Friday, February 10, 2012

Making History Matter

How does Shane W. Evans make history matter to a picture book audience?

He does it by portraying a child just like them, born into a different time. And he shows children that the things that mattered then also matter now. Freedom. Family. Safety. Work that allows your parents to pay for your food and shelter. They mattered then; they matter now.

We March
takes children back to a hot August morning in 1963 as a family rises and prepares for their day. It is a day that will change history. On August 28, 1963, 250,000 people gathered for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 250,000 people. Before Facebook, Twitter or text messages, as Shane Evans pointed out in an interview. People met at their churches and boarded buses and stood together and marched together for “jobs and freedom.” And Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.”

A few weeks ago, Shane Evans won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his book Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom. The almost wordless story follows primarily one family on their journey through the Underground Railroad. If you look at the cover of his book Underground, it echoes the cover of We March in curious ways. The suns ray's make the covers look almost as if they are inversions of one another. I got a chance to ask Shane Evans about this in an interview, and he said he wanted to connect the two books visually. “I recognize that these two journeys, though hundreds of years apart, are still a continuum,” he said. “That pursuit of freedom goes on and on.”

The reasons for that August 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom are still with us. Today in our own country the “99%” (or “Occupy”) protests echo these themes and, on a global scale, so do the protests that began during the Arab Spring of 2011. Martin Luther King’s model of peaceful protests have resonated around the world as the gold standard for the way to effect change.

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