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A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation Book Poster Image
Beautiful art adds to deep tale of "I Have a Dream" speech.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Loads of information about the speech and how it came together, the historical context of the speech and the march and the civil rights struggles of the early 1960s. Readers will learn about other civil rights leaders who were part Martin Luther King Jr.'s inner circle, including John Lewis, who went on to become a U.S. representative and is still a leader in Congress. A page in the back matter features one-paragrpah bios of King's nine advisors who were in the room at the hotel with him the night before the speech. Other African American leaders are mentioned and pictured, including Rep. Shirely Chisolm and President Barrak Obama.

Positive Messages

It's good to ask for help on a project if you get stuck. Great people know the importance of listening to others. Some people turn to prayer for inspiration or to help them work through a problem. Writing takes many rewrites, word changes, and refining of your ideas. A speaker may make changes at the last miinute "to match the mood of the moment." Love triumphs over hate. Black and white people "walking arm in arm [is] the only way to save America."

Positive Role Models & Representations

King is a tremendous role model as a leader, a fighter for social justice, and a great orator who moved people and helped change a nation with his words. Other famous African Americans are mentioned or portrayed, including John Lewis, Rep. Shirely Chisolm, President Barrak Obama, Andrew Young, Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells, and singer Mahalia Jackson. Jackson's role in urging King to talk about his dream during his speech may be news to many readers. Other rolel models include protesters and marchers in the background, showing the power of coming together to stand up for what you believe. 

Violence & Scariness

A sublte visual reference -- a sketch of a snarling dog on a leash -- is a reminder of how police used dogs to threaten and intimidate nonviolent civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, a horrifying incident that was broadcast on national TV.  Reference in the author's note to the bombing, three weeks after KIng's speech, of the 16th Aveenue Church in Brimingham that killed four young girls.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Barry Wittenstein's A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Insipred a Nation, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, traces the civil rights leader's process in writing his famous "I have a dream" speech, delivered at the 1963 March on Washington. It shows him trying to finalize his speech the night before, consulting with other civil rights leaders and advisors, and then deciding in the moment, at the march, to go off-script to deliver what would become the most famous and enduring part of the speech. Readers learn about King, how he turned to his associates for help when he was struggling to finish his speech, and the civil rights struggles that led up to this historic moment. 

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What's the story?

At the begining of A PLACE TO LAND: MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. AND THE SPEECH THAT INSPIRED A NATION, it's the night before the historic March on Washington in August 1963. He's still polishing his speech to deliver at the march, and he seeks input from other civil right leaders and advisers as he tries to find "a place to land," meaning the words to end with. He also prays for inspriation and guidance. The next day, as he's delivering his written remarks to 250,000 people, he pauses, and singer Mahalia Jackson shouts, "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" He moves the script to the side of the lecturn and launches into his passionate, unscripted remarks, begining with "I have a dream" and concluding with "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" Following the speech, he visits President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office of the White House. Then he returns to the hotel to be with his friends and supporters. 

Is it any good?

This beautiful, unusual picture book zeroes in on Martin Luther King Jr.'s writing process and how the words he hadn't written down became the most memorable part of his most famous speech. Author Barry Wittenstein turns the historical record into spare, poetic text in A Place to Land. And Jerry Pinkney's moody, emotional illustrations and mixed-media collages make that history come alive. He also shows how the stuggle continued, in King's time and our own, with the final page having portraits of Rep. Shirley Chisolm, Rep. John Lewis, and President Barack Obama. The final lines of the text are: "Martin stepped up to the lecturn, and stepped down on the other side of history."

Back matter includes an author's note, artist's note, and one-paragraph profiles of King's nine advisors that give readers more valuable historical information and context.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the famous speech detailed in A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Insipred a Nation. What about it was so great that people are still talking about it all these years later?

  • Were you surprised to learn that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked others for guidance before he finished his speech? What does it show about teamwork? Have you ever asked for help on a project you were working on? Did that make it turn out better in the end?

  • What did you learn about Martin Luther King Jr. in this book that you didn't know before?

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For kids who love civil rights stories and biographies of great leaders

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