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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

 

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. 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.

 

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 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 speech writer, 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.

 

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 Land 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 2020.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Kids Book Review – Three Picture Books for the Fourth of July

CELEBRATING INDEPENDENCE DAY

WITH A ROUNDUP OF PICTURE BOOKS

 

 

A IS FOR AMERICA
A BabyLit Book

Written and illustrated by Greg Paprocki
(Gibbs Smith; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

I’m a big fan of the BabyLit series and I especially like their alphabet primers, A is for America being no exception. It’s full of simple, relatable examples yet sophisticated with its retro-style art and bonanza of bright colors and detailed scenes.

Paprocki has assembled a pleasing assortment of Independence Day and overall America-themed illustrations including E is for Eagle and M is for Mount Rushmore. Of course it makes sense to share F is for Fireworks but I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of Q is for Quill as we see John Hancock writing his easily identifiable cursive signature on the Declaration of Independence.

Playful and pertinent, this charming 32-page board book serves not only as an alphabet primer but as a terrific way to acquaint little ones with our country’s history. From the first colonies to the transcontinental railroad when east met west, from the pilgrims to George Washington, A is for America honors our nation’s past and what it means to us now.

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

MY FOURTH OF JULY
Written by Jerry Spinelli
Illustrated by Larry Day
(Neal Porter Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

My Fourth of July is a joyful look at Independence Day through the eyes of an excited little boy. The holiday tale unfolds with the lad still in his pajamas, something I found so sweet, watching the parade passing by from his screen door then even joining in as shown on the cover. My town has a Memorial Day parade but if it had one on the Fourth of July it would be just like this one, full of kids on bikes carrying pinwheels or waving flags and generally having tons of fun. In fact, we even have a big park where many celebrations take place around the gazebo or bandshell just like in Spinelli’s story.

The boy’s in a hurry to get to the park so the family can claim a picnic table, another thing I could relate to! There are hot dogs galore on the grill and all the other mouth-watering food we associate with Independence Day. This imaginary, small town USA has a flag-draped train that passes through (like a scene out of the film Oklahoma) as well as face painting, organized games, a talent show and a concert at the park. Written as a warm, happy slice of life story with little to no obstacles (unless getting a prime picnic spot counts), Spinelli’s picture book celebrates family, community and tradition. It’s wonderful when everyone makes their way to the baseball field to watch the fireworks with Day’s ebullient illustrations depicting the magical display and the emotions it elicits as the day’s festivities come to an end. If you love a feel good picture book that feels both nostalgic and new at the same time, this one’s for you.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AMERICAN?
Written by Rana DiOrio & Elad Yoran
Illustrated by Nina Mata
(Little Pickle Press; $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

Calling yourself an American is more than watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, or eating fast food. It is believing that all people are equal as told by Rana DiOrio along with debut children’s book author, Elad Yoran, in the forty-page picture book, What Does it Mean to be American? Colorful, feel good illustrations by Nina Mata beautifully convey the many different aspects the authors address. Teachers and parents alike will enjoy this upbeat social studies lesson that educates young children on the importance of being grateful and that dreams can come true by working hard because all Americans have the freedom to choose whom we love, what we believe, what we do, and where we live.

 

WDIMTB American int4
What Does it Mean to be American? written by Rana DiOrio and Elad Yoran with illustrations by Nina Mata, Little Pickle Press ©2019.

 

The story begins with an interracial couple and their daughter traveling through the desert surrounded by cactus, mountains and a clear blue sky in a van packed with suitcases. The opening sentence is the question, What does it mean to be American? In the array of artwork, we see the young girl smiling as she attends a half Jewish wedding ceremony; she salutes a woman in military gear; and in another she hugs an older former military man seated in a wheelchair. Being American means having access to abundant natural resources so we see the child walking in the great outdoors, enjoying time in nature while holding her mother’s hand, a reminder to be grateful all year for her family’s many blessings.

 

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What Does it Mean to be American? written by Rana DiOrio and Elad Yoran with illustrations by Nina Mata, Little Pickle Press ©2019.

 

As the reader turns the page, our character sees people from all countries working in America and learns to appreciate that people from all kinds of backgrounds have something to offer her, whether it’s playing a game of chess or exercising with an elder in the park. As the little girl sits on her father’s shoulders, he tells her about people in the past who had the creativity to invent new things and that she should be proud of all that Americans have accomplished, yet humble about all we still need to learn. The illustrations take us back to the invention of the computer and the automobile, but also remind us that women fought for their right to vote.

This vital story that every parent must take time with their young kids to discuss, reminds us to become our best self, but that we also have an obligation to help others (something children can NEVER  hear enough of!) With mindfulness lessons on the importance of being present mixed in with a rich lesson in our American history, readers learn that the greatest nation in the world can always be better!

In addition to loving the message throughout this book, I got excited reading the back matter. Writers Rana and Elad share that their intention for writing the story was to encourage adults in children’s lives to start meaningful conversations about what it means to be American. With a fabulous history lesson reminding readers what our forefathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence to a guided list of questions to continue the conversation with young and older children alike, we are reminded about all the amazing people who made America what it is today.

This is a great read for teachers who can jump start a discussion with these initial questions, and then lead into so many other topics. Bravo to the writers who said, Being American means welcoming people from other countries and helping them learn what it means to be American … and appreciating that our differences make us kinder, smarter, healthier and stronger. Don’t miss the other great books in the What Does It Mean to Be …? series.

Reviewed by Guest Reviewer Ronda Einbinder
Ronda is a teacher/writer who worked for Irvine Unified School District assisting students in grades K-6. She is also a 500-Hour Registered Yoga Instructor, teaching yoga and mindfulness both publicly and privately. Previously, she was a writer and publicist for ObesityHelp magazine and non-profit medical facilities.

 

Click here to read last year’s Fourth of July book reviews.

 

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