What a pleasure it is to once again host Nancy Churnin here at Friend Friday. Today we are celebrating her newest picture book, Martin and Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Anne Frank, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg (Creston Books/Lerner Books). One of the great joys of being a writer is making fresh and new connections between ideas, concepts and — in the case of Nancy’s new book — people. Nancy set herself a challenge by wondering about touchpoints between two influential people of the 20th century, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank; people who never meet in real life. Her musings led to this lovely new book and she has graciously agreed to share a bit of the story behind the story with you, my lovely Friend Friday readers.
Nancy will be giving away an autographed copy of Martin & Anne. Leave a comment for a chance to win.
Picture book biography authors know it’s hard to capture the essence of a person’s life in 1,000 words or less.
Now think of how challenging it is to write about two people in that concise space. And throw in one more twist: the two have never met.
Which brings us to the question of why I wrote Martin & Anne, the Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank. (Creston Books) My answer: I was compelled.
In 2017, I felt overwhelmed, torn up and terrified by the hatred and divisions that have been tearing out country apart.
As someone who processes the world through words, I looked for words of inspiration. I found them in the writings of Dr. King and Anne Frank. I drew hope from their unwavering belief, even in the face of horror, that love was more powerful than hate and justice would prevail.
I dug a little deeper into their lives. They were both born in 1929. Ideas and feelings swirled like primordial matter around this nucleus. That was the year of the Great Depression. The stock market had crashed. People were desperate, frightened, hungry, out of work. They were looking for someone to blame and maybe, without consciously realizing it, an excuse to plunder a vulnerable group.
In the United States, white Americans attacked the African American population (among others). In Europe, Christians attacked Jews (among others).
Suddenly I had my story. By telling their lives in parallel and describing the similarities of what they faced at the same ages, I could show kids how alike two people of different genders, races, religions and countries could be.
In a world where groups are pitted against each other, Martin & Anne could underscore the hopes and dreams for a better world we all have in common.
Unlike picture book biographies I had written before, I wasn’t trying to portray the full scope of either life. Instead, I was searching for connective tissue. Some parallels were magically on point. Both Martin and Anne were born to loving parents and an older sister. Yevgenia Nayberg’s eloquent side by side illustrations of the two families brings home the hope both families shared for their babies.
Over and over, opposing pages alternate the stories of Martin and Anne in a way where the reader picks up parallels that are not overtly stated. A page about Martin not being allowed to go to school with his childhood friend because of the color of his skin faces the page where Anne leaves her school because Jews aren’t allowed.
There are two spreads where Martin gets both pages, followed by Anne getting both pages. This allowed a way of addressing the enormity of Martin getting older and fighting civil rights battles while Anne dies at 15. Later, two-page spreads give emotional room to deal with Martin dying at 39 – but his words living on – and Anne’s words continuing to inspire.
My intentionally spare text pivots back to the beginning with a message that points to the hope for a better future. The images of the two babies in the opening pages of the book and the wonderful future they should have had were in my heart as I wrote the final words: “Martin and Anne were born in different places, but they both dreamed that one day all babies would be seen as beautiful. As all babies are.”
What I want more than anything is for Martin & Anne, which was released this year, in time for what would have been the 90th birthdays of Dr. King and Anne Frank, is to help break down divisions. It gives me hope every time kids share how they see themselves in the story, are inspired to protect the vulnerable among us and begin to delight in exploring their parallels with other children.
MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg. Creston Books/Lerner Books.
Nancy Churnin is the author of eight picture book biographies, including The William Hoy Story, on several state reading lists; Irving Berlin, The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing, a Sydney Taylor Notable; Manjhi Moves a Mountain, a 2018 South Asia Book Award and Anne Izard Storytellers Choice winner, plus two Social Studies Notables, two Silver Eureka Award winners, a Mighty Girl listing and more. The former theater critic for the Dallas Morning News, she’s a full time writer and peace negotiator between her dog and cats. A member of the Nonfiction Ninjas and the Book Meshuggenahs, she lives in North Texas. You can learn more about Nancy on her website, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.