Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song

Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrator:   Brian Pinkney 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Little Brown, 2013   ISBN: 978-0316070133

In two cities in the south, there were two children who learn how to use their voices to reach out to their people. In Atlanta, Georgia, young Martin Luther King Jr. learned how to deliver sermons in church, captivating his listeners with his “Gift for gospel.” In another church in New Orleans, Louisiana, Mahalia Jackson sang in the choir and everyone could see that she had a gift for gospel: sung gospel.

   In the south where these young people lived, African Americans, the descendants of slaves, did not have the same rights as white American citizens. They were kept separate from white people by Jim Crow laws and had to accept being separate “but nowhere near equal.”

   As Martin and Mahalia grew up their gift for gospel grew with them. People came to hear Martin’s sermons, to be strengthened by his words of hope. People also came to hear Mahalia sing and they bought her records. White people and black alike loved her voice, which was “Brass and Butter. Strong and smooth at the same time.” Both Martin and Mahalia wanted to “set people on the path to peace,” they wanted people to hope that one day all people, white and black, would be free. The two admired each other a great deal and then in 1955, during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, they came together to preach and sing their support for the cause.

   This collaboration was just the beginning. They wanted to do more and both decided that they would take part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Here was an opportunity for Martin and Mahalia to reach out to thousands of people. After Mahalia sang to quieten the crowd, Martin began speaking and his friend encouraged him to speak on. “Tell them about your dream, Martin!” she said. And so he did.

   In this extraordinary picture book we meet two people who in their own ways used their voices to encourage Americans to protest peacefully against inequality and injustice and to “rejoice in the beauty of racial unity.”

   The lyrical text is paired with beautifully expressive artwork, and at the back of the book readers will find out more information about Martin and Mahalia, a note from the illustrator about “Painting Parallels,” and a combined timeline of Martin and Mahalia’s lives.