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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Book Review: Lost on the Water by D. G. Driver — A Creepy Ghost Story Perfect for the Summertime or around a Campfire

Hi guys! Today is the last day of August, and to celebrate, I am sharing with you all a review of a spooky summertime read. A month ago, I read Lost on the Water by D. G. Driver, a local author who not only lives in Tennessee but set her latest novel there as well. It’s definitely a quick and easy read, yet it will get your heart pounding! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookLost on the Water

One girl’s daring adventure turns into a long frightful night lost on the water.

Against her wishes, Dannie has to leave the California beach behind to spend the summer with her grandma in rural Tennessee. Things look up when a group of local boys invite her on an overnight kayaking trip. When her grandma refuses to let her go, Dannie finds an old rowboat hidden behind the shed and sneaks off to catch up to her new friends. It seems like a simple solution… until everything goes wrong.

Dannie soon discovers this lake is more than just vast. It’s full of danger, family secrets, and ghosts.

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4 StarsDisclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of horror and ghost stories. While I think they’re really interesting, sometimes I just get too creeped out by movie trailers or book synopses. I did love D. G. Driver’s The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, so when she reached out to me about her latest novel—a ghost set in my home state of Tennessee—I could not resist. Lost on the Water is a creepy and chilling tale filled with secrets, mystery, and intrigue. It is a very quick and easy read that will suck you in after just a few pages. The story might seem a bit innocent at first, but be warned, there’s more secrets and scares than meets the eye.

While I am not an expert in ghost stories, I can say with certainty that a good one must be able to spook you. Lost on the Water did send many chills down my spine as it creeped me out. It is one of those stories that is perfect to narrate around a campfire in the middle of the night or to read in your bed while staying up past your bedtime. I finished Lost on the Water in just a few sittings, and I found myself intrigued and mystified by the possibility of a ghost plaguing Dannie and Center Hill Lake from the start. This book will get your