In Print : Step by step into history
"As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom," by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Raul Colon. Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, $16.99.
Extraordinary men in an extraordinary time. In his book, "As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom," prize-winning poet and children's book author Richard Michelson draws on history to tell the story of two men from totally different worlds who share essential beliefs and are brought together in the process of acting on them.
In a gentle yet straightforward manner, Mr. Michelson, who divides his time between western Massachusetts and his home in the Oak Bluffs Campground, combines three stories of strife and survival. The first is set in Georgia; the second, in Poland; and the third in Selma, Alabama. But while the lyrics differ - the worlds-apart childhoods of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel - the melodies are the same.
The two men, the son of a minister and the son of a rabbi, one threatened with racial prejudice, the other with religious persecution, were subjected to violence, and were both staunchly supported by loving families.
Mrs. King tells her son, Martin: "Some ignorant white people think they are better than colored people. But don't you ever forget that you are as good as anybody."
Rabbi Heschel's father tells him: "We are all God's children. You are as good as anybody."
And then the story lines braid together in Selma.
Mr. Michelson writes: "On March 21, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King Jr. prayed together. Then Martin stomped his feet and Abraham stomped beside him. The time had come for action. The white man and the black man joined hands. The Jew and the Christian joined hands. Three thousand people stood behind them, cheering."
As it is recorded, by the time the two men had marched together from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., 25,000 had joined their ranks, and the civil rights movement in this country became a force that demanded change.
The book weaves in historical facts with an unflinching, but age-appropriate voice. Describing the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, Mr. Michelson writes: "Jews were no longer allowed to go to school or to vote. One evening, as he prepared for class, someone banged on Abraham's door. 'No Jews allowed in Germany,' a policeman yelled. 'Go back to where you came from. You have one hour to leave.'"
Supporting the text are award-winning illustrator Raul Colon's softly textured images, rendered so thoughtfully that those stressful but necessary scenes are made easy for a youngster to absorb. Mr. Colon's illustrations capture the story and are wonderfully crafted. The beginning of the book, telling of Dr. King, is rendered in a palette of earth tones, while the story of Rabbi Heschel is depicted in shades of blue, denoting the differences. The colors become blended in the telling of the Selma march.
In addition to his books of poetry (his 2006 collection, "Battles & Lullabies," University of Illinois Press, named one of the best poetry books of that year), Mr. Michelson's children's books have garnered their share of praise and awards. "As Good As Anybody" received the Sydney Taylor Award Gold Medal from the Association of Jewish Libraries.