The book of poetry “Martin Rising: Requiem for a King” beautifully illustrates events in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s written with a middle school audience in mind, but this collection can be enjoyed by everyone. Each of poet Andrea Davis Pinkney’s poems is accompanied by a beautiful watercolor, gouache, and india ink illustration by Brian Pinkney.
The poems about King’s life are labeled with the date of each event’s occurrence and in some cases the time. The book is divided into three sections: Daylight, Darkness and Dawn.
Henny Penny, who listeners will remember as the folklore character who declares that “The Sky Is Falling” introduces, predicts, and is an all-knowing narrator of the past, present, and future.
In the Daylight section of the book, poems about King’s joyous birth, growth to manhood, and family life are juxtaposed with poems about his work as a scholar, preacher, and champion for basic civil rights and equality. He inspires hope as he arrives in Memphis to help organize the sanitation workers as they march against injustice. The tragic events of this time period in March and April of 1968 become frightening real as described by Andrea Davis Pinkney in poetic form.
A stunning poem in the Darkness section is titled Pronouncement, April 4, 1968, 7:05 p.m.
Socks it straight.
This is not a forecast.
It is official:
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Thirty-nine years old.
No longer a flesh-and-blood man.
Now a martyr of mercy.
Now above the rain.
Past the clouds.
Beyond each and every thunderstorm.
Henny Penny tucks her beak
Under her beaten wing.
Speckle-feathered mourning bird
Who cannot flutter free
Of her own sad prediction
The Sky has fallen.
The third section of the book, Dawn, ends with poems of sorrow and hope. Emotions that continue today more than 50 years after the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is a book that presents historical events with layers of meaning and is perfect for sharing in a variety of classrooms. The poems can be read silently, performed as theater, or adapted as a play. This book of poems is a perfect companion to fiction and nonfiction titles about Martin Luther King, Jr. The final pages include both author and illustrator reflections, photographs and additional information about the Memphis Sanitation workers’ strike, a time-line of events, and a list of sources used in the creation of the book.
This collection of poems about Martin Luther King, Jr. is a significant way to explore a time period at the end of his life in a poignant, meaningful way.
Reviewer Karla Schmit lives in State College. She’s the director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, which awarded “Martin Rising” the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for 2019.