On August 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of people marched to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. issue a resounding call for the end of racial injustice in his now-famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, it's a great time for kids to learn more about the civil-rights era and the stalwart activists who led the effort to overturn U.S. segregation laws.
Here are some good new books about the march, and about King himself:
-- Husband-and-wife team Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney focus on the special friendship between King and gospel singer Mahalia Jackson in a spectacular nonfiction picture book, "Martin & Mahalia: His Words -- Her Song" (Little Brown, $17.99, ages 6 up).
King and Jackson became friends during the 1950s as the battle for civil rights was heating up, and they were together on the dais on August 28, 1963. While King was a practiced and dynamic orator, he still struggled for days over what he wanted to say to the crowd assembled at the Lincoln Memorial and the millions around the world watching the event on television.
It was Jackson who helped King find the right words. As he was delivering his prepared speech, she called out to him: "Tell them about your dream, Martin!" King complied, speaking in ringing tones of his dream of a world where people are judged by their character, not by their skin color.
In her text, Andrea Davis Pinkney uses the lyrical cadence of a skilled preacher to capture the excitement and drama of that day in Washington 50 years ago, as well as highlighting the outsized personalities of King and Jackson.
Jackson, for example, had a voice that was "brass and butter. Strong and smooth at the same time," while King's voice, even as he spoke at his father's church as a young man, "kept people in their seats but also sent their praises soaring."
"They were each born with the gift of gospel," Andrea Davis Pinkney writes.
Brian Pinkney, meanwhile, uses a palette of joyous colors to convey the heart and soul of Jackson's music and King's oratory. The watercolor illustrations seem to be alive with emotion as readers follow a white dove through the pages, which Brian Pinkney says, in a note at the end of the book, serves as a reminder "that peace can prevail, even when we are met with opposition."
The book's design also contributes to the energy readers will feel as they leaf through the pages. Amid the overall horizontal design of a traditional picture-book format, two of the two-page spreads in the book are vertical, requiring readers to turn the book to read those pages. In addition, each two-page spread includes words that are emphasized by being in color and larger than the surrounding black text.
Andrea Davis Pinkney adds further historical information in a note at the end of the book. There's also an illustrated timeline of important civil-rights events, a list of suggested books to read and a selected Jackson discography.
Readers also may enjoy another volume by the Pinkneys, "Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down," which tells the story of the 1960 Greensboro, N.C., sit-in by four African-American college students at the counter of a local dime store, which refused to serve blacks.
-- In "What Was the March on Washington?" (Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin, $15.99, ages 8-12), author Kathleen Krull offers a straightforward look at one of the largest civil-rights gatherings in U.S. history.
Krull, the author of numerous critically acclaimed books of history for young readers, details both the March on Washington itself as well as the events leading up to it. Sidebars provide a bit more in-depth information on topics ranging from the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that desegregated schools to an explanation of the key civil-rights groups.
Krull provides plenty of perspective showing how and why the march was organized. She also delves into basic details, ranging from how marchers were fed and how they were instructed to ignore taunts and other efforts to incite them to violence.
Line drawings by illustrator Tim Tomkinson are included on most of the pages, making this volume accessible even for reluctant readers. The book also includes 16 pages of black-and-white photos.
Young readers accustomed to the full-color, glossy nonfiction books that have become common these days may find this black-and-white volume somewhat lackluster-looking in comparison. But "What Was the March on Washington?" -- part of the "What Was?" series -- is an easy-to-read, solidly research introduction to the event.
At the end of the text, the book includes a brief timeline of important civil-rights dates contrasted
with a timeline of major world events, plus a bibliography. Unfortunately, there is no index, which would have been helpful in this 106-page book.
-- Two other new books spotlight King and his family. In "My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." (HarperCollins, $17.99, ages 4-7), Martin Luther King III gives readers a perspective on what it was like to grow up as the eldest son of the civil-rights leader.
In this picture-book biography, illustrated by A.G. Ford, Martin Luther King III shows his father both as a loving father and as the target of those opposed to equal rights for blacks. His conversational tone will grab young readers, who will likely be fascinated by the author's confession that he sometimes pretended to forget his name as a way to keep his distance from the enemies that his father attracted.
"Martin Luther King Jr.: A King Family Tribute" (Abrams, $18.95, ages 10 up) provides a loving, intimate look at the life of King and his family. Young readers may be most interested in the numerous family photographs, while older readers also will enjoy the text, which rounds out a portrait of an important American family.
Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com. For more stories, visit shns.com.