Jan 27, 2013

Standing on the Shoulders of History

This week marked the 57th inauguration of an American president. Commentators from all points of view on the political spectrum noted the significance of our peaceful transition of power. Compared to ancient civilizations, the United States is still in its youth, but as a working democracy in modern times we are the forerunners of many others that followed.
When taking the oath of office, Obama rested his hand on bibles that belonged to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. The significance and symbolism of that led me to prepare this feature and postpone for now the one I had planned.

More books have been written about these these two historic figures than about any other Americans, but two titles are deserving of a lingering look. Both are illustrated with luminous paintings by Kadir Nelson. Even a quick glance at his website and the picture books he has illustrated reveals his artistic and interpretive talent and and his affinity for portraying the essence of historic leaders.
Schwartz and Wade, 2012

I HAVE A DREAM by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a picture book/CD combination. Most books with its twelve-by-twelve inch format would be described as oversized, but in this case it is right-sized. King's iconic speech and his stirring delivery have been replayed so often that at least snippets of it are recognizable to every generation. Although I didn't attend the event, I lived in that time and was aware that history was being made. Everyone was, whether they liked the direction in which he was leading the country or not. Nelson captures the density and intensity of King's words, phrase by phrase, on lush double-page spreads. The accompanying CD is the official recording of King's speech on that history-shaping day.

Hyperion Books, 2008
In ABE'S HONEST WORDS, by Doreen Rappaport, lyrical biographical narrative is paired with excerpts from Lincoln's writings. Some of the selections are familiar, others less so. Lincoln, like King, read widely, deeply, and often, including the bible. Both men drew strength from words, reshaping them to their times. Both men had the ability to write and speak those words compellingly, not diminishing the wisdom of those who came before but enhancing it.
Back cover

On the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of King's March on Washington, the use of these bibles for the inauguration was more than symbolic. It was a call to consider how we have advanced as a nation, and to honor those who helped us do so.

In my opinion both titles qualify as coffeetable books as well as picture books, inviting repeated inspection and reflection by readers of every age.

Are there other Lincoln and King picture books among your favorites?

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