When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders is a Must-have Literary Treasure

In moving verse, Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis gives new voice to seventeen heroes of civil rights. Exquisitely illustrated by five extraordinary artists, this commanding collection of poems invites the reader to hear in each verse the thunder that lies in every voice, no matter how small. Featuring civil rights luminaries Coretta Scott King, Harvey Milk, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Sylvia Mendez, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mamie Carthan Till, Helen Zia, Josh Gibson, Dennis James Banks, Mitsuye Endo, Ellison Onizuka, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Yunus, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.9781452101194

This book is very useful for classrooms. It utilizes the magic and music of poetry with the perseverance, strength, struggle and beautiful stories of people who changed history for the better. Lewis also includes lesser-known names, such as Mitsuye End a Japanese American woman interned during World War II, and Dennis James Banks, who cofounded the American Indian Movement.

Each poem tells about a civil rights leader or leaders. A sense of dignity and weight that suits their topics weaves through each.

Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra and Meilo So provide the wonderful illustrations. Their work creates a rich feel to the series of page spreads. The pictures bring richness to the illustrations that highlight the unique qualities of each civil rights leader. I especially like Meilo So’s illustration for “The Auntie,” Jim Burke’s illustration for “The Slugger,” Tonya Engel’s illustration for “The Innocent,” John Parra’s illustration for “The Captive,” and R. Gregory Christie’s illustration for “The First.”

Brief biographies at the back add detail to the lives of the leaders celebrated through verse. When Thunder Comes is a great book to share with your children and introduce them to some of the major issues of the 20th century.

J. Patrick Lewis has done justice to this list of amazing stories. They speak of true heroes. Lewis’s poem about Gandhi focuses on his work in behalf of the outcast “untouchables.” The poem concludes majestically:

For we are not the ones to say
What will erode and what endure,
Where the iron, where the clay,
Who the foul and who the pure.

As one amazon reviewer said, When Thunder Comes “harvests the lessons of civil rights movements from around the world; it leaves you with a deep and satisfying sense of human dignity.” I highly recommend this heartwarming and inspirational text.

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