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

A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a NationWritten by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation, provides a creative take on the nurturing team of Black intellectuals and activists King surrounded himself with as he worked to make meaningful social and economic change. The important picture book offers an inventive behind-the-scenes look at King before, during, and after his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

Wittenstein writes with a subtle but pulsing rhythm that builds as he narrates the racial violence that inspires King’s speech: “Heroes, all,/ chased by snarling police dogs,/ knocked off their feet/ by high-pressure water jets, arrested, beaten, shot, and hung,/ shocked and poked by cattle prods,/ their homes,/ schools, and churches/ burned and bombed.” An image of King, chin resting on crossed hands that hold a pencil, prepared to write, as his eyes gaze forward pensively, is framed by sketches of the community he works with and dreams for. Page after page, image after image, tells the story of a man who understands the power of words to counter the violence of fists and bombs.

When King stands behind the podium, he isn’t alone. He is surrounded by supporters who inspire him as well as the spiritual beliefs that guide him. By the end of the speech, Jerry Pinkney illustrates King glowing, the community gathered to hear him and demand change with him swaying, everyone in awe – together.

The story moves forward to hours later when King meets with Kennedy who Wittenstein notes “had been slow to embrace the civil rights movement.” It moves forward again to the evening when King and his advisors celebrate the power of King’s words and the passion of his delivery.

This is a gorgeous picture book, art and text pair beautifully as a snapshot of history is communicated with vibrancy and clarity. I highly recommend this book, particularly for older picture book readers (7 – 11). This will make a wonderful addition to school libraries and can be used to enrich history lessons or shared as a biography.

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