With Martin Luther King Jr. Day around the corner, I was looking for an appropriate story to share with my students and lucky for me, our librarian, Allison Brown, directed me to a new library book, I Have a Dream.
This stunning picture book contains the last third of Dr. King’s famous speech with powerful illustrations by Kadir Nelson. The oil paintings captivated even my youngest students. The book begins with King’s words,
“I say to you today, my friends, that even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”
I’m sure you’re familiar with the rest of the speech but most of my young students were not. It was moving to read these words and see the kids respond. They were especially interested when we came to the illustration of Dr. King’s four children and they heard,
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
I read the book to several speech groups with ages ranging from five to seven. After hearing the repeated phrase, “I have a dream,” they were ready to talk of their own dreams for the future. Most had dreams you might expect from children of their age like a dream to have a real motorcycle or a dream that the world would turn into Candy Land. But some dreams surprised me.
Ariel dreams that everyone would take care of our planet and not dump garbage everywhere.
Landon dreams that there would be lots of food for lots of people.
Alex dreams that everyone would be nice to each other.
Esmeralda dreams that some day her name will be on the cover of a book (as the author) and I will go into the store and buy it and read it to other speech kids. I must admit, I grew a little misty-eyed when she said that.
Avery picked up the cadence of the speech and was expansive. She has a dream that when she is older she will help kids and teach them to be smarter and smarter. She dreams that she’ll be able to teach them to be nice. She said, “If people were smarter and nicer, then the guy that died would be happier.”
She has a dream that some day we would keep the ocean clean and keep the earth clean and we would stop cutting down trees so animals would have enough food and a place to live.
She has a dream that people will some day read and read and read lots of books.
Avery was inspired by the speech and the illustrations. She may not grasp the issues of racism (after all she is only six) but she seems to understand that people can make a difference in the world. And words make a difference - whether they are stirring words of a famous speech, a word spoken in encouragement, or words written in a memorable book. Words can change lives.
We may not all have the personal power and charisma of Dr. King but each of us, parents, educators and writers, can use our words to build a better world. As Avery said, that would make Martin Luther King Jr. happy. Avery has a dream, several of them actually, and her dreams give me hope for the future.