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Books in Brief: Martin Rising, Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney; The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, paintings by Brian Pinkney; Scholastic, 123 pages ($19.99) Ages 9 to 12. (Jan. 2 publication)
On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes this stunning poetic tribute to the martyred civil rights leader, focusing on the final weeks of his life as he heeded the call to come to the assistance of striking black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., where he delivered his hauntingly prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.
Andrea Pinkney begins her requiem with “Henny Penny’s Prelude,” explaining she used “the sky-is-falling” oracle as “the way in” for children to her story, as Greek chorus, an unexpected voice of wisdom, “the sky’s ever-present insight.” Brian Pinkney’s dramatic paintings help illumine the crescendo of the story, whether depicting a church basement meeting of huddled souls under a giant burst of swirling colors and sunlight, a portrait of Dr. King with angel wings delivering his famous speech, a swirling black abstract stained with red on the double page of poetry describing Dr. King lying mortally wounded (“Believer. Dream weaver, Papa Bear – mighty blowww. Come, all ye faithful. All aboard heaven’s railroad!”) or the simple outlines of a portrait of Coretta King and her four young children mourning.
Andrea Pinkney’s soaring poetry is meant to be read aloud: she notes that a selection of the poems, interspersed with her searing afterword “Now Is The Time,” giving context to the United States’ sorry history of slavery, Jim Crow and oppression of its black citizens, could be part of dramatic presentations honoring Dr. King. The Pinkneys, who have collaborated on many previous works, have produced an important, inspiring and unforgettable book.

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok; Candlewick Press, 450 pages ($21.99) Ages 10 to 14.
The Wonderling, a one-eared foxlike groundling (part human, part animal) remembers very little of his life before arriving at Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, a miserable place run by the terrible orange-haired Miss Carbunkle, who believes her charges’ only mission is to toil and suffer. The Wonderling is known only as Number Thirteen, until a bird groundling named Trinket gives him the name “Arthur” and the two manage to escape over the orphanage wall as Arthur hopes to uncover the secret of his past. Arthur is hungry, lost and frightened when he ends up in the company of a gang of thieves led by the rat Quintus, who sets up a heist that leads Arthur again into the path of Miss Carbunkle and a diabolical plan to rob the world of something wonderful, a plan that will require great courage and cunning and the help of his friends to defeat. This richly imagined, enthralling fantasy with its evocative names and lovely writing, is the debut children’s novel from Mira Bartok, a writer and artist who won the 2011 National Book Award for her memoir “Memory Palace.”
- Jean Westmoore

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