Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'I Have a Dream' by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I Have a Dream
by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
paintings by Kadir Nelson
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012

February is Black History Month and Schwartz & Wade Books (an imprint of Random House Children's Books) has released a stunning picture book tribute to King's “I Have a Dream” speech.

I Have a Dream features some of the more accessible passages of King's call for freedom, making it an appropriate read for even young children. The entire text of the speech is included at the end of the book, and a CD of the official recording from the March on Washington delivered August 28, 1963 is also enclosed.

What makes this book stand out, however, are the larger-than-life illustrations by Kadir Nelson. The cover image of the face of Martin Luther King Jr. set against a backdrop of a blue cloudy sky is one of five portraits of the civil rights hero, some of which span over the two page spread. Other paintings focus on the faces of children, young people, and the audiences that came to see King speak, and several pages feature images of national monuments and the diverse landscapes of America.

Perhaps the most powerful painting is a two-page spread of a black hand clasping a white hand accompanied by the text, “With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

While a full understanding of the historical impact of King's “I have a dream” speech is probably beyond the reach of the youngest school children, the first-graders I read this book to were pleased to recognize the names of the states that are mentioned, and enjoyed the repetition of the opening phrase, in addition to being captivated by the remarkable illustrations. Older elementary school children will be able to appreciate even more about this beautiful and well-crafted book.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) is one of the most important Americans of the twentieth century. He was a clergyman, a writer, an activist, and a leader in the American civil rights movement. His speech "I Have a Dream" became the defining moment in the struggle for civil rights. 

Kadir Nelson is the highly acclaimed and bestselling illustrator of many books for children. He has won two Caldecott Honors, a Robert F. Sibert Medal and a Coretta Scott King Honor Award. Mr. Nelson lives in Los Angeles. Visit him at kadirnelson.com.

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at reneesreads.com.

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