Top 10 Books of 2018 — The Year of Middle Grade

Hi guys!! It’s been quite a while since you’ve last heard me talk about books here, so Happy New Year!! I’m going to try my best to get some blogging in during my FINAL semester of high school. Man, I’m surprised I’m at this point already! Before I go on, I want to wish each and every one of you a wonderful 2019 full of many blessings and joys. 2018 was definitely a crazy year for me, but it was full of so many life-changing and amazing books! Here are my Top 10 Books of 2018! I think it was a great year for kidlit–I have nine Middle Grade novels and one picture book in the list below, and I am very happy to share which 10 they are! Please do check these books out–you will NOT regret it! (This list is excluding rereads, and I will only include one book per series.)


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10. Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske

Kat Greene Comes Clean

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I’m starting off this list with a beautiful gem of a book! Kat Greene Comes Clean is one of the funniest novels I’ve read this year, and it’s one of the few books that you just want to give a great big hug. I couldn’t help from smiling all throughout this story! This MG realistic fiction debut offers such a vivid glimpse into some of the struggles that many children, especially those who have to parent themselves, go through. The lessons are heartwarming, the humor is belly-filling, and the story itself is life-changing.

9. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a Tree

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I loved Fish in a Tree so much that I read it twice this year. The first time I read it, I literally could not put it down–I finished it within a single day. It’s a lot like Wonder (which I’ve yet to read but I’ve watched and loved the movie)–a bright and talented girl with dyslexia has to overcome her disability, her bullies, and even herself as she discovers new friends and her true potential. Fish in a Tree has taught me how to never underestimate people who are neurodivergent, for they may be some of the brightest and smartest people I would ever meet. Certainly, I’ve also connected with Ally’s story as I knew how it feels not to fit in with everybody else, but both she and I found the friends that love us regardless of our quirks.

8. Open If You Dare by Dana Middleton

Open If You Dare

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When I can connect with a book, my reading experience is transformed so much because I can see myself in the characters. I share so many of Birdie’s feelings as she has to face an uncertain future regarding her friends moving away–it’s very similar to what I’m facing right now as I’m about to go off to college. I read this back in junior year, I know I probably need to reread it sometime during this semester. Truly this novel made me cherish the few yet true friendships I possess, and it has moved me so much to tears.

Continue reading “Top 10 Books of 2018 — The Year of Middle Grade”

Book Review: Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop by Alice Faye Duncan (Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie) — A Masterpiece Full of Captivating Imagery, Elegant Prose, Hidden History, and Powerful Inspiration

Hi guys! It’s been years since I last read a picture book. But when I was approached by author Alice Faye Duncan to review and promote her upcoming picture book Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, I jumped at the opportunity. I saw one of my author friends Linda Williams Jackson raving about Alice’s book on Facebook, so I knew I was in for something very special. Today’s review shows how picture books aren’t just for children–they can be enjoyed by children, teens, and adults alike. Certainly, they hold such immense power to change lives, especially since these are the first few books that children will be exposed to in their lives as readers. I hope you enjoy this review and check out Alice’s amazing book on the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968.


About Memphis, Martin, and the MountaintopMemphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop

This historical fiction picture book for children ages 9-12 presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.

In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.

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5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free finished copy of this book from the author and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

When I went to Washington, D.C., I visit the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Being a history nerd and a story collector, I stood on the very steps that Dr. King stood on himself and became instantly mesmerized. As I gazed upon the Washington Monument—a beacon of hope, persistence, and freedom throughout the centuries for Americans—I imagined myself as if I were there on that very day. I pondered upon the massive size of the crowds, thousands and thousands of blacks and whites united for a single cause, spanning for miles and miles. History was made in that very spot, and this realization took away my breath. Had I been by myself, I would have stayed on those steps for ages, transporting myself to that day 50 years ago.

