Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Dream...

It's been nearly fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom delivering his I Have A Dream speech.  Did you know in 1964 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the youngest man to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize?  Did you know that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first observed as a national holiday on January 20, 1986?  Did you know that on August 22,  2003 the National Park Service dedicated a work, an inscription, marking the spot where Dr. King gave his speech at the Lincoln Memorial?

I did not recall knowing those three facts prior to doing a bit of research.  After I read I Have A Dream (Schwartz & Wade) by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with paintings by Kadir Nelson, I was compelled to know more, needing to step back in time moving slowly forward until 2013.  That is what nonfiction picture books with an interesting,  informative narrative enhanced by unique, outstanding illustrations do for a reader.  They completely engage and ignite the spark of curiosity.  They invite reflection and discussion.

Kadir Nelson selected the last five minutes of Dr. King's speech to illustrate.  The first of seventeen original oil paintings is show on the front and back jacket and cover of this title.  We see a face filled with strength, resolve and vision against a crystal blue sky spotted with clouds.

The front endpapers pick up the faint pale blue on the edges of those clouds; the closing endpapers the darker blue of the sky.  With two exceptions all of the illustrations span two pages, edge to edge.  The title page gives the reader a bird's eye view of the entire area around the Lincoln Memorial on that memorable day.  Off to the left side the publishing information and dedication are displayed in a narrow column of white.  So striking is this painting (as they all are) your eyes immediately look to each and every detail barely noticing the print initially.

I say to you today, my friends, that even 
though we face the difficulties of today and 
tomorrow, I still have a dream. 

Nelson begins with the columns of the memorial on the left, Lincoln in the background and Dr. King squarely in front of the statue looking out toward the people.  For each portion of the speech he shifts his perspective; zooming back to capture the expanse of the crowd on either side of the Reflecting Pool, facial close-ups of people mentioned in the speech, and back to a side view, very close, of Dr. King's face as he says

I have a dream today.

When picturing children grasping hands in a circle we only see two of them completely; hands, running feet, backs of heads of the others indicate movement.  That painting and the one of the two large hands grasped are surrounded in white accentuating their purpose, their meaning.  When Nelson's landscapes, the every valley, and the eight sections of New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi are shown the color choices and lighting are breathtaking in the grandeur portrayed.

The crowd of children's faces and the snapshot of those faces gathered during the speech are so realistic, full of emotion, you expect them to walk right off the page into your presence.  Bringing the whites and blue of the front and back jacket and cover to the final two-page illustration is a stroke of genius.  Reading this portion of the speech through the eyes of Kadir Nelson's paintings is like walking through a museum of memories; perhaps the very thoughts Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might have been thinking on that day, August 28, 1963.

I Have A Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brilliantly illustrated by Kadir Nelson is moving and unforgettable.  There is an official recording of the speech on a CD included with the book as well as the complete speech printed at the back.  With the recording playing, as each page is turned, is like being enveloped in history.

The publishers have designed an excellent resource for this title complete with booknotes and a poster.  This is a link to the Nobel Peace Prize page for Dr. King.  The Seattle Times has created a very comprehensive series of pages about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.

This video is award-winning Kadir Nelson speaking about his illustrations for this title.

Excerpts of the speech copyright 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., copyright renewed 1991 by Coretta Scott King, and the Heirs to the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr.


  1. Thank you for posting the information about the teacher resources of this exquisitely illustrated book. I am using it in my Peasleecott (Mock Caldecott) Unit and the students have had a profound reaction to it.

    1. You are very welcome. I can understand how this is affecting your students. The combination of the words and illustrations is one that lingers for all the right reasons.

  2. I thought this was such a beautiful book and the illustrations were incredible. How I envy illustrators!
    Thanks for this very nice review.

    1. From someone who is basically a stick figure drawer I agree with your appreciation of illustrators. We are so very lucky! I thank you for your comments.

  3. Can you believe that I still have to convince secondary teachers that this book can be used with older students?! I love Nelson's paintings.

    1. With all due respect to your secondary teachers I am not understanding it at all. When I was a high school teacher librarian we used picture books quite frequently. What they can convey in such a small space is fantastic. This book is absolutely priceless. Every single one of his paintings is a masterpiece. I remember that day. He has captured it beautifully. His paintings are so full of life, of emotion. Thanks for stopping in to comment.

  4. I have always loved Kadir Nelson's work. He is truly passionate about his paintings and his book illustrations.