Sunday, January 18, 2015

Want a Perfect Picture Book Study for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Valentine's Day?

Between Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Valentine's Day, our family has come to enjoy a book I found a the library a few years ago.

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My children and I have snuggled up twice in the past week to re-read this favorite seasonal tale and, undoubtedly, we will enjoy it for years to come.  We all love the authenticity with which The Legend of the Valentine: An Inspirational Story of Love and Reconciliation weaves together the story of Saint Valentine, a story about a boy who is being bullied while his father sits in jail with Martin Luther King and the timeless Bible messages about love.

Today, I thought I would share a huge list of ideas that might help
The Legend of the Valentine: An Inspirational Story of Love and Reconciliation become a read together treasure in your home, too.  If you appreciate the story as much as we do, you might want to scoop a copy up for as low as $0.01 since, unfortunately, it has gone out of print.  (Why is it that good books go out of print?!?)

The Story

In The Legend of the Valentine: An Inspirational Story of Love and Reconciliation, Katherine Grace Bond tells the the story of a nine-year-old boy named Marcus who is being bullied at school while his father and Martin Luther King, Jr. sit in a jail cell.

Marcus, of course, has every right to be upset, and even to retaliate.  However, he chooses not to.  While making Valentines, his grandmother tells him the story of the third century Christian that Valentine's Day gets it name from.  Marcus also receives an encouraging Valentine from his father.  He realizes the power of loving one's enemies and returns to school to make a peaceful difference!

The Illustrations

Don Tate, who also illustrated Eve Bunting's The Cart That Carried Martin, created engaging illustrations filled with emotion.  Expressive faces and postures in each full-page illustration bring the text to life life and help children further empathize with the characters in the book.    

Faith and Virtues Connections

As The Legend of the Valentine: An Inspirational Story of Love and Reconciliation unfolds, a variety of Biblical, Saint and Character connections become evident:

  • In the opening page of the story, the main character Marcus says quietly, "There's no wrong color for skin," after being bullied about using brown as a sin-color in his drawing.  Isn't everyone created differently -- and beautifully?

  • On the second page of the story, as well as later within in, a band of angels is mentioned.  When else have you read about bands of angels?  (Perhaps the ones that came to the shepherds to announce Jesus' birth?)  Shall we pause to pray to our guardian angels?

  • The grandmother in the story returns from going out -- again -- to register to vote despite the fact that she is always told that the registrar's office is closed.  What character trait does this exemplify?  Shouldn't we all be persistent in fighting, peacefully, for what is right?

  • While Granny is comforting Marcus about the bullying he has been facing at school she says, "No need to be hating.  Jesus says to love our enemies."  She also reminds Marcus' angry mother that just like Marcus is a child, so are the boys who are bullying him,  "They're all children.  God's children."  In doing so, she provides examples of gentle Christian correction and alludes to Bible truths.  How might we correct others?  What Bible truths might we remember when dealing with challenging situations in our own lives?

  • Granny tells the story of Saint Valentine, who was wrongly jailed, yet was courageous enough to testify to his jailer about Jesus and, as legend tells, prayed to restore the sight of the jailer's daughter -- a miracle that helped convert the jailer.  What virtues does Saint Valentine exemplify?  How might we live those virtues ourselves?

  •  Marcus' daddy sends Marcus a Valentine that talks about how he and his fellow inmates began singing and their jailers followed suit, sounding like "a band of angels".  He also wrote, Have courage.  God shall overcome."  How might our words encourage others?  Have we ever witnessed examples of God overcoming anything in our own lives or in the lives around us?  What is courage and how can we demonstrate it?

  •  Marcus "knew what he had to do" and created a beautiful Valentine for Travis, the boy who bullied him the worst.  Then, even when Travis rejected Marcus overture of friendship, Marcus remembered to "Love.  Even when some folks didn't deserve it."  He felt it was what "Jesus wanted him to do".  His lead encouraged his classmates to show support and friendship.  Have you ever had your heart turned toward love?  How might you help others become more loving, too? 

  • At the end of the story, Marcus holds out his hand to Travis and says, "No need to e hating anymore.  Come on, Travis."  In doing so, he is passing on a message of love and reconciliation.  How might our words and actions testify to truths of God's love and forgiveness?
Curriculum and Activity Prompts

The Legend of the Valentine: An Inspirational Story of Love and Reconciliation is rich in inspiration for Academic and Enrichment pursuits, such as:


  • Throughout the book, illustrations depict emotion well.  How might you create emotional evocative illustrations?

  • Eyebrows in the book's illustrations impact expressed emotion.  Explore how just changing the shape and position of eyebrows in simply drawn faces can change the emotion the faces depict.

  • The opening page of the story brings to the fore that "skin color" is not one single color.  Draw pictures using a variety of colors for skin.

  •  Marcus and his granny make valentines.  try your own hand at making some.

Cooking (Multi-Disciplinary)

  • Do a Power Foods Lab in conjunction with reading the book, exploring ginger as a power food in order to make a number of items.

  • Whip up a batch of gingersnaps to drink alongside a glass of milk (or milk alternative), just as Marcus enjoyed after school.

