Mar­tin & Anne: The Kin­dred Spir­its of Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank

Nan­cy Churnin; Yev­ge­nia Nay­berg, illus.

  • Review
By – March 4, 2019

With Mar­tin & Anne: The Kin­dred Spir­its of Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank, Nan­cy Churnin demon­strates the val­ue of human dig­ni­ty by empha­siz­ing the pow­er of words and the strength of kind­ness. The book intro­duces young chil­dren to Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank through the slen­der con­nec­tion of their com­mon birth year. Churnin wise­ly avoids over­stat­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ties between King and Frank by begin­ning the book with a sim­ple state­ment of fact: In 1929, two babies were born on oppo­site sides of the ocean. They nev­er met. They didn’t even speak the same lan­guage. But their hearts beat with the same hope.”

Indeed, the ori­gins and life tra­jec­to­ries of the book’s pro­tag­o­nists were sub­stan­tial­ly dif­fer­ent. King, in the thir­ty-nine years before his life was bru­tal­ly cut short, was at the cen­ter of the civ­il rights move­ment. Frank was a teenag­er at the time of her death in Bergen-Belsen. Through her diary, she lat­er became a sym­bol of dif­fer­ent con­cepts: the need to com­bat anti­semitism, Jew­ish nation­al self-deter­mi­na­tion, the hor­rors of geno­cide, and the pow­er of young women’s voices.

Churnin doc­u­ments the oppres­sion that both King and Frank con­front­ed, empha­siz­ing racial sep­a­ra­tion laws which gov­erned both Nazi Ger­many and the Jim Crow South. Then the pro­tag­o­nists’ paths diverge; King becomes an activist, fight­ing with unbend­ing per­sis­tence and courage to effect change, while Frank hides in an attic along with her fam­i­ly. In order to main­tain the link between them, Churnin con­tin­u­al­ly describes their com­mon opti­mism: Mar­tin decid­ed to become a min­is­ter who would lead his peo­ple to stand up for jus­tice,” and Even with all the hate around her, Anne believed that peo­ple were real­ly good at heart.”

In fact, the com­plete ver­sion of Frank’s diary and the accounts of those who knew her show that the real­i­ty is more com­plex. We can­not assume that her faith in human­i­ty was as uncom­pli­cat­ed as Churnin declares it to be, but a pic­ture book for young chil­dren must inevitably sim­pli­fy some of the facts of history’s most ter­ri­fy­ing events. When Churnin writes that King was shot and killed by a man who didn’t believe black peo­ple deserved the same rights as white peo­ple,” she leaves unstat­ed that these rights includ­ed even the right to live.

Yev­ge­nia Nayberg’s mem­o­rable illus­tra­tions of King and Frank draw on Euro­pean paint­ing tra­di­tions, notably dis­tanc­ing them from some of the most icon­ic images we have of these heroes. Some images bring Cha­gall to mind; a sepia-toned two-page spread depicts the pages of Frank’s diary scat­tered in space, while the small build­ing hous­ing the secret annex is shown top­pled over in one cor­ner. Anoth­er illus­tra­tion of Anne seat­ed on her bed, writ­ing, echoes Modigliani’s elon­gat­ed por­traits. Civ­il rights marchers appear in one pic­ture only as legs and feet, step­ping on signs demand­ing seg­re­ga­tion: whites only,” and col­ored wait­ing room.” The vari­ety of Nayberg’s images bal­ances the sim­plic­i­ty of Churnin’s mes­sage, adding depth to this sto­ry of unvary­ing opti­mism which con­cludes, Love is stronger than hate. Kind­ness can heal the world.”

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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