Martin & Mahalia – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Thinking quite a bit about the late 60s right now. So I’m pulling a book from my collection to feature this week,

The story opens with an invitation:

Text ©️Andrea Davis Pinkney Illustration ©️Brian Pinkney


You are here.

Let the map lead the way.

Let the dove fly ahead.

On the path.

To the dream.

To the words.

And the songs.

Take the road. Come along.

With Martin and Mahalia.

Feel the cadence of these words, all carefully chosen and punctuated to let the reader know how to pause and let the meaning of the words sink in. The illustration clues us in to the fact that we are embarking on the journey, the path taken by these two individuals whose stories intertwine. A story where we follow the dove of peace.

The first spread features Martin Luther King as a boy in church, singing.

Text ©️Andrea Davis Pinkney Illustration ©️Brian Pinkney

His father, looking very much like the figure of the man Martin will become, standing behind him.

They were each

born with the

gift of gospel…

Martin wasn’t old enough to be a preacher, but even

as a boy, he had a BIG way of speaking…

Martin’s voice kept people in their seats but also

sent their praises soaring.

Text ©️Andrea Davis Pinkney Illustration ©️Brian Pinkney

Same for Mahalia.

Her voice was


That girl could sure SING.

She was a jewel in Black Pearl.

Mahalia’s gospel gift could move people, too.

With Martin’s sermons and Mahalia’s songs, folks

were free to shout, to sing their joy.

These first two inspiring and uplifting images are then struck down by a sobering page turn and an image that reflects longstanding inequality and injustice, a world where black children stand outside the fence that guards white privilege.

Text ©️Andrea Davis Pinkney Illustration ©️Brian Pinkney

The swimming pool is not for them.

But in the South, where Martin and Mahalia lived,

Jim Crow laws made sure things were not as free.

These laws said:







That’s how life was for young Martin and Mahalia.

Separate but nowhere near as equal. 

In extraordinary, lyrical language, Pinkney describes the pair’s journey: the civil rights struggle leading to the famous March on Washington, where Dr. King would deliver his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech and Mahalia Jackson would also inspire with her singing.

It is a joyous and inspiring book. And it feels right to return to it at this moment in our Nation’s history, reminding us that we have far to go to achieve true social justice and equal rights for all. The journey is far from over. Because in reality, the work that needs to be done to dismantle the construct of white supremacy and reform its racist institutions will never be over.


Pair this book with A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

Find a wealth of anti-racist resources at The Brown Bookshelf

Title: Martin & Mahalia

Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney

Illustrator: Brian Pinkney

Publisher: Little Brown, 2013

Themes: Civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahalia Jackson     

Ages: K-5th

For more perfect picture book recommendations, visit Susanna Hill’s blog.  Also more fabulous book recs at the Brown Bookshelf.

17 thoughts on “Martin & Mahalia – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      It’s perfect in many ways. And the last line of the book, “We are here!”, written during the Obama administration, was what drove me to feature it today. I, as a white person, need to actively participate in reforming the institutions that were built to preserve my white privilege.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      The pair did a fabulous job with this book. I loved the “ribbon of faith” that weaves through the book, along with Brian Pinkney’s use of color as metaphor. He used blues and greens to depict King and reds and oranges to portray Jackson, so when they appear together, the colors blend into purples and magentas, giving what he calls “visual resonance to their collaborative strength.”

  1. Maria Marshall says:

    Jilanne, what a great book for this week. Again we seem to be on the same wave length – it’s a bit freaky. But I think everyone is here with us this week. I love your review and look forward to a chance to revisit this book, when I can get into the library.

  2. Sue Heavenrich says:

    Powerful book about two powerful voices. Thanks for sharing it – I wish everyone would take the time to read it. Out loud.

  3. Ste J says:

    Another one for the list, introducing kids to this sort of thing early and having a good conversation is something we need to do to affect change.

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