Sometimes I question whether or not I took enough time to talk with my students about the process and effort involved in creating works of wonder. We read plenty of books, but I don’t know if all of my students realized that some of those books took years to write. One book that does an extraordinary job of outlining the process involved in developing a history-making speech is A Place to Land written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
This book begins the evening before the March on Washington, when Dr. King and his advisors were discussing what he should address in his speech the next day. It might be news to students that there were so many people involved in writing this speech. We often focus our attention on Dr. King when teaching the Civil Rights Movement, especially with young learners, and A Place to Land does a great job of introducing students to other important figures from this time.
This picture book continues, describing the many hours that Dr. King spent alone in the Willard Hotel writing and rewriting his speech. When Dr. King begins delivering the speech, his audience doesn’t respond quite the way he wanted. Then comes the memorable moment when Mahalia Jackson urges, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” The previous evening, his advisors had been telling him that this line was getting old and that he shouldn’t use it. It is now, arguably, the most famous line from any speech in history. In fact, we call it the “I Have a Dream” speech.
Wittenstein and Pinkney have taken a moment in history that has been addressed in many picture books and given it a whole new look. By focusing on the moments before, during, and after the speech they have made this moment even larger and created opportunities for students and teachers to dig much more deeply into this period. Pinkney’s illustrations are, as always, unbelievably intricate and students will want to examine them closely.
In the end, passion and energy (as well as knowing your audience) are just as important as process when it comes to creating works of wonder. This is a book that communicates that message to readers of all ages.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Diversity 8: I want to know more about other people’s lives and experiences, and I know how to ask questions respectfully and listen carefully and non-judgmentally.
Diversity 10: I know that the way groups of people are treated today, and the way they have been treated in the past, is a part of what makes them who they are.
Justice 15: I know about the actions of people and groups who have worked throughout history to bring more justice and fairness to the world.
RI.1- Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
RI.3- Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.
RI.7- Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).