Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrator: Brian Pinkney
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: 2013
Audience: Grades 2 – 4
Summary: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahalia Jackson were born, a decade apart, with a gift of gospel. Martin grew up in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA where he listened to his father preach. Mahalia grew up in the Black Pearl neighborhood of New Orleans, LA. singing first in church choirs, and then, through her records and travel, all over the world. King became the leading voice of the civil rights movement in speech; Jackson became its leading voice in song. Their leadership climaxed in the march on Washington for jobs and freedom in August, 1963. Hundreds of thousands of listeners heard his words and her song that day. These are the facts in a nutshell, not enough to be a biography or history but a dramatic interpretation of one moment in the civil rights movement. Listeners will probably need more background information before they can respond to the invitation to join the march that climaxes at the base of the Washington monument, experience this dramatic event, and meet two powerful personalities who lead the way.
Literary elements at work in the story: This slice of the civil rights movement is told in words, in color, in pictures, in page layout, and in strong poetic language. The bold, bright colors are green around Martin, red and orange around Mahalia,purple when they come together. Words become part of the illustrations-SPOKE, PRAYED, SOUGHT, TAUGHT are printed in color as King’s work is described. SANG, WORKED, LED, SPREAD are in vibrant orange and Mahalia’s voice is described as BRASS AND BUTTER in the same color. The first page shows the beginning of a map marked with “You are here” and the reader follows the path and a dove to a breathtaking, double page spread of the crowd at the Washington monument who hear Mahalia sing and Martin deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The struggle for racial equality is the context of this story. The knowledge of Jim Crow, segregation, racial prejudice is assumed here. Some of this information is included in the last pages of the book.
Theological Conversation Partners: The dictionary defines gospel first as the story of Christ’s life and teachings. The word means good news, and this good news has been the proclamation of what God has given us in Jesus Christ. In Pinkney’s hands it becomes a generic word without content so readers must guess what motivated the two civil rights leaders. As both of these leaders were nurtured in black Baptist churches it’s not a stretch to say that their words and songs proclaimed the Christian gospel. Many who do not share the Christian faith participated in and sacrificed for the civil rights movement but the faith was the impetus behind the words and music of these two leaders. The Bible that shaped King and Jackson provides abundant testimony to God’s will for justice and love in society: (Amos 5:24; Micah 6:6-8, Matt. 7:12; Galatians 3:28,29.)
Faith Talk Questions:
- Martin and Mahalia were born with the gift of Gospel or gospel. What is the gospel?
- What was Martin’s gift. Is the ability to speak powerfully the same as the gospel.
- What was Mahalia’s? Is the ability to sing beautifully the same as the gospel.
- What do you think Martin learned in the church where he grew up?
- What do you think Mahalia learned in the church where she grew up?
- Find the dove on every page. What does the dove represent?
- Use your finger to follow the path. Where does it end?
- What does the picture on the 6th page tell you about segregation?
- Ask your parent, grandparent, or older adult what they remember about segregation.
- There are many recording’s of Mahalia Jackson’s songs. Find a CD or turn to YouTube to hear her sing.
This review was written by regular contributor Virginia Thomas.