It's no secret that there are a lot of great books out there about Martin Luther King Jr. I've written about plenty here on my blog, and I've even done features for other blogs full of titles celebrating this amazing man. Dr King's life is rich in elements that make a good story, the kind kidlit authors can't resist, and that's probably why there are so many great books out there.
But with an abundance of excellent works, with more being published each year, it's kind of hard to find a fresh approach. Yet, that's exactly what bestselling authors Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney have done in their new book Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song. And they did it by combining the story of one incredible preacher, Martin Luther King Jr., with that of a woman whose voice was heaven on earth, Mahalia Jackson.
Kids to whom this book is targeted will no doubt recognize the name of the first subject here, but likely very few will know the second. No matter: the Pinkneys do a fantastic job of setting the stage for Martin and Mahalia's work together by beginning when both were children. Each excelled in their own way: Martin through his oratory skills and Mahalia through her musical talents. Both used their gifts to spread the message of the gospel, of peace and hope and love to all. And they did this in the South, in the time of Jim Crow, when things were, as Andrea Davis Pinkney puts it, "Separate, but nowhere near equal."
Both Martin and Mahalia looked around and saw that things needed to be different, that there needed to be equality and freedom for all Americans. And so their common mission brought them together, first as part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and then for the March on Washington. I love the imagery that the Pinkneys use for the March, the way they set the stage with the marchers walking stoically on even as hecklers jeered and tried to distract them. Once in place at the Lincoln Memorial, Mahalia used her "brass and butter" voice to draw the crowd together, to focus and settle them. And then Martin delivered what is arguably one of the best-known pieces of oration in the history of our country, and one which brings chills to me even now, the "I Have a Dream" speech.
As always with a Pinkney collaboration, this title relates historical detail in a way that keeps readers turning pages, but never shortcuts the facts. It's bolstered by an afterword by both author and illustrator, plus an historical timeline and suggestions for further reading and listening. I wouldn't be surprised to see Martin & Mahalia on awards lists this year, it's that well-executed. Brian Pinkney's illustration of the crowd on the National Mall is one of the last in the book, and it is jaw-dropping. His use of abstract shapes and swirling colors, coupled with the imagery of the dove that carries throughout the book, brings home the power and peace of that day.
Together Martin and Mahalia, each gifted in their own unique way, made the March on Washington a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement, and one that our country will never forget. And I'm in awe of the way the Pinkneys have captured that partnership through their own, a marriage of Andrea's lyrical prose and Brian's arresting images. This book, like its subjects, won't soon be forgotten.
Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney & Brian Pinkney, published by Little, Brown
Sample: "Martin's sermons and Mahalia's spirituals told their listeners: You are here. On the path. Come along. Step proud. Stand strong. Be brave. Go with me. To a place, to a time, when we all will be free. People listened and believed."