Most people know that Dr. King was assassinated on April 3rd, 1968, on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. While I’ve never been to the motel that houses the National Civil Rights Museum, I have passed by it a few times when visiting the city. What I didn’t know—a piece of history that is unknown to most people—is the Sanitation Strike that led up to that fateful day. It is a critical event in not only the history of Memphis and Tennessee but also the history of this nation that shouldn’t be kept unknown to the general populace. In the form of a children’s picture book, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is the perfect history lesson for children and adults of all ages as it depicts Dr. King’s final stand for respect, human dignity, and equality. This is truly one of those few rare books that must be placed into the hands of as many children and students possible.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is a masterpiece full of hidden history, elegant prose, and captivating imagery. Alice Faye Duncan and R. Gregory Christie captures the Sanitation Strike of 1968 so vividly that readers will feel transported back 50 years ago, when blacks across Memphis united together to bring about improved labor conditions for sanitation workers. Even as a teen who hasn’t read a picture book in years, I found myself mesmerized by this story of full of sorrow and triumph, hardships and hope. This is the perfect book not only to read by yourself but to read to children—the poetic yet reflective style reminisces of the past. It’s simple yet effective, and it made me feel all the tension, anticipation, and even dread that was bursting throughout the city and even the nation at the time.

In addition, the illustrations made the words truly come to life. I truly wanted to get lost in R. Gregory Christie’s art as it depicted Lorraine’s story both accurately and vividly. They were simply beautiful. I fell in love with every single one of them from the first few pages to the last. The illustrations make the atmosphere full of sorrow, joy, triumph, persistence, anguish, bleakness, and despair. They will make readers just go “Wow.”

I am truly blessed and honored to have this opportunity to read and review Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop. It might be a very short story, but it’s one that I would want to revisit every once in a while. I feel changed by this book, and I’ve learned more not only about my state’s local history but also about myself. It has instilled in me a greater fighting sense to “march on” throughout life despite all of the difficulties I will encounter. I have been moved greatly to tears as I endured this strike with Lorraine and her family. It surely is one that I will never ever forget. As it has enlightened me so greatly, in the words of Alice Faye Duncan, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop will surely inspire readers to “climb up the mountaintop!”


About the AuthorAlice Faye Duncan

Alice Faye Duncan writes books for young readers and adults. Her most popular picture book for infants is HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD. It is a mother’s love song to her baby. The lyrical text sings and swings just like music. One must read it aloud with LOVE, JOY and SOUL!

Alice’s book, MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP (The 1968 Sanitation Strike) will debut August 2018. It is a poetic paean for school age students that explores Dr. King’s assassination and his last stand for economic justice in the city of Memphis. The illustrator is Caldecott Honor recipient, Gregory Christie.

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN TENNESSEE is a child’s travel guide across the Volunteer State (GO VOLS!). Two cousins in ugly holiday sweaters visit important landmarks throughout the state, while traveling in a clunky mini-van called the “Reindeer Express.” This book will debut in October–2018. The illustrator is Mary Uhles.

Finally, in celebration of words, the splendor of alliteration and the power of a poetic life–A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS will debut in January 2019. This picture book biography is the life and times of Chicago poet–Gwendolyn Brooks. Miss Brooks was the very first African American writer to receive a Pulitzer Prize in 1950.

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About the IllustratorR. Gregory Christie

R. Gregory Christie won a Coretta Scott King Honor (Illustration) for his first book, The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children. Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth, was selected as a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. Yesterday I Had the Blues by Jeron Ashford Frame won the Ezra Jack Keats Award, the Claudia Lewis Award for poetry (given by Bank Street College of Education), and was a BCCB Blue Ribbon Winner. His latest book is The Lost Boys of Sudan.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop? What are some of your favorite picture books?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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August Reading Recap!

Hi everybody!! I am on a three-day weekend today (woo hoo!), and I’m spending this Labor Day break reading and relaxing and catching up on things. One day off really can make all the difference, don’t you think? Today, I am sharing my August Reading Recap, and I read eight books this month! I’m a bit surprised at that, but I’m so glad to do so. I’m planning on doing some more re-reads of my favorite books (I have The Continuum Trilogy and The Book Thief next on my list) along with knocking out a lot of review copies and backlist books. I hope you enjoy!


5 StarsBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (Re-read!)

Between Shades of Gray

Goodreads

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

Fawkes

Goodreads

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop by Alice Faye Duncan

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop

Goodreads

The 13th Continuum by Jennifer Brody (Re-read!)

