A Place to Land

Holiday House/Neal Porter Bks. Aug. 2019. 48p. bibliog. notes. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823443314.
Gr 2-5–Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech has been etched into the public consciousness. Yet King’s actual speech was an in-the-moment response to the audience climate during the March on Washington. A bolt of encouragement from gospel singer Mahalia Jackson prompts King to “Tell them about the dream,” igniting the raw passion that his pre-rehearsed words had been missing. Wittenstein’s straightforward, informative text conveys both the urgency of King’s words and the weight of his responsibility as a social justice icon, but does not compromise the sobering reality of the country’s racial unrest in 1963. Pinkney’s warm illustrations are reminiscent of courtroom sketches, transporting readers into the historic moment. He explains that he chose to use collage as “a way to reinforce place.” Key figures, such as Senator John Lewis and diplomat Andrew Young, are labeled. One powerful double-page spread features the headshots of fallen social justice heroes to present a visual reminder of the blood, sweat, and pain extracted on the road to justice. Figures who were struck down by the brutal violence of white supremacy, like Emmett Till and Medgar Evans, have been drawn with their eyes closed.
VERDICT Wittenstein and Pinkney’s collaboration is an evocative study in King’s speechwriting process. A work that takes a familiar topic and shapes it into a moving portrait of undeterred determination and conviction. Highly recommended for public and school libraries.

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