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Item - You Can Make a Difference: The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Series: Choose Your Own Adventure for Younger Readers — no. 51
Author: Bailey, Anne
Illustrator: Morrill, Leslie
Date: February, 1990
ISBN: 0553157760 / 9780553157765
Length: 54 pages
Number of Endings: 7
User Summary: A celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday leads you to have dreams about him and his impact on the world.
Demian's Thoughts:

Of all the ways to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., a gamebook doesn't seem the best. While it's certainly a nice idea to educate young children about the civil rights movement in a book like this, it really doesn't work too well since half of this book is basically a biography and the other half is a series of dreamed events unlikely to make sense to a child who doesn't already know about segregation.

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KenJenningsJeopardy74's Thoughts:

It's fair to say You Can Make a Difference: The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. is unique among all fifty-two Bantam Skylark Choose Your Own Adventures. Part educational treatise about an American civil rights icon, and part fantasy about an alternative U.S. history timeline, the book covers new creative territory for the franchise. You and your family live in Atlanta, Georgia. This January you celebrate the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday as usual, but you have questions. Your mother explains to you that Dr. King defied authorities and society protocol to free black Americans from segregation, living their lives forbidden from most interaction with white people. You live free and prosperous today as a black family in the South largely because of him. The Reverend is very much on your mind that evening as you drift off to sleep, but will you dream that you are Dr. King as a child, or dream how the world might look today had he not been born?

As young MLK, you become upset when the mother of two white friends says you may not spend time with her kids anymore. Your parents tell you society is divided by color; being rejected is part of the contemporary black experience. To soothe hurt feelings, your father offers to take you to a toy shop in town, but the white store owner's attitude makes you feel worse. If you go instead for an ice-cream soda, you might go on to live through Dr. King's next several decades: studying at Morehouse College to be a Baptist minister and nonviolent social activist inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, followed by years of tense civil rights struggles in and around Montgomery, Alabama. You organize a bus boycott to demand desegregated public transportation, placing your life in danger from angry racists; you stand up to Birmingham police commissioner Bull Connor to permanently end segregation in the city; and you present the legendary "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C. to a nation primed for your hopeful eloquence. You meet success at almost every turn until you are shot at a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, your life cut tragically short...but no, it was simply a dream. A dream that will stay with you a long time.

Would you rather dream of alternative history, what things could be like today had Dr. King not existed? Perhaps you'll go visit your cousins, but on the bus route there, you and your parents are ordered to yield your seats to a white family and go stand with the other blacks in the back. Will you accept this, or stand up against the driver? Neither choice ends particularly well, but your appreciation for the Reverend is keener than ever when you awaken, free to go and do as you please because of the stand he took years before you were born. Rather than visit cousins you could go with your father to an amusement park, but there too you run into racial discrimination. While white children laugh and play within earshot, you must trudge home sad and hurt, wishing that some brave citizen would stand up and demand segregation be abolished. You'll never again take modern life for granted after witnessing the alternative.

In terms of quality, this book is all over the place. The long narrative thread that tours the highlights of Dr. King's career is kind of tedious, and being assassinated at the end of your dream is jarring, but I suppose it could work as an experimental education experience. Certain alternative paths you can take through the Reverend's life end abruptly and sometimes feel weird, such as the ending in which it's revealed that you as young Martin are routinely forced to share the money you earn from your newspaper route with your younger siblings. The best endings are those in which you awaken to the relief of knowing the modern world is different because of Dr. King; for kids who really get invested in stories, this could have a potent effect. You Can Make a Difference isn't one of my favorites in the Bantam Skylark series, but is better than many.

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