Novel-in-Verse Review: Voices from the March on Washington

Let me begin with one of the first poems in this intriguing collection of free verse narratives of fictional characters who are making their way to Washington DC in August 1963 to protest for Civil Rights.

For All, 1963

If you contend the noblest end
of all is human rights, amend
the laws; The beauty of the sun
is that it shines on everyone

In Voices from the March on Washington, by J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon, the poetry sings the stories of the people who gathered to be part of the 250,000 protesters.

The poets here invent some fictional characters — a white teenager from the midwest, a young black girl from the south, a lawyer from the north, a Japanese internment survivor from the West — and brings their voices into a mix that will remind you of how far our country has come, and how far it has yet to go.

I started this book, thinking it would be a non-fiction collection, and so was pleasantly surprised to find myself immersed in poetry of all stripes. The poems dig deep, from those who are not sure why they are on the bus, to those on the bus being attacked with objects against glass windows, to those doubting whether MLK’s famous words are enough, to those making connections between races in ways that would have been impossible in the communities from which they departed. All are changed by the experience.

So is the reader, and this book is appropriate for any upper elementary to middle school classroom.

I’ll leave you with this last poem from the book:

Last Impressions
black without white
a moonless
a life
white without black
p. 97

Peace (as poems heal),


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