IntroductionOn August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, a speech that is still remembered and honored today. I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., published in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the minister and civil rights leader's dramatic speech, is a children's book for all ages that adults will also find meaningful. Excerpts of the speech, chosen for their accessibility to children's understanding, are paired with the stunning oil paintings of artist Kadir Nelson. At the end of the book, which is in picture book format, you'll find the full text of the Dr. King's speech. A CD of the original speech is also included with the book.
The SpeechDr. King delivered his speech to the more than a quarter of a million people participating in the March for Jobs and Freedom. He delivered his speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. While stressing nonviolence, Dr. King made it clear that, "Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood." In the speech, Dr. King outlined his dream for a better America. While the speech, which was interrupted by cheers and applause from the enthusiastic audience, only lasted about 15 minutes, it and the integrated march had a profound impact on the Civil Rights Movement.
The Book's Design and IllustrationsI had the opportunity to hear Kadir Nelson speak at the 2012 Book Expo America Children's Literature Breakfast about the research he did, the approach he took, and his goals in creating the oil paintings for I Have a Dream. Nelson said he had to memorize Dr. King's speech on short notice as a fifth grader just after moving to a new school. He said doing so made him feel "stronger and more confident," and he hoped I Have a Dream would similarly affect children today.
Kadir Nelson said that at first he wondered what he could contribute to "Dr. King's magnificent vision." In preparation, he listened to Dr. King's speeches, watched documentaries and studied old photographs. He also visited Washington, D.C. so he could create his own photographic reference and better imagine what Dr. King saw and did. He and the editor worked to decide on what portions of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" would be illustrated. They chose segments that were not only important and well known but that "spoke loudest to children."
In illustrating the book, Nelson created two types of paintings: those that illustrated Dr. King giving the speech and those that illustrated Dr. King's dream. At first, Nelson said he was unsure how to differentiate the two. It ended up that when illustrating the setting and mood of the day, Nelson created oil paintings of the scene as it was during Dr. King's speech. When it came to illustrating the dream, Nelson said he tried to illustrate not the words so much as the concepts they represented and he used a bright cloud-like white background. Only at the end of the book, do the dream and reality merge.
Kadir Nelson's artwork wonderfully illustrates the drama, the hopes and the dreams laid out that day in Washington, D.C. by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The choice of excerpts and Nelson's sensitive illustrations combine to create meaning for even younger children who may not yet be mature enough to understand the full speech. The scenes that look out over Dr. King's audience emphasize the breadth of his impact. The large close-up paintings of Dr. King emphasize the significance of his role and his emotions as he delivers the speech.
Martin Luther King, Jr - Children's Books and Other ResourcesThere are several books about Martin Luther King, Jr. that I particularly recommend for children 9 and older who are interested in learning more about the civil rights leader's life. Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, provides an overview of King's life and packs an emotional punch with its dramatic illustrations by Bryan Collier. The second, Portraits of African American Heroes features a portrait of Dr. King on the cover. He is one of 20 African Americans, men and women, featured in the nonfiction book by Tonya Bolden, along with sepia-toned portraits of each by Ansel Pitcairn.
For educational resources, see Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Lesson Plans You Can Use and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: General Information and Reference Material. You'll find additional resources in the linkboxes and below.