English Language Arts:

  • The text uses a lot of dialogue, but avoids overusing speech tags.  How might you write without peppering your writing with too many "he said"s.  How can telling actions work instead of speech tags, such as in "Best get started on those cards."  She plunked down scissors and paste and a box of saved wrapping paper from Christmas.  "There's enough here to make real nice ones for everyone."

  • What is a simile.  How might words come out "lie a steel gate swinging open" or feel "like fire"?  Might you use similes to make your writing more powerful?

  • When Marcus thinks, I'd fight back, he words are italicized.  Why?  What other conventions are used to show thought, spoken word, etc.?

  • The story ends openly, without the reader being told how Travis responds to Marcus' outstretched hand and suggestion to stop hating.  What do you think happens next?

History / Culture / Geography:  

  • "It used to be against the law in Alabama for Marcus to go to a white school."  Why?  What changed this?  Where is Alabama on a map?  When in history did such a law exist?  When did the law change?  What other stories of children who were the first in integrated schools do you know of?

  • "Did you try to register again?" Mama asked Granny.  Who could vote when our country first began?  All men or only ones with land?  Who later won the right to vote?  All white men?  Women?  Others?  In what order?  What did they do to win their rightful rights?

  • Valentine is not called a saint in this story, but a Christian.  Which Christian denominations name saints and which do not?  

  • Granny says we are all "God's children"?  Besides Christians, what other people of faith believe this?  What is the culture of these faiths?

  •  Valentine was jailed because he was a Christian and, in the third century, worshiping as a Christian was against the law in the Roman Empire.  How and why were Christians persecuted then?  How and when did that persecution change?  Are there Christians, or other faith-based groups, that are still persecuted today?  How and where?  What can be done to stop the persecution?

  • Valentine and Martin Luther King, Jr. promoted change through peaceful measures.  What are some examples of peaceful protest as opposed to violent protest?  What other historical figures used peaceful protest?

  • Marcus' classmates pin his valentines to their shirts.  Have you ever heard of this practice?  What traditions are you familiar with about valentines and Valentine's Day?

  • This book was set when the Civil Rights movement in America was in full swing.  Who were key players in that movement?  Does fighting for civil rights carry on today?  How?


  • What is symmetry and asymmetry?  Might you use asymmetric and symmetric shapes when creating Valentines?


  • How did the author immediately engage us in the story?  What makes a strong start for a story?

  • How did the author and illustrator make us think at the end of the story?  How might you write the next page if you were the author?

    Practical Life:

    • Cut and paste while making valentines.

    • Exercise fine motor skills while drawing pictures with "skin color" crayons.

    • Practice baing skills making gingersnaps.

    • Practice pouring skills pouring milk.

    Sensory Ideas

    As a mom who knows sensory challenges in children well, no book study ever seems complete without sensory savvy connections.  Some ideas and opportunities for sensory input connected to
    The Legend of the Valentine: An Inspirational Story of Love and Reconciliation are:


    • Dialogue lines and illustrations in the book are punctuated with emotion.  Practice voice modulation and expression in imitation of these portions of the book or play a game where you say a word with a specific emotion in mind and others guess the word.

    • The valentine Marcus receives from his father is made from a paper torn into a heart shape.  Listen to how different types of paper sound when you rip them.


    • Mama served Marcus gingersnaps and milk as an afterschool snack.  Enjoy the crunch of ginger snaps and the cool creaminess of milk (or a milk alternative) while reading the story.

    • Do a food study with ginger, exploring how fresh, powdered and candied ginger smell, look and taste.  Try cooking or baking with ginger.


    • Do a blind activity where children try to match containers of powdered ginger and other spices solely by sniffing them.


    • Re-enact parts of Marcus' or Saint Valentine's stories, or scenes inspired by them.  Incorporate changes of position and level, lifting or carrying, etc.

    • Marcus draws with crayons at the beginning of the story.  Create pictures with crayons, and, then with other media, such as oil pastels, markers, paints and colored pencils.  How does each media feel in your hand, on the paper, etc.?

    • Marcus and his granny make valentines.  Using materials with a wide variety of textures, do the same.

    • The story depicts a boy who is figuratively knocked down, but gets back up.  Play a game where you relate scenarios or actions and words that might "knock a person down" or "build them up".  Have players fall downward or stand upright accordingly.


    • Making valentines can provide a feast of visual input.

    Other Times the Story Could Be Shared

    The Legend of the Valentine: An Inspirational Story of Love and Reconciliation is ideally shared between Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Valentine's Day.  However, there are plenty of other times that it would make a fabulous read.  For example, when:

    • studying about Civil Rights.

    • learning about the Saints.

    • discussing bullying.

    • focusing on forgiveness and reconciliation.

    • studying examples of how to love one's enemies.


    I would love to hear about how your family uses The Legend of the Valentine: An Inspirational Story of Love and Reconciliation and what other favorite Martin Luther King, Jr Day and Valentine's Day books your enjoy. 

    I would also like to know:  Do you find books study posts like this helpful, and, if so:
    • What books, themes, feast days or holidays would you like me to share about next?

    • Would you prefer future book studies be shared in long-post form like this or as a brief post with a printable that you could click on to get the full book study?  

    Please don't be shy in letting me know how sharing what we do here can best bless your family!


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