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?

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