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I Have a Dream

By Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

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Cover Art by Kadir Nelson for I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr Random House

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Introduction

On 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 Speech

Dr. 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 Illustrations

I 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 Resources

There 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.

The Illustrator Kadir Nelson

Artist Kadir Nelson has won numerous awards for his children's book illustrations. He has also written and illustrated several award-winning children's books: We Are the Ship, his book about the Negro Baseball League, for which he won the Robert F. Sibert Medal in 2009 and Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, for which Nelson received a Coretta Scott King Award, the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award. Children who read Heart and Soul will learn about the Civil Rights Movement and the important role that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. played.

The CD

Inside the front cover of I Have a Dream is a plastic pocket with a CD in it of Dr. King's original "I Have a Dream" speech, recorded on August 28, 1963. It is interesting to read the book, then the entire text of the speech and, then, listen to Dr. King speaking. By reading the book and discussing the illustrations with your children, you'll gain insight as to the meaning of Dr. King's words and how your children perceive them. Having the entire text in print allows older children to ponder Dr. King's words more than once. Dr. King was a compelling speaker and what the CD does, is allows listeners to experience for themselves Dr. King's emotion and impact as he spoke and the crowd responded.

 

 

My Recommendation

This is a book for family members to read and discuss together. The illustrations will help younger children to grasp more of the meaning of King's speech and will help all ages to better understand both the significance and the impact of Dr. King's words. The addition of the text of the entire speech at the end of the book, along with a CD of Dr. King delivering the speech, make I Have a Dream an excellent resource for the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's speech and beyond. (Schwartz & Wade Books, Random House, 2012. ISBN: 9780375858871)

 

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