Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A Destination As A Beginning

There comes a time when each person must make a decision. Will they follow the plan in their head, that which has been committed with pencil or pen to paper, or release the passion in their heart?  For it is when they have the courage to set the passion free, they realize they are not alone.  There are others who share the same beliefs.  There are others willing to work together to make change happen; a change ensuring a better world for everyone.

For one man, a man whose name is etched in history forever, the time for making a decision came often, but never was the choice more memorable than on August 28, 1963.  In A Place To Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, August 27, 2019) written by Barry Wittenstein with illustrations by Jerry Pinkney we are transported.  We are moved.  We are uplifted by the beauty expressed in words and art to never forget.

Martin Luther King Jr.
was once asked if the hardest part
of preaching was knowing where to begin.

You might be surprised by his reply.  He felt

"The hardest part is knowing where to end."

He likened it to being aloft and having no understanding of where to come down.  On the evening of August 27, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. was meeting with his most trusted and wisest advisors in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D. C.  It was the night before the March on Washington.  He was seeking their input for the speech he was to give at the Lincoln Memorial.  They offered recommendations and he listened.  Then he left to pen the words in his hotel room.

Until 4 in the morning Martin Luther King Jr. wrote and rewrote on a lined, yellow legal-sized pad.  Andrew Young, a pastor, watched him work as he tried to make every word count, words intent on reaching into the souls of more than 250,000 people in attendance and thousands and thousands more listening and watching at home on radios and televisions.

Standing at the podium waiting to read words but knowing he needed more, Martin Luther King Jr. began to speak.  He reached deep into American history, weaving the words of democratic documents into those from the Bible and poetry of Langston Hughes.  Everything he knew up until this point became a part of this speech, but something was missing.

Mahalia Jackson, a gospel singer in the crowd near Martin Luther King Jr., called out a suggestion, once and twice.  It was exactly what this great man needed to hear.  The speaker became a preacher releasing his passion.


By 4 in the afternoon Dr. King was meeting with President John F. Kennedy.  At 8 in the evening, back at the hotel, Martin Luther King Jr. and those same men he met with the evening before were jubilant.  The road ahead would be fraught with obstacles but now his dream, their dream, had been heard around the world.

Every time I read this book, every single time, I feel as those I've stepped back into 1963 and am standing with Martin Luther King Jr.  Barry Wittenstein has penned history with a poetic perspective.  His research is evident in his ability to create a setting as real as if it's happening now.  These settings are emotionally charged. A subtle tension is supplied with the times of day written above a portion of the text.  Within his narrative he places actual words spoken by the participants fashioning a seamless flow.  Here is a passage.

Again, she shouted,
"Tell them about the dream,
Martin!  Tell them about the dream!"

The Baptist preacher,
son, grandson, and great-grandson of Baptist preachers,
carefully moved the script off to the side.

Martin was done circling.
The lecture was over.
He was going to church,
his place to land . . .

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case so you can view the back to the left and the front at the right, you are completely captivated by the peaceful power emanating from the portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. In the first we see him as a thoughtful thinker with a backdrop appearing like stained-glass windows.  In the second his mouth is open as he faces left to speak before the crowd that August day in 1963.  His hand is raised to articulate what he is saying.  He is wearing a button to commemorate the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom.  Surrounding him is a collage of signs held by marchers, the Capitol building, a portion of the American flag, a bird in flight and clippings of actual photographs from that day.  It is here that readers get their first glimpse of the glorious technique used by artist Jerry Pinkney throughout this book.  The title text is embossed in foil.

On the opening and closing endpapers a bright sky blue shown on the front of the jacket and case is used.  The first page turn shows Martin Luther King Jr., pencil in hand, thinking about what to write in his speech.  Around him are portions of buildings and a partial piece of lined paper from a yellow legal pad.  On the title page, on the left, is a large recreation of the Willard Hotel.  Jerry Pinkney has labeled it on the left side.  (He provides labels throughout the book for key peoples' names.)  On the right side of the title page is a bird's eye view of the Lincoln Memorial and nearby landscape; as if we are looking at a map.

Each double-page picture rendered

using graphite, color pencil, watercolor and collage on Arches watercolor paper 

is a masterpiece of layout, design and creativity.  Jerry Pinkney's people look as though they could walk right off the pages.  Their facial features, body positions and hand movements are astonishing.  In A Note from the Artist Jerry Pinkney says:

With exhaustive---oftentimes dizzying---research, I gathered materials, acquiring a Hip Pocket Guide of The United States Constitution: What It Says, What It Means, reading articles and personal accounts, and sifting through hundreds of images.  With so many sources, I knew early on that I would use collage as a way to reinforce place.

This was and is (in my humble opinion) a brilliant decision.

Readers will pause at each page turn to study the illustration.  They will look at all the elements wondering at their significance.  This promotes greater understanding of this historical era and its crucial significance.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for a four-hour stretch of time in which Martin Luther King Jr. is working in his hotel room on the speech.  The text is placed on the left side.  Tucked between the text and gutter is a drawing of the face of Langston Hughes whose poetry is said to have influenced Martin Luther King Jr. in this speech (and other speeches).  Beneath this is what appears to be pieces of wallpaper, a coffee pot, partially sketched and part of a real photograph, a glass for water, a coffee cup, a Holy Bible and a telephone.  To the right Martin Luther King Jr. is holding a pencil and a yellow legal pad with a corner crossing the gutter.  He is listening to Andrew Young who is reaching out to touch his shoulder.  It is a moment of friendship.  It is a moment of two men with shared dreams exchanging ideas.

Each library, professional and personal, will want to have a copy of A Place To Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation written by Barry Wittenstein with illustrations by Jerry Pinkney.  It is a marvelous collaboration between a gifted wordsmith and a beloved artist of distinction.  It captures the hours before the speech and the events after with excellence.  The final sentence and illustration will resonate.  At the close of the book both the author and illustrator include notes.  There are paragraphs on The Willard Hotel Advisors, Other Voices, and Who Spoke at the March on Washington.  Sources are given for the quotations and there is a bibliography.

To learn more about author Barry Wittenstein and illustrator Jerry Pinkney and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Barry Wittenstein has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Barry Wittenstein is interviewed at Author Q&As with Deborah KalbJerry Pinkney is interviewed at The Horn Book and at Publishers Weekly about this book.  At Penguin Random House you can view the first few images.  At the publisher's website is a link to a Limited Edition First Look with a letter from Neal Porter and notes from the author and illustrator.  Several double-page breathtaking pictures are shown.

UPDATE:  December 17, 2019 Art is shared by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast including a link to the discussion about this title at The Horn Book's Calling Caldecott.

UPDATE:  There are now available many resources such as author and illustrator interviews and an educator's guide at the publisher's website.

To view the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please go to Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.

1 comment:

  1. This is on my list and I know it will be wonderful. Thanks for sharing some beautiful and poignant parts, Margie.