Cover image for A place to land : Martin Luther King Jr. and the speech that inspired a nation
A place to land : Martin Luther King Jr. and the speech that inspired a nation
1st ed.
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 29 cm.
Added Author:
The true story behind the writing of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. --


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 323.092 WIT 0 1
Book J 323.092 WIT 1 1
Book J 323.092 WIT 0 1
Book J 323.092 WIT 1 1
Book J 323.092 WIT 0 1

On Order



Much has been written about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1963 March on Washington. But there's little on his legendary speech and how he came to write it. Find out more in this gripping book with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney.

Selected for the Texas Bluebonnet Master List
Winner of the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children

Martin Luther King, Jr. was once asked if the hardest part of preaching was knowing where to begin. No, he said. The hardest part is knowing where to end. "It's terrible to be circling up there without a place to land."

Finding this place to land was what Martin Luther King, Jr. struggled with, alongside advisors and fellow speech writers, in the Willard Hotel the night before the March on Washington, where he gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. But those famous words were never intended to be heard on that day, not even written down for that day, not even once.

Barry Wittenstein teams up with legendary illustrator Jerry Pinkney to tell the story of how, against all odds, Martin found his place to land.

A 2019 Booklist Editors' Choice
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Nominated for an NAACP Image Award

Author Notes

Barry Wittenstein is the author of several picture books, including Waiting for Pumpsie and The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really) . He is pursuing a Masters in Childhood Education at Hunter College and lives in New York City.

Legendary author and illustrator Jerry Pinkney's many accolades include the Caldecott Medal, five Coretta Scott King Awards, five Coretta Scott King Honor Awards, four New York Times Best Illustrated Books, and four gold medals from the Society of Illustrators. He served on the National Council of the Arts, is a Trustee Emeritus of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, and has taught at Pratt Institute, the University of Delaware, and the University of Buffalo. He lives in Westchester, New York.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

This deep dive by Wittenstein (Sonny's Bridge) into the speech that galvanized the 1963 March on Washington stars not only Martin Luther King Jr. but also the colleagues whose support was crucial to him. Caldecott Medalist Pinkney captures King in a huddle with nine black pastors and organizers the night before the speech, their figures bursting with energy and life. "You have to preach," Reverend Ralph Abernathy says; Wyatt Tee Walker suggests skipping "I have a dream"; "You have used it too many times already." King works late into the night with pastor Andrew Young by his side; the next day, he's still revising. A moving long view shows throngs of demonstrators--250,000 of them--converging on the Lincoln Memorial. The speech is good, but "Martin wanted more" until a shout from singer Mahalia Jackson ("Tell them about the dream, Martin!") inspires "the passion of a Sunday morning sermon." Wittenstein's riveting story shows that historical moments--and movements--are not inevitable; they're shaped and changed by many hands and voices. In emphatic phrases and art alternatingly warm and tense, the creators' moving portrait of the civil rights leader in consultation with others is an invaluable addition to the shelf of King biographies. A wealth of resources includes notes from the makers, short biographies of King's colleagues, a bibliography, and more. Ages 7--10. Illustrator's agent: Sheldon Fogelman, the Sheldon Fogelman Agency. (Sept.)

Horn Book Review

This superbly executed picture book takes readers behind the scenes of the writing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s famous I Have a Dream speech, delivered at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. On the night before, with the speech not yet finished, King and nine advisors gathered in the lobby of the Willard Hotel to brainstorm ideas. (Back matter explains that the men met there rather than in any of the guest rooms because those rooms most certainly would have been bugged by the FBI.) The textpropulsive and suspensefulthen follows King as he labored over the speech through the night and kept refining it the next day, right up until he stepped up to the podium, with a speech typed and finished, / but never finished, just before 3:30 pm. As King delivered his prepared speech, however, he paused; even he couldnt say why. In the audience, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson heard what was missing / the passion of a Sunday morning sermon and urged King to tell them about the dream, Martin! And so, as King put aside his prepared remarks and preached, history was made. The urgency of the text, underscored by boldface type marking the relentless passing of the hours, is complemented beautifully by Pinkneys more contemplative art. The loose-lined pencil and watercolor-washed illustrations often include emotionally resonant background portraits of people who inspired King as he composed the speech. Collage elements are incorporated brilliantly, from scraps of newspapers, maps, and hotel wallpaper to torn photos of relevant landmarks (the White House; Atlantas Ebenezer Baptist Church). One particularly effective image shows scraps of maps from all over the country morphing into March attendees streaming up the Lincoln Memorial steps. This is essential American history, distilled into one of the most powerful picture books of the year. Appended with notes from the author and illustrator; brief biographies of the nine Willard Hotel Advisors and Other Voices; a list of speakers at the March; source notes; and a bibliography. martha v. parravano September/October 2019 p.121(c) Copyright 2019. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

