I’ve Seen the Promised Land by Walter Dean Myers — book recommendation
January 16, 2017
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Illustrator: Leonard Jenkins
Publisher: New York: HarperCollins/Amistad, 2004
Genre: Picture book biography
Audience Age: 5 to 10
Themes, topics: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights, equality, inspiration
Opening Sentences: March 1968. The country was torn by turmoil.
Synopsis: This book matter-of-factly chronicles the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., showing the incredible courage of this man – and of those who worked for justice alongside him and in faraway parts of the nation.
We read of him learning about nonviolent protest from Gandhi, while also realizing that others didn’t see the value of nonviolence. We see the events of the civil rights movement unfold, beginning with Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on that bus in Montgomery in 1955, and continuing until the night of April 3, 1968, when Dr. King made his eerily prescient speech, saying,
“I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I’ve looked over, and I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
And yes, the next page tells us what happened the next day, and then talks about how Dr. King’s “example stands as a glowing light for us to follow.”
Walter Dean Myers’ writing takes the events that children of today see as long-ago history – events that are still seared on the memories of those who lived through the civil rights era up close or afar — and shows a power that is still alive, still active, and still sorely needed in our society.
Leonard Jenkins’ masterful illustrations bring the words to life, in a mixture of almost-photographic realism superimposed on what Publishers Weekly called “a kaleidoscopic amalgam of shapes and symbols.”
This book has much to say to us at this time in history, as does Dr. King’s life and work. These lines resonated particularly with me – “he believed that individuals had the responsibility of making democracy work” and “…he had faith that hatred could not last forever. He still believed that justice would rise up from the ashes of despair and that those who held out for love would one day prevail.”
His example and strong belief in these truths can strengthen us, whatever we face.
Activities/Resources: Check out this wonderful video about Dr. King by Kid President.
There is more inspiration in the Scholastic Storybook Treasures DVD titled March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World … and more stories about African American history.
This DVD includes readings of four picture books (with illustrations embellished with photos and sound clips) and brief interviews with Christine King Farris, Dr. King’s sister, who wrote the picture book from which the DVD got its title, and Ellen Levine, who wrote one of the other books.
The four picture books included are
March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World, by Dr. Christine King Farris, illustrated by London Ladd, narrated by Lynn Whitfield
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier, narrated by Michael Clarke Duncan
Rosa, written and narrated by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Henry’s Freedom Box: a true story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, narrated by Jerry Dixon.
On this Martin Luther King Day and always, I is truly for Inspiration, and I have a dream, and I have seen the promised land. And just think — more than one I makes we, and we shall overcome.