As Good As Anybody
Last month I met prize-winning poet and children’s book author Richard Michelson at Austin’s Jewish Book Fair. We were both part of “Civil Rights Sunday.” As soon as I got home from the event, I read my copy of his book, As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom.
As Good As Anybody has a beating heart. It describes the friendship between African American Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jewish Abraham Joshua Heschel. In it, Michelson explains how both men channeled their past experiences with discrimination to fuel their life’s work and devotion to justice.
It was only after I read this beautifully-told and gorgeously-illustrated picture book that I learned the extraordinarily powerful story behind the story: namely, what led to Michelson’s passion for civil rights in the first place. Like the men he writes about, Michelson too transformed a horrible childhood experience into a future devoted to justice. In a fascinating article published on jbook.com, Michelson explains:
When I was born in 1953, my area of East New York, Brooklyn, was 90-percent Jewish. A short 12 years later, while King and Heschel were sharing an historic and stirring moment, symbolizing the coming together of race and religion, less than 10 percent of those living in the neighborhood were Jews. And by the time my Dad was shot on Pitkin Avenue during a robbery attempt, he was just one more Jewish exploiter to the black man who killed him.
Today Michelson is a true educator in every sense of the word. He writes:
I have spent many of my adult years writing books for young children that attempt to address and heal society’s racial wounds; though as likely I am trying to heal the rift within myself.
His outstanding picture book, As Good As Anybody, deserves an audience far beyond elementary school. Any middle, high school, and college students would find plenty to think about and appreciate. In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews calls As Good As Anybody, “Gentle, powerful, and healing.”