Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I HAVE A DREAM, by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ill. by Kadir Nelson

King Jr., Martin Luther. 2012. I HAVE A DREAM. Ill. by Kadir Nelson.  New York:  Scwartz Wade Books.
ISBN 978-0-375-85887-1


Kadir Nelson illustrates the last third of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous, “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington, using strong imagery that compliments the meaning of King’s speech about equality.  The book includes the full text of the speech in the back as well as an audio CD of King giving the entire speech.  Dr. King was a preacher, activist and leader in the American civil rights movement.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most famous, well-loved and influential African Americans in our nation’s history.  He is celebrated with his own Federal holiday.  As a leading spokesperson for nonviolent protest during the Civil Rights Movement, his speech about his dream of racial equality is recognized, at least in part, by most American school children and contains some of the most well-known lines in any speech in American history.  “I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.  I have a dream today.”  His repetition of the line, “I have a dream today,” is rhythmic and powerful, a testament to his gift as a speaker.  Smolen and Oswald write that “the art of language is one of the defining characteristics of the African-American culture” (105).   Additionally, “Many of the leaders in the Black community have been preachers,” (114) and it is true that Dr. King was a preacher.  This added to his gift of oratory and certainly contributed to his approach of peaceful protest.  He referenced spiritual songs in his speech, songs that his audience would undoubtedly recognize, as many African-Americans found solace and hope through their church communities.

Kadir Nelson puts images to the words of the last part of Dr. King’s speech, the “dream” portion of his speech.  On a two-page spread, a black man and a white man face each other from opposite sides of the book, with faint smiles.  His four children are portrayed in their Sunday best, realistically painted with rich colors. Two pages show a dramatic close up of Martin Luther King Jr. himself, giving a remarkable likeness and showing the passion behind his words.  A beautiful, full spread landscape in a more impressionistic style highlights King’s statement that “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low…”  On the page in which King quotes the National Anthem, Nelson paints a group of children of every ethnicity and color, standing close together in a group, showing the unity of King’s dream.  Four paintings on two page spreads represent the various states he calls by name.

When Nelson shows those listening to the speech, he is careful to include people of a variety of races, male and female.  Doves, a traditional symbol of peace, fly on the last page across from words italicized for emphasis: “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Playing the CD along with the book is a powerful and moving experience, as readers see his dreams illustrated for us as we follow along with his words.  A must-have for every collection.

This book certainly offers African-American students –and all students—a hero to learn from and admire.  It meets Cheryl Willis Hudson’s standards for an afro-centric book that is worth publishing, as it is culturally specific, with accurate and factual information.  The positive images will leave a lasting impression and it is an attractive book well worth the investment (Hudson, qt. by Vardell, n.p.)


"A great way to introduce young readers to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic 1963 address, this large, square picture book presents the speech with long excerpts and full-page, glowing unframed oil portraits of King, as well as paintings of the thousands who came to hear him at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington."-- Booklist, Sept. 1, 2010.

"There's something exhilarating about viewing Nelson's (Heart and Soul) paintings of Dr. King and the March on Washington while reading the words of the speech King gave that day; it's hard to imagine a better representation of their historical significance....A glorious interpretation of a bedrock moment in 20th-century history."  --Publisher's Weekly, Sept. 24, 2012.

"The luminous oil paintings employ a variety of techniques-scenes at the Lincoln Memorial have a sweeping impressionistic quality, while other spreads employ the artist's signature photorealistic style.  From the wraparound jacket featuring a powerful image of Dr. King, Nelson makes good use of the large, square trim size and generous design appropriate to illustrate such a significant moment in the Civil Rights Movement.  While putting his own interpretative spin on the iconic words, he remains sensitive to King's intent; for example, several of the paintings focus on King's hope that all people will someday live in harmony- a theme that runs through the oration....Even after 50 years, this seminal address still has the power to move listeners, and this handsome illustrated version will be welcomed in all collections."-- School Library Journal, Nov. 1, 2012.


  • Read other books that illustrate this same speech and compare/contrast their approach.  Martin’s Big Words (Rappaport, 2002) or another book called I Have a Dream, with a forward by Bernice King could be used, which includes various artists’ interpretations of the speech.  Another book that illustrates the speech has illustrations by Kathleen Wilson.
  • Listen to the CD or watch a video clip of the speech and compare/contrast it to the experience of reading the picture book.
  • Write a response to King, describing whether or not his dream has come true yet, in your opinion, and why.
  • Read about other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and other important events of the time, such as the Greensboro Sit-In, with the book Sit-In, by Andrea and Brian Pinkney.


This book is incredibly moving.  My husband’s eyes stung when he saw the image of Dr. King in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  I personally loved being able to listen to the complete speech, following along with the illustrations of the book when he reached that part of his speech.  I had never actually listened to the entire speech before, and I’m thankful that I have now. 

Works Referenced:

King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1998. I Have a Dream.  Ill. by a variety of artists.  NY: HarperCollins.

King, Martin Luther, Jr.  2007. I Have a Dream.  Ill by Kathleen Wilson.  NY:  Scholastic Inc.

Rappaport, Doreen. 2001.  Martin’s Big Words:  The Life of Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. Ill. by Bryan Collier.  New York:  Hyperion Books for Children.

Smolen, Lynn Atkinson and Ruth A. Oswald, ed.  2011.  Multicultural Literature and Response:  Affirming Diverse Voices.  Santa Barbara, CA:  Libraries Unlimited.

Vardell, Sylvia.  2008.  “Overview” Culture 2 Af Am Lit: Overview.  Texas Woman’s University.  Blackboard class LS 5653, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults.  Web.  Accessed Sept 12, 2013. 

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