Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens Book Poster Image
Gorgeous, uplifting picture-book bio of the Queen of Gospel.

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

Educational Value

Though the story mostly sticks to the singer's biography, the historical backdrop offers a window onto the development of gospel music and the Great Migration of southern African-Americans to northern urban centers such as Chicago. The final page contains a detailed time line of Mahalia's life and legacy, as well as online and library resources so kids can learn more about her.

Positive Messages

Mahalia's steadfast dedication to singing only the music that moved her most -- spiritual music -- is shown to be what made her a unique and iconic figure in the progression of black American music.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mahalia is presented as a resilient and hardworking talent who had to overcome the loss of her mother when she was a child, finding solace and meaning in honing her chosen craft of gospel music. She's also depicted as devoted to her Christian faith and heroic for resisting the temptation to sing for money in nightclubs.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens is a gorgeous, kid-friendly picture-book biography of one of gospel music's biggest stars. Working her way from a tragic childhood in New Orleans, to the churches of Chicago, to the top of the charts on Decca Records, Mahalia Jackson shows how talent, faith, and determination can help a person overcome adversity to obtain success and inspire others along the way.

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What's the story?

MAHALIA JACKSON: WALKING WITH KINGS AND QUEENS recounts the life and career of germinal gospel music superstar Mahalia Jackson, who arose from humble origins in New Orleans to become the widely recognized "Queen of Gospel." After her mother dies, she's sent to live with her strict aunt in Chicago, who tells her, "Don't worry. One day you'll walk with kings and queens." Mahalia endures her adolescence by constantly singing in churches and everywhere else, and at 16 she goes to live with another aunt in Chicago. Blessed with an exceptional voice and a staunch belief in her Christian values, Mahalia breaks barriers by becoming a star performing spiritual music. Her career takes her all the way to Carnegie Hall and the famous 1963 March on Washington, where she sings before Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, etching her place in American history. 

Is it any good?

John Holyfield's warm and emotive acrylic paintings effectively pair with Nina Nolan's simple but elegant narration to tell a heartwarming story in a dynamic way. Mahalia's greatest legacy is, of course, her music, which sounds as raw and powerful today as it did a half century ago, when she helped establish a tradition of gospel music that continues to thrive to this day, providing the soundtrack to countless camp meetings and congregations.

This book is a wonderful portrayal of a musical icon and a great way to introduce kids to American roots music. Includes a chronology and online and library resources. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the historical development of American folk and blues, from field hollers and European ballads to spirituals and gospel to jazz, rock, and blues. How have African-Americans shaped the course of music history?

  • Mahalia Jackson defied record-industry conventions by recording exclusively gospel music, despite its supposed lack of marketability. Do you think it's more important to stay true to yourself or do what's popular? 

  • What role does music have in your life? Do you have a spiritual relationship with music?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love music, history, and African-American stories

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