The 13th Continuum

Goodreads


4 StarsThe Book of M by Peng Shepherd

The Book of M

Goodreads

The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth

The Eleventh Trade

Goodreads

Kids of Appetite by David Arnold

Kids of Appetite

Goodreads


3 StarsThe House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee

The House in Poplar Wood


Goodreads


In Case You Missed This Month’s Posts

Author Interviews

Kelly deVos, author of Fat Girl on a Plane

Sarah Jean Horwitz, author of The Wingsnatchers

LILbooKtalks

“Back to School: Instilling a Love of Reading in Students” with Rebecca Donnelly and Jake Burt

Blog Tours

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes: Book and Audiobook Excerpts

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd: Book Review

The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen: Book Excerpt

Book Reviews

Lost on the Water by D. G. Driver (4)

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden (5)

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (4)

The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody (4)

The Story Collector by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb (5)

Recaps

July Reading Recap

Promotional Posts

Top 10 Favorite Apparel Designs from Literary Book Gifts


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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Celebrating MLK Day with an Exclusive Interview with Alice Faye Duncan, Author of Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop

Hi guys! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! Today we are remembering one of the greatest figures in American history who has inspired millions of people across the nation both in his lifetime and after his death to strive for greater racial unity and equality. To celebrate his birthday, I’m interviewing Alice Faye Duncan about her newest children’s picture book Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, which revolves around the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 and Dr. King’s role in it. Honestly, I had never heard of the Strike until I was first introduced to this book by my author friend Linda Williams Jackson, and I’m very surprised I haven’t heard about this since this took place 50 years ago in my home state! I hope you enjoy this interview, and please go check out and pre-order this book for you or any children you know!


About the BookMemphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop

This historical fiction picture book for children ages 9-12 presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.

In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.

Goodreads


Alice Faye Duncan Interview

1. Your picture book, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop—is set to release in September (2018) and it has already become a #1 Amazon early release. This historical fiction tells the story of the Memphis Sanitation Strike through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl, Lorraine Jackson. What is the strike’s historical significance?

The Memphis Strike of 1968 was a non-violent protest where black sanitation workers left their garbage barrels on the curb in order to defend their dignity and demand economic justice in a city that abused their labor. White sanitation supervisors spoke to the men like children, called them buzzards and when it rained, they sent the black men home early without a full day’s pay.

It is important to know that Memphis sanitation workers initiated and organized the strike. This was not an idea conceived by Dr. King.  However, Dr. King chose to help the men in their struggle for justice. Also, children like my main character, Lorraine Jackson, missed school and black parents sacrificed time to march in the strike over 65 days.  Ultimately, it is Dr. King, who made the greatest sacrifice.  While helping the striking workers in Memphis, he was murdered on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

2. What do you want young readers to learn from your character, Lorraine Jackson and Dr. King?

Freedom is not free.  And to gain freedom and keep it, children and adults must be vigilant, courageous and ready to sacrifice their comfort.

3. Why did it take 10 years to write a story that is only 3,000 words?

It took 10 years to write MEMPHIS, MARTIN, AND THE MOUNTAINTOP because my proper entrance into the story, the right characters and organization for the plot, did not show up when I received the initial idea to write it. I wrote more than seven drafts for the story until I finally landed the perfect combination of poetry and prose.

4. What did the creative process for birthing this book teach you?

After writing for two decades, there is one thing that I clearly understand. The story that I am looking for is also looking for me.  It is also my opinion that the writer serves as a vessel or instrument, who carries the story until it is ready to emerge.  Writing is not easy. But, when the real germ of the story appears, there is clarity and the soul of the writer knows that she is on the train that will carry her and the reader to an ending that satisfies.

5. What makes this new book different from the other children’s books you have written?

Alice Faye DuncanI wrote my first non-fiction book in 1995.  It was titled THE NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM CELEBRATES EVERYDAY PEOPLE. That book was a chronology of the American Civil Rights Movement from 1954 – 1968.

MEMPHIS, MARTIN, AND THE MOUNTAINTOP is a historical-fiction that was inspired by the life of a Memphis preacher, Reverend Henry Logan Starks and his young daughter, Almella Yvonne. Almella marched in the sanitation strike with her mother and father.  She sang freedom songs at the strike rallies and she also heard Dr. King deliver his last sermon, “The Mountaintop Speech.”

Continue reading “Celebrating MLK Day with an Exclusive Interview with Alice Faye Duncan, Author of Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop”