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Picture Book Review for MLK Day – A Place to Land

A PLACE TO LAND:

Martin Luther King Jr.

and the Speech That Inspired a Nation

Written by Barry Wittenstein

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

(Neal Porter Books/Holiday House; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

 

A Place to Land book cover

 

A 2019 Booklist Editors’ Choice
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

INTRO

Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream”, will never cease to give me chills or bring tears to my eyes so I’m grateful for the meticulously researched backstory behind the composition thoughtfully presented in A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein and Jerry Pinkney.

While elementary-school-aged children may be familiar with King’s speech, they may not know how long it took to write, that it was delivered during the 1963 March on Washington, or that one of the most quoted parts of it was shared extemporaneously at the prompting of gospel great Mahalia Jackson. In this enlightening picture book, readers are privy to fascinating fly-on-the-wall moments that demonstrate King’s writing process and how his background as a preacher played a part in its creation.

 

Pages from A Place to Land interior Page 1
Interior spread from A Place to Land written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Neal Porter Books ©2019.

 

REVIEW:

Over the years I’ve reviewed myriad wonderful MLK Jr. books and A Place to Land, like those others, has focused on an impactful point in King’s life and magnified it so we may understand it better. Wittenstein’s lyrical writing shines and flows like a King speech, pulling us in with each new line. I found myself repeating many of the sentences aloud, marveling at what he chose to keep on the page and wondering how much he had to leave out. The revealing information Wittenstein details will inspire readers to reexamine well-known orations throughout history, looking at their content through a new lens.

 

Pages from A Place to Land interior Page 2
Interior spread from A Place to Land written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Neal Porter Books ©2019.

 

The story in A Place to Land unfolds in three significant locations, the Willard Hotel in D.C., the Lincoln Memorial, and at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama just prior to, during, and some years after King’s speech. Historical figures are woven into most of Pinkney’s spreads. Readers will be prompted to learn more about every individual noted and the comprehensive back matter provides the resources to do so.

I hadn’t known that the “I Have a Dream” speech was written at the Willard nor did I know how many influential colleagues contributed during the meeting of the minds prior to King’s drafting of the speech. “So Martin did what great men do. He asked for guidance.” I also hadn’t realized that MLK Jr. practically pulled an all-nighter writing it after the lengthy and honest discussions. How he managed to make such a powerful presentation after barely any sleep is beyond me, but clearly, his adrenaline kicked in and his natural oratory skills took command at that lectern.

As a former speechwriter, my favorite part of A Place to Land was reading about King’s exhaustive efforts to craft the speech late into the night while trying to integrate all the input he’d been given earlier in the meeting. In his message, he wanted to convey the goals of his non-violent civil rights movement and continue to push for racial equality and the end of discrimination. He was also determined to honor those who came before him and those who would carry on his dreams. “… and so many others, their faces forever seared into his memory.”

King found himself “Writing. Rewriting. Rephrasing, …” and then practicing his delivery before succumbing to sleep. I felt as though I were in the room with him, knowing as he did that there was an important element currently eluding him that was still to come.

 

Pages from A Place to Land interior Page 3
Interior spread from A Place to Land written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Neal Porter Books ©2019.

ART

Pinkney’s outstanding collage-style illustrations are so fitting for the subject matter. He seamlessly blends images of civil rights advocates with elements of the movement and the era. As I turned the pages, I couldn’t wait to see what people would appear and against what backdrop. It’s hard to imagine any other art marrying so well with Wittenstein’s or MLK Jr.’s words. I resoundingly recommend A Place to Landby Barry Wittenstein and Jerry Pinkney for parents, teachers, and librarians. It’s a movingly written, motivating, educational, and timeless read that I will definitely revisit.

Visit the publisher’s website page here for bonus material.

Click here for a roundup of more recommended reads for MLK Day.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America by Russell Freedman

Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America
by Russell Freedman
(Holiday House, $20.00, Ages 10 and up)

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Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, Kirkus & Booklist

Nearly fifty years ago, on March 21, 1965, three thousand people, black and white, Christian and Jew, young and old, began a five day march from Selma to Montgomery (Alabama’s state capital) to secure voting rights for African Americans. Although this was not their first attempt, it was highly successful. A judge’s ruling that the march was constitutional, and the presence of the Alabama National Guard, paved the way and protected the marchers from police (and segregationists’) brutality. By the time the marchers reached Montgomery, their numbers had swelled to 25,000. Nothing, not even Ku Klux Klan blockades, could squelch their courage and spirit.

The impact of this march was immediate. Congress approved the 1965 Voting Rights Act and, by the following summer, 9,000 blacks in Dallas county had registered to vote.

In a clear and compelling narrative, Freedman places the march and preceding events in the context of a society that lived under oppressive “Jim Crow” laws, which effectively legalized and enforced segregation. With the aid of powerful and dramatic, black and white photos, the book conveys to young readers the challenges and the dangers black people faced when demonstrating for their democratic rights, especially the right to vote. The well-chosen images further underscore the marchers’ courage and passion in the face of horrific violence and give readers a sense of immediacy, even fifty years after the event.

