1848 narrative that Harriet dictated to Sarah Bradford. Yet, the movie was true to Harriet’s faith journey. The spirits of Harriet, of William Still and of her enslaved kin and bands of runaways were conveyed with deserved magnitude. Harriet’s courageous exploits–on the Underground Railroad and as a Civil War spy–are legendary. Though barely five feet tall, the real-life Mother Tubman was larger than any myth, any movie, or for that matter, any piece of money that may bear her portrait. May her miracles continue to inspire.

Hyped for HARRIET biopic! Opens Nov. 1

27 Oct

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Harriet Tubman has been a hero of mine since I first heard her name while a student at Edgewood Elementary in Baltimore’s Walbrook Junction. I loved her even before I knew she hailed from Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore–just like my grandfather. So you can imagine, I’m excited about the HARRIET movie–especially since I collaborated with Kadir Nelson to tell her story in MOSES: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom.

MOSES and other children’s books can introduce young people to Mother Tubman before they see the movie. Two that most inspire me are Minty by Alan Schroeder and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney and Before She Was Harriet  a collaboration between my friends Lesa Cline Ransome and James Ransome. Harriet’s story never gets old. It’s powerful every single telling. She was that FIERCE!



21 Oct
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For Halloween, hang out with A BAT CAVE: An Abecedarian Bedtime Chronicle, a 41-word story exploring bat habitats and behavior and ending with bat trivia.View the book trailer. Check out the study guide and lesson ideas.
Read aloud THE LIBRARY GHOST, a rhyming fantasy with cameos by classic storybook characters. The riddle behind the plot centers on this Emily Dickinson poem. Send your young ghost-hunters on a Web quest for haunted libraries. Some have webcams for “live” sightings.
For a Halloween unit on picture book biographies, have students dress as the books’ subjects. Is there a Matthew Henson, Jesse Owens, Martin Luther King, Jr., Arturo Schomburg, Harriet Tubman, Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange, John ColtraneLeontyne Price. Fannie Lou Hamer or Lena Horne in your school?
In the spirit of masquerade, guess who.

Hurricane season ends soon.

16 Oct
Two of my books document hurricanes that slammed North Carolina’s coast–known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” The true adventure, SINK OR SWIM: African-American Lifesavers of the Outer Banks, centers on the nation’s only all-black lifesaving crew. During an 1896 hurricane, the crew swam through raging seas to rescue shipwreck survivors. The book’s back matter includes hurricane lore and a reading guide. See the free guide here.  
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PRINCEVILLE: The 500-Year Flood is historical fiction set in 1999. After hurricane Floyd flooded eastern North Carolina, residents of Princeville, the nation’s first incorporated black town, were left homeless. They had to decide whether to abandon their roots or to return and rebuild. What choice would your students have made? The paperback edition for early readers includes photos of recovery and relief efforts. View the author interview here. So far this year, the Atlantic has had 13 named storms. The last name on the 2019 list is “Wendy.” No pun intended.