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.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone; Crown, 208 pages ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.
How does the Black Lives Matter movement carry on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? This poignant and powerful debut novel explores that question, through a 17-year-old boy, writing a journal as letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., trying to make sense of King’s nonviolent ways in the context of the bitter racial divisions he sees in the world around him in the 21st century. Seventeen-year-old Justyce McAllister is top of his class at a private Atlanta prep school, captain of the debate team and headed for Yale when he tries to come to the rescue of his drunken ex-girlfriend and finds himself handcuffed by a white police officer. The incident shakes him to the core and makes him realize that while he may have left his old neighborhood behind, his old friends and his new classmates will never fully accept him. Then a ride one day with a classmate ends in gunfire, and Justyce’s life will never be the same.
The terrible shooting in this novel was inspired by a 2012 incident in which a 17-year-old African-American boy was shot dead in a gas station parking lot after a brief dispute with an older white man about loud music coming from the car the teenager was in. Stone offers an interesting backdrop of racial realities of an elite Southern prep school and a diverse range of characters including Justyce’s white debate partner and love interest. This is a compelling read in a year that also saw publication of Angie Thomas’ National Book Award-nominated “The Hate U Give.”