Because They Marched is an invaluable resource for helping young readers understand the profound impact that the Civil Rights Movement had on our country’s political and cultural history. It is also recommended as a moving tribute to the courage and determination of a people who sacrificed dearly to obtain democratic rights for all.

The book includes a timeline, source notes, and a selected bibliography.

Kirkus gave this nonfiction book a starred review and named it one of the “Best Books of 2014.”

Find an excerpt of this book at Holiday House along with excellent valuable CCSS (Common Core State Standards) and teaching resources.

Read more about Russell Freedman at the National Endowment for the Humanities and see a Library of Congress webcast featuring the author.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin (Holiday House, $18.95, ages 10 and up) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of this Landmark Civil Rights Project

⭐︎Starred Reviews – Booklist & School Library Journal

“I am determined to become a first class citizen … I am determined to get every Negro in the State of Mississippi registered (Fannie Lou Hamer, p 1).

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Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin, Holiday House, 2014.

Susan Goldman Rubin, author of several biographies and books on the Holocaust (see her website: www.susangoldmanrubin.com), has written a dramatic account of the efforts of civil rights organizations and volunteers, mostly college-aged students, who worked together during the summer of 1964 to educate African Americans in Mississippi about their voting rights. While greeted warmly by African Americans, who also opened their homes to the young students, volunteers worked in an intense and dangerous environment. Prior to arriving in Mississippi, volunteers, who hailed from all across the country, received one week training in how to behave and dress so as to avoid physical harm. They learned that “no one should go anywhere alone, but certainly not in an automobile and certainly not at night …” (pp. 6-7). Volunteers were advised to sleep at the back of the house and listen for sudden car accelerations as that might signal a bombing. Contrary to what they had been taught in the North, Southern police were not their friends.

Despite the never ending climate of fear and the murder of three of the workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner), students and community members continued their heroic efforts to establish Freedom Schools and register voters. The Freedom Schools were enormously successful: with enrollment of over 2000 adults and children. Voter registration, however, proved to be much more challenging due to African Americans fears of physical violence and obstacles such as poll taxes and literacy tests designed to prevent them from voting. However, these efforts led to President Johnson’s 1965 Civil Rights Act and, by 1966, registered African American voters soared from 6.4% to almost 60% (p. 97).

Rubin’s compelling and gripping account includes primary sources: interviews with surviving volunteers and community members, reproductions of period photos, FBI posters, newspaper articles and other documents. End material includes a bibliography, timeline, recommended websites, and appendices of original documents. The book also includes illustrations by Tracy Sugarman, an American artist who illustrated important historical events. At 41, he was the oldest volunteer and shadowed the volunteers to chronicle their work in art (see PBS’s “Freedom Summer” web pages for more information on the documentary and Sugarman and his illustrations: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer). Highly recommended for middle graders thru high school, as a readable narrative as well as a compelling way for teachers and librarians to meet Common Core standard in how researchers use primary sources to bring historical events to life. In an interview with Holiday House (see below), Rubin expresses her hope that this book will inspire students to seek out their community’s stories.

Visit the publisher at http://www.holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=9780823429202
for links to educators’ guide, transcripts of the author’s interviews, video interview with author, and more.

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A Graphic Novel About a Hotbed Era in History

A Tangible Retelling of a Troublesome Time

On the heels of Black History Month comes The Silence of Our Friends ($16.99, First Second Books, ages 14 and up/YA), Mark Long’s fact-based account of his family’s complicated relationship with a crosstown black family in 1968 Houston, Texas.  Co-written by Jim Demonakos with artwork by Nate Powell, Silence seeks to find the cultural and political common ground of the black/white experience during the hotbed era of Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement, when neither side could afford to be allies.

Television reporter Jack Long strikes up a friendship with the brash, intelligent professor/activist Larry Thompson, a union that will be tested by the combustive, violent events at a campus protest.  Silence of Our Friends depicts the institutional indifference, abject human cruelty, and questions of ethnic loyalty that have been requisite to stories of race and racism.  Could an umpteenth interpretation of that savage time hold much weight in 2012?

What sets Silence apart, though, is its insistence on exploring the murky issues that lie between the black and white lines:   When Thompson stealthily abets his two kids in celebrating “Go Texan Day”– a decidedly deep-rooted, white Southern fried tradition– just after his wife vociferously prohibits it, the reader feels the push/pull dichotomy of cultural and social change.  The arrival of a down and out army buddy of Long’s, culminating in the drunk’s  venomous accusations of racial disloyalty on the part of Long and his family, has a similar effect.

Also on Silence’s side– the punk, Mad magazine-inspired aesthetic of Nate Powell; it manages to evoke two landmarks of 1960s socially-conscious filmmaking: the sweat-tainted In the Heat of the Night and the ethereal To Kill A Mockingbird.  The Silence of Our Friends is something to talk about.

Today’s book was reviewed by Jason Carpenter.  Jason Carpenter has been engaged in academic, athletic, literary, cinematic, and social pursuits for decades, currently immersed in a 15-year teaching career in various special education environments. The path began in Boston, MA and has touched down in Pasadena, CA at the renowned Frostig School. Jason’s B.A. and background in Communication Arts, English, and Film Studies, has imbued him with the sense that he can write. So, write he does.
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