It was April 4, 1968. As a sixteen-year-old junior in high school my thoughts were turning to the end of the school year and a summer job at the local florist shop at the other end of the street. In another state a Noble Peace Prize winner was thinking of music and words when standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. It was early evening. An hour later, this man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was gone, killed by an assassin's bullet. My memory of the news in our home is one of stunned silence.
Today, fifty years later, I watched the ABC News broadcast of the tragic events of that evening. This video broadcast is followed by the ABC News coverage of the Memphis March on April 8, 1968 honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (You cannot experience these historical broadcasts without being emotionally moved.) Martin Rising: Requiem For A King (Scholastic Press, January 2, 2018) written by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is as extraordinary as the man being honored within these pages. Time stands still from the moment you begin reading.
HENNY PENNY PRELUDE
Here she is!
Her birdie eyes,
filled with foresight,
see far down the road.
This prelude is the first of forty docu-poems, each dated, centered on the three months prior to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the second poem dated with his birth, January 15, 1929, we read of a child growing into a man with purpose and a dream. It follows in a third poem with words celebrating what would be his last birthday; the baking of the cake, the thirty-nine candles on that cake, a wish made, and a family singing and dancing to the music sounding forth from the piano with Coretta's playing. Months pass taking readers to the strike of the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee on February 11, 1968. A group led by Reverend James Lawson meets two weeks later in support of the workers.
March weather roars and strikers march through the city of Memphis. Unlike the weather their efforts appear stalled. A call is made from one friend to another. Dr. King is to arrive in Memphis. His speech to those gathered on March 18, 1868 buoys their spirits as does his promise of a return in four days. March weather intervenes until Dr. King comes back and they walk again on March 28, 1968. It does not go well. It does not end peacefully. Against the advice of friends, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knows he needs to return. He knows he is needed in Memphis, Tennessee.
Arriving at the Lorraine Motel on April 3, 1968, Dr. King is bone-tired. His fever-torn body has him asking a friend to speak in his place that evening at the Mason Temple. Later that same friend begs him to come. The people want him. Peace. Nonviolence.
"I may not get there with you.
But I want you to know tonight,
as a people
will get to the promised land!"
It is April 4, 1968. After the triumph of his speech last night, Dr. King sleeps until noon. His friend, Ralph (Pastor Ralph D. Abernathy) is ready to discuss their next rally and the march scheduled for April 8, 1968 for the sanitation workers. There is a surprise visit and an afternoon of fun. In the evening friends at the Lorraine Motel in Room 306 ready themselves for a dinner and for a night of inspiration. And then . . .
Henny Penny is correct; the sky does fall. Hearts are broken and rage rains on Memphis. And what of James Earl Ray? There are so many questions with no answers. On April 8, 1968 a wife stands tall with children near her; children now with no father. Days pass moving toward another holiday full of promise, a promise seen in the joy of children. For the rest of years as far as we can now see the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will still be a time for making wishes, dreaming dreams and going forth in love.
Having finished reading these forty poems for the second time, moments ago, a feeling of being in the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his family, his friends and those for whom he represented is unshakable. Andrea Davis Pinkney gives us the truths of these events so beautifully it takes your breath away. The weaving of the folktale character Henny Penny into the narrative is done flawlessly and adds a new dimension to the understanding of what transpired and what continues today. It is a master stroke of poetic writing.
At the beginning of the book a table of contents lists the titles of each poem. You can see Andrea Davis Pinkney has divided them into three sections; Daylight, Darkness and Dawn. This is done with intention. It serves to bind the reader personally to each poem. With respect here is a portion of the poem
March 28, 1968
. . .
on the nose
of what they hope
Garbagemen go all out.
All showing up,
Boys and girls---twenty-two thousand of them!---
Playing hooky, skipping school,
so they, too,
Martin leads them all
through Memphis streets
toward city hall.
Arm in arm,
with his friend,
his close-close confidant,
Reverend Ralph Abernathy.
the city's many ministers
march with Martin, too.
We shall overcome! . . .
The swirl of glowing golden hues blended with new sky blue calls to readers from the opened dust jacket. The marchers holding signs beneath Dr. King cross the spine stretching until they fade to the left in the same swirl of glowing golden hues blended with new sky blue. On the back we read:
Can a Dream ever die?
A burst of sun replies:
His life well lived for peace and good.
Martin's spirit---still alive!
And with love,
we all shall rise.
Removing the jacket reveals a splendid book case with a white canvas. The title text with Andrea Davis Pinkney's and Brian Pinkney's names is golden yellow. The subtitle is placed on the left in blue. Beneath those words are three arches on each side, representing the three portions of this narrative. Along the bottom only about an inch high are multitudes of marchers.
The blue from the dust jacket covers the opening and closing endpapers. A page turn at the front shows a sun rising in a wash of yellows, blues and a bit of purple. On the title pages the image from the book case is replicated.
Rendered in watercolor, gouache, and India ink on watercolor paper, the paintings of Brian Pinkney are in a word, exquisite. Each page turn will have you gasping at his representations. He shines a bright light on the text, shifting with the emotions, moods and the weather. His lines and color choices reflect those very things.
One of my many favorite paintings is for the continuation of the poem, KINGS IN MEMPHIS March 18, 1968. A deep, deep golden (almost pale orange) washes on the left providing a place for the text. On the right is a loose arched window, as one would see in a church. In a circle near the top (like a rose window) Dr. King is speaking. Radiating from that and beneath it are sections filled with gathered people, intently listening. In the far right, lower corner, more people are entering the church. The warmth of this moment is captured in the colors used, oranges and yellows with hints of blue and green.
Reading Martin Rising: Requiem For A King written by Andrea David Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney silently to yourself is an experience to be remembered. To read it aloud is powerful. I high recommend this book for your professional and personal collections. At the close of the book are Author's Reflections and Artist's Reflections and four pages dedicated to Now Is The Time with original photographs. The final four sentences read:
When we vote, we rise. When we march, we rise. When we speak out, seek peace, teach the truth, we all rise to a better tomorrow. And the time is now!
A time line and sources (books and web sources) with acknowledgments conclude this title.
To learn more about Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. At the publisher's website you can view several interior poems and images. Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, hosts the cover reveal and an interview with Andrea and Brian on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read. Andrea Davis Pinkney stops to chat with author, Deborah Kalb, in a Q & A. Andrea Davis Pinkney talks with Roger Sutton about this title in a video at The Horn Book. Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson talks about this book at Kirkus and gives us views of artwork on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Please visit a page on Scholastic's blog, On Our Minds, to celebrate this title.