March: Book One

March Book OneMarch: Book One. Written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Illustrated by Nate Powell. Top Shelf Productions, 2013. 128 pages. Recommended for ages 11 and older. ISBN: 9781603093002.

March: Book One is a partial autobiography in graphic form of Congressman John Lewis. Lewis was 23 when he spoke at the March on Washington in 1963.  March: Book One addresses Lewis’s childhood in rural Alabama and his time as a college student in Nashville, Tennessee.

The book starts on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and then switches to the morning of President Obama’s inauguration, when a woman and her two sons show up in Lewis’s office. The mother didn’t expect Lewis to be there. She simply wanted her son’s to see how far society had come from the 1950s and 1960s to a time when Lewis could hold congressional office and Barack Obama could be inaugurated as president. Lewis welcomes the visitors into his office and proceeds to tell the young boys about his life. The boys’ questions partially guide his reminiscences. The book switches back and forth between those reminiscences and January 20, 2009.

Lewis tells the boys that he was responsible for the family’s chickens when he was young, a job he loved. But he hated killing and eating the chickens, perhaps a foreshadowing of his later recognition of the importance of nonviolence in the civil rights movement.

Lewis talks about his fascination with Dr. Martin Luther King’s “social gospel.” Nonviolence was a primary tenant of that gospel. Jim Lawson, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, was another early influence in the direction of nonviolence.

The events of the movement to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville where Lewis attended college are detailed in a fast-paced and exciting way. Towards the end of the book, Lewis speaks of his frustration with the “traditional black leadership structure,” including people such as Thurgood Marshall and organizations such as the NAACP. Lewis himself was active in founding SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, at a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where Lawson was the keynote speaker.

This is the first graphic book I’ve read. I found that the drawings add emotion. As I sat down to read this book, I wished I had chosen another book. It seems I’ve read a number of books recently that talk about the Jim Crow South. Once I started reading, though, I realized this is a unique story of the Jim Crow South: this is John Lewis’s story. It’s tense and it’s exciting and I learned things I never knew before. I’m eager to read the next two installments in this three book autobiography.

Blog Reviews:

Good Comics For Kids
Nerdophiles
The Nonfiction Detectives
Teen Reads

Professional Reviews:

Kirkus
Publishers Weekly

What Was the March on Washington?

What Was the March on WashingtonWhat Was the March on Washington? Written by Kathleen Krull. Illustrated by Tim Tomkinson. Grosset & Dunlap, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2013. 128 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 8 to 12. ISBN: 9780448462875.

I was five years old on August 28, 1963. I remember that my brother and I stayed with neighbors while my parents rode on a school bus from New Jersey to Washington DC. My brother, who was almost two, cried all night long and kept me awake. I was forced to eat a tomato at dinner. My parents came home and talked about how hard it was to sleep on a school bus and how hot it was in Washington. I thought they had done something very important by going to the March. I knew they enjoyed the camaraderie of the day, but they never told me anything about the speakers or the singers.

In reading “What Was the March on Washington?” I found out much more about the March. I now know about the meticulous planning that went into the March. I know about the people, 250,000 people arriving on bus after bus and train after train. I know the path the March took. I’ve always known that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March. But now I know all the other speakers and singers, and I know that Dr. King stopped reading from his speech and started speaking from his heart when he began talking about his dream.

Krull presents all this information very clearly. She starts by describing the racism that existed in this country at that time, and also the key events of the Civil Rights struggle before the March. After that she explains the extensive preparation for the March, undertaken by Randolph and by Bayard Rustin. She talks at length about the March itself, and then addresses the time after the March: the death of JFK, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the death of Dr. King.

In the middle of the book are 16 pages of black-and-white photos. The book has many black-and-white drawings, mostly of the people involved. It helps to have those images in one’s mind when reading about the people. At the end there’s a timeline and a bibliography.

The book is fun to read, and I’m so glad to know more about what my parents saw and heard while I was gagging on a tomato.

Blog Reviews:

Helen Foster James

We’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March

Weve got a jobWe’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson.  Peachtree Publishers, 2012.  180 pages.  Publisher recommends for ages 10 and up. ISBN: 9781561456277.

YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist, 2013

In the spring of 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, black leaders from throughout the US wanted to have a series of large demonstrations against segregation. The leaders wanted adults in Birmingham to march and allow themselves to be arrested until the jails could hold no more people. The black adults, though, wanted to wait and see what would happen to segregation when a new city government was put in place. So the leaders turned to children. Thousands of children marched and thousands were arrested. The impact was very significant both on a local level and on a national level. We’ve Got a Job follows four of the student protesters, three of whom were trained in nonviolence and a fourth who became violent. This is a very important story, one which ultimately came a catalyst for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I have a very strong reaction to the story, a reaction different from any other review of this book I have read.  I was five in 1963. Over the course of the next several years, Martin Luther King, Jr. became a hero of mine.  It never occurred to me that King was not entirely the noble, non-violent idealist I thought him to be.  He was also a political pragmatist. The civil rights movement was losing momentum in 1963, and King needed something to bring it back to life. Adults in Birmingham weren’t willing to help, so he let children march and go to jail. I should point out that King wasn’t in favor of letting children march, but he allowed it.  I should also point out that the children were not being coerced. They knew there was a job to do and they were willing to do it. But can children make an informed decision? Is it fair to let children put themselves in the path of dogs and firehoses?

It’s a credit to Cynthia Levinson’s very straightforward telling of this story that it caused me to doubt one of my lifelong heroes. A glimpse into the fallibility and pragmatism of the leaders of political movements is a good thing, as is seeing the confusion of those leaders.

The children are the heroes in this story, and in reading the unemotional accounts of acts of white hatred against the black children, it’s clear that they were heroic indeed.

Other Blog Reviews

Boys and LiteracyA Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea CozyPractically ParadiseThe YA YA YAs

I Have A Dream

I Have a Dream written by Martin Luther King, Jr.  Illustrated by Kadir Nelson.  Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012.  40 pages.  Recommended for all ages.  ISBN: 9780375958878.

Wow.  In 1963, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of the most important speeches of the 20th century. It is entitled “I Have a Dream” and it was delivered as part of the March on Washington, a march in support of civil rights for African Americans. This book pairs the words of the last third of the speech with Kadir Nelson’s outstanding illustrations.

Nelson has won two Caldecott Honors, a Robert F. Sibert Medal and a Coretta Scott King Honor Award.  In “I Have a Dream” he captures the power of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Nelson includes two head shots of Dr. King.  The first is paired with “I have a dream today.” The second is paired with “From every mountainside, let freedom ring.” Both show the strength and intensity of Dr. King. Nelson also paints a two-page spread of a white hand and a black hand holding each other.  It’s hard to imagine a better way to visualize the meaning of the speech.

At the end of the book the entire speech is printed. The book also comes with a CD of the entire speech. It’s remarkable to listen to the speech on the CD, notice when the book begins to pick up the words of the speech, and continue to listen to the speech while reading the words and looking at the illustrations. It makes for a very powerful experience for one who was a child during the civil rights movement.

“I Have a Dream” is an excellent tool to open new generations of children to the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  This book demonstrates that Dr. King’s power continues into the 21st century.