A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Neal Porter Books, 9780823443314, 2019
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
What did you like about the book? I really loved this! It’s a great book about Martin Luther King Jr. and the process of preparing for and giving the “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. But it’s so much more than just that! The book does a great job of showing that King did not work alone, and highlights each of the nine advisors who met with him the night before to give him advice and help him write the speech. It also pulls out other figures who were inspirational to King around the Civil Rights Movement. Additionally, it goes more deeply than most other picture books to show how unliked and even hated he was among the general society, including by the government. The illustrations also show that white people attended the March on Washington (though were not leaders), and also shows that some people of color were a part of the military that opposed the March. There were other subtle comments which could be overlooked but are importantly included, such as the fact that the White House was built by enslaved people, that society was homophobic which pushed some people out of leadership roles, and the quote “those battles [for peaceful race relations] continue to be fought”. The collage illustrations bring an appropriate historical context to the book. I also appreciated the labels of King’s advisors and role models in the pictures. A few pages of author’s notes and bibliographies at the end offer even more context to the story, and also further highlight other leaders, including that fact that a number of them are still alive and working today.
Anything you did not like about the book. Almost all of the Civil Rights leaders who were highlighted were men, with only Mahalia Jackson mentioned and Shirley Chisholm shown in an illustration.
To whom would you recommend this book? Everyone! Teachers and librarians should read this with their students as a complement to other books about Martin Luther King Jr. It would be great for religious teachers to read this with their kids because it combines social justice and spirituality in an often unseen way for children (though is not too explicitly religious). It’s especially good for upper elementary students who already know about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement to learn a bit more about other important figures and to begin to break up some myths around it.
Who should buy this book? Elementary school librarians, public librarians, religious teachers
Where would you shelve it? Nonfiction (300s)
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Sarah Bickel, Greenlodge Elementary School, Dedham Massachusetts
Date of review: Oct. 14, 2019