Arthur Flowers, a “blues-based” performance poet, musician, and professor, introduces himself as “Rickydoc Trickmaster,” to render the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. into a biography for younger readers, as traditional Patua Indian scroll painter Manu Chitrakar brings Flowers’ recitation to vibrant life. Their combined efforts create an outstanding cultural hybrid of unexpected storytelling and graphic traditions. Unlike the majority of children’s titles which celebrate and sustain only MLK’s iconic leadership, this collaboration clearly distinguishes itself by bearing witness (surprise, surprise!) to his stumbles and failures, as well.
Flowers realizes that to understand MLK’s legend is to have awareness of the context in which he rose to prominence: the legacy of slavery, the decimation of a people’s psyche, the continued injustices almost a century after laws were changed. “This is the world into which Martin Luther King is born,” he explains. “This is the world that provide the call he come to answer.”
I See balances the legacy of the epic leader who hit his pinnacle with his defining “I Have a Dream”-speech ["King is at the top of his game"], with his difficult, lesser known personal struggles. Flowers is frank and direct about King’s philandering (his confessions caught on wire-tap by J. Edgar Hoover were sent to King’s family on the day he was chosen for the Nobel Peace Prize!), his ego (his tendency to “rather lovingly list” his awards in public), his misjudgments (being accused of “being an Uncle Tom” – although Flowers also argues Uncle Tom “has gotten a bad rap”), and his desperate attempts to revive his declining leadership (“run out of Chicago … and his nonviolence strategy has been immolated in the fires of Watts”).
Yes, MLK was human, after all, Flowers contends. But he also reminds, “The Civil War may have delivered the blacks from slavery, but it was Martin Luther King delivered us from bondage.” With Flowers story told, Chitrakar’s panels finished, “… this spell is done. God’s blessings on us all.” A resounding amen to that.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2010 (India), 2013 (revised edition, Canada and United States)