The civil rights movement is magnified through the intimate lens of Martin Luther King Jr.'s momentous I Have a Dream speech, as in the Willard Hotel before the March on Washington he wrestles with what to say. Thoughtful, humble, vulnerable, and strong, Dr. King weighs his advisers' guidance. As he bends over a legal pad, pencil in hand, the faces of those for whom he fights sit on his shoulders. Martin saw Rosa, / Fannie Lou, / Emmett, / . . . and so many others / . . . arrested, beaten, shot, and hung. Several important African American figures are honored past, present, and future all whose fates intersect in the moment when the reverend takes the pulpit. Dr. King leaves uncertainty behind as he abandons the agonized-over speech in favor of improvisation, summoning the passion of a Sunday morning sermon. Wittenstein's free verse, beautifully subdued, flows crisp and clear, leaving room for Pinkney to shine. Collage artwork gives the impression of torn fabric a striking metaphor with holes being patched by old photographs of hymnals, maps, marchers, and flags, adding texture and tension to the expressive pencil and watercolor renderings. Back matter includes notes from author and artist, sources, bibliography, and further information on peripheral figures. Pair with Kadir Nelson's I Have a Dream (2012) for discussions on the power of words and how, as this book reminds us, those battles continue to be fought today.--Ronny Khuri Copyright 2019 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2--5--Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech has been etched into the public consciousness. Yet King's actual speech was an in-the-moment response to the audience climate during the March on Washington. A bolt of encouragement from gospel singer Mahalia Jackson prompts King to "Tell them about the dream," igniting the raw passion that his pre-rehearsed words had been missing. Wittenstein's straightforward, informative text conveys both the urgency of King's words and the weight of his responsibility as a social justice icon, but does not compromise the sobering reality of the country's racial unrest in 1963. Pinkney's warm illustrations are reminiscent of courtroom sketches, transporting readers into the historic moment. He explains that he chose to use collage as "a way to reinforce place." Key figures, such as Senator John Lewis and diplomat Andrew Young, are labeled. One powerful double-page spread features the headshots of fallen social justice heroes to present a visual reminder of the blood, sweat, and pain extracted on the road to justice. Figures who were struck down by the brutal violence of white supremacy, like Emmett Till and Medgar Evans, have been drawn with their eyes closed. VERDICT Wittenstein and Pinkney's collaboration is an evocative study in King's speechwriting process. A work that takes a familiar topic and shapes it into a moving portrait of undeterred determination and conviction. Highly recommended for public and school libraries.--Vanessa Willoughby, School Library Journal

Kirkus Review

The backstory of a renowned address is revealed.Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" is one of the most famous ever given, yet with this book, Wittenstein and Pinkney give young readers new insights into both the speech and the man behind it. When Dr. King arrived in Washington, D.C., for the 1963 March on Washington, the speech was not yet finished. He turned to his fellow civil rights leaders for advice, and after hours of listening, he returned to his room to compose, fine-tuning even the day of the march. He went on to deliver a powerful speech, but as he closed, he moved away from the prepared text and into a stirring sermon. "Martin was done circling. / The lecture was over. / He was going to church, / his place to land, / and taking a congregation / of two hundred and fifty thousand / along for the ride." Although much hard work still lay ahead, the impact of Dr. King's dramatic words and delivery elevated that important moment in the struggle for equal rights. Wittenstein's free-verse narrative perfectly captures the tension leading up to the speech as each adviser urged his own ideas while remaining a supportive community. Pinkney's trademark illustrations dramatize this and the speech, adding power and further illuminating the sense of historical importance.Gives readers a fresh and thrilling sense of what it took to make history. (author's note, lists of advisers and speakers, bibliography, source notes) (Informational picture book. 7-10) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.