As we approach another anniversary of one of the saddest dates in history, I couldn’t help but remember the days that followed, during which world leaders and preachers attempted to bring comfort and courage to many. Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not among those preachers, his words spoken decades before were in my mind and heart then, and they continue to bring comfort and courage to many now, as he preached of dreams and unity and hope for all.
A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech that inspired a Nation
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: Jerry Pinkney
Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books (Holiday House Publishing, Inc.)/2019
Themes: Martin Luther King; Civil Rights; March on Washington; I Have a Dream speech
Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Much has been written about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1963 March on Washington. But there’s little on his legendary speech and how he came to write it. Find out more in this gripping book with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was once asked if the hardest part of preaching was knowing where to begin. No, he said. The hardest part is knowing where to end. “It’s terrible to be circling up there without a place to land.”
Finding this place to land was what Martin Luther King, Jr. struggled with, alongside advisors and fellow speech writers, in the Willard Hotel the night before the March on Washington, where he gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. But those famous words were never intended to be heard on that day, not even written down for that day, not even once.
Barry Wittenstein teams up with legendary illustrator Jerry Pinkney to tell the story of how, against all odds, Martin found his place to land.
Read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.
Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968
Author: Alice Faye Duncan
Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek (an imprint of Highlights)/2018
Themes: Martin Luther King, Civil Rights, protest
Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):
This historical fiction picture book presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.
In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.
Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.
I paired these books because I believe that reading them together will help children gain a more complete picture of this epic era and the legacy of Dr. King and his dreams. In A Place to Land, Wittenstein explores the genesis of King’s most well-known speech and shows that its impact arises not just from the ideas of Dr. King but also from the preacher’s passion that infused his speech and inspires us still. In Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, Duncan “mined” history books and the “memories of a Memphis teacher” who had marched as a young girl and whose father was a striking sanitation worker. Duncan tells the story in short, poetic vignettes (quotations from Introduction). Both texts include wonderful backmatter to further readers’ experiences.
Looking for similar reads?
See, I Have a Dream, the words of Dr. King’s well-known speech paired with paintings by Kadir Nelson (2012) and Martin Rising: Requiem for a King, Andrea Davis Pinkney & Brian Pinkney (2018).