Title: I Have A Dream
Author: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Foreword: Coretta Scott King
Age Category: 9 to 12 years +
Genre: Picture Books
Our Rating (out of 5):
This post is a review of the second of two books I recommend for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Click here for “Children’s Books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Martin’s Big Words“, my review of the first book.
I Have a Dream Speech: Martin Luther King Jr.
The idea behind this children’s book is simple: publish the text of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech—delivered in the 1963 March on Washington—accompanied by illustrations by fifteen African-American artists whose work has featured in children’s books that have received the Coretta Scott King Award or Honor. The result is a moving and beautiful remembrance of this historic moment in the American story, a worthy tribute to the visionary Dr. King who delivered the speech, and a powerful call to renew the work of forgiveness, justice, and love that Dr. King pushed forward so forcefully in his day.
Two things will draw young readers to I Have A Dream. At the top of the list, of course, is the power of Dr. King’s words. At least three things moved me in re-reading these amazing words. First, King’s laser focus on the problems he confronted. For example, near the beginning of the second half of the speech (p. 21), in answer to the question from his detractors, “When will you be satisfied?”, Dr. King launches a trademark rhetorical rhythm, beginning each sentence with “We can never be satisfied until…”, or “We cannot be satisfied until…”, followed by a litany of injustices that King wished to see abolished, including police brutality, segregation, and denial of voter rights. Dr. King pulled no punches in laying out the grave problems that African-Americans faced.
Second, power lies in the compelling vision of justice, equality, and brotherhood that King cast in the speech. Here the rhetorical pulses begin with the famous, “I have a dream…”, followed by beautiful and compelling articulations of Dr. King’s vision of racial equality and justice: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed—we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” (p. 25).
Third, the power of Dr. King’s words lies in the non-violent means he advocated. Despite the grave injustice Dr. King and his followers faced, and the daunting distance between reality and the vision King cast, he remained unwaveringly committed to non-violence. For example, King said, “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force” (p. 19). With Gandhi, King believed that one’s means contained the end that one would reach, and so if peace and justice are the ends sought, peaceful and just means are the only way to reach them. Just as the power of Dr. King’s words sent chills down my spine once again, I believe they will also grip children in the 9-to-12 years age category, with a little explanation from an adult at key points.
Children will also be stirred by the beauty and stylistic diversity of the illustrations in I Have A Dream. Both the images of injustice, and the images of the hopeful new day ahead are compelling. For example, on the page where Dr. King urges non-violent means (p. 19), there is an image of angry Caucasians crowding in a diner, standing behind three African-Americans and one Caucasian seated behind the counter in steadfast yet peaceful resistance. Two of the angry mob are pouring ketchup on the heads of two of the African-Americans. The image makes both the injustice of segregation and the difficulty of non-violence palpable.
I Have a Dream: Developmental Value
In addition to the subjectively appealing words and illustrations of I Have A Dream, this kids’ book has much developmental value for children in the 9-to-12-years category. First, the kids’ book constitutes an obvious opportunity to discuss with children Dr. King’s life and pivotal role in the civil rights movement of the 20th-century. As such, the book is an opportunity to learn about an important period of recent American history. A brief but helpful biographical sketch of Dr. King printed after the text of the speech will facilitate such learning.
Second, I Have A Dream provides an excellent opportunity for moral and religious learning. The moral themes raised by Dr. King’s speech (justice, peace, love, segregation, etc.)—and particularly the non-violent means Dr. King advocated—will naturally raise moral questions for children, thereby prompting conversations with adults that can lead to valuable moral learning. Similarly, the religious themes of Dr. King’s speech—e.g., his quotations of Amos 5:24 (“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”) and Isaiah 40:4-5 (“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill be made low…Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together”) from the Hebrew Bible—provide an opportunity to discuss the faith that animated Dr. King’s words and deeds, and more generally the connection between religious conviction and right action.
In sum, I highly recommend I Have A Dream, and give it our highest five-star rating. We encourage you to find it in your local library, or to support our work by purchasing it through the links in this post or in the “9 to 12 years” category of the Children’s Books and Reviews Online Bookstore. For audio, video, and an additional text version of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” Speech, click here. For additional recommendations for children’s books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, click here.
Have you read I Have a Dream? What do you think? How did your children respond to it? Leave a comment below and start a discussion!