Women Who Broke The Rules: Coretta Scott King

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
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A detailed, accessible biography of a civil rights icon.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Coretta's story intersects with major figures and moments in the history of civil rights, feminism, and the antiwar effort, offering readers an excellent introduction to the most significant social justice movements of 20th-century America.

Positive Messages

The book stresses that Coretta and her husband not only fought segregation and racism toward African-Americans but also poverty, the war in Vietnam, and all forms of discrimination, though it only hints at the connections between these seemingly disparate issues.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Coretta Scott King is heralded as a courageous, inspirational figure who became a powerful leader in her own right, with the author taking pains to emphasize that her legacy was not only defined by the notoriety of her husband. Her talent, dedication, and consistency make her a wonderful role model, especially for girls who aren't often taught about the contributions of women throughout history.

Violence & Scariness

The story focuses on Coretta's life and career, but it does touch on the fire-bombing of the Kings' home (no one was injured, but there's an illustration of flames and an angry mob), as well as her husband's assassination, though there aren't any gory details.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Women Who Break the Rules: Coretta Scott King, by Kathleen Krull, is a slim but detailed biography of one of the most accomplished civil rights leaders of the 20th century. It's part of Krull's Women Who Broke the Rules series, which includes biographies of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, author Judy Blume, Mary Todd Lincoln, and more. Text-heavy and filled with dates, the Coretta Scott King book is ideal for young readers interested in the history and politics of segregation and the King family's impact on the movement for social justice. The story touches on the fire-bombing of the Kings' home (no one was injured, but there's an illustration of flames and an angry mob), as well as the assassination of Coretta's husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., though there aren't any gory details.

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What's the story?

WOMEN WHO BROKE THE RULES: CORETTA SCOTT KING traces the journey of one of America's most important activists from a precocious and talented choir singer in the segregated rural South through her college years studying music to her success as an accomplished singer and her marriage and partnership with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It shows how she organized and catalyzed a massive movement advocating for equal rights for black Americans and has had a lengthy career as the standard-bearer of her late husband's legacy. The book highlights many of the most important moments in the history of the civil rights movement, including Rosa Parks' civil disobedience, the Montgomery bus boycott, the March on Washington, Coretta's Freedom Concerts, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Is it any good?

This fascinating woman's influential and morally consistent life is recounted in elegant detail for young readers. Many kids may not be aware of some of the lesser-known incidents of the civil rights movement and its ties to feminism, pacifism, and antipoverty activism. Krull makes it clear that Coretta always boldly charted her own path, sometimes even to the disapproval of Dr. King and the people around him, who held traditional notions of a woman's role.

Not content to stand on the sidelines while her husband led, Coretta was deeply involved in organizing, marching, fundraising, and eventually carrying on the message in her husband's absence, all while raising a family and maintaining a successful career in music. Krull makes clear how Coretta's commitment to social progress and nonviolence and her recognition of the important role she and her family had to play in the struggle for equality for all -- including the poor, the dispossessed, and the LGBT community -- made her a towering figure in American history, an exemplary role model for women of color, and an essential character in the story of the civil rights era. Laura Freeman's appealing color illustrations help move the story along and keep young readers engaged.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the impact Coretta had on the story that's traditionally told through the lens of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. How was Coretta's involvement essential to King's work during his lifetime? How did she carry on his legacy after his assassination?

  • What makes a good biography? Whose biographies have you read?

  • How did Coretta's love of music help her communicate the message of social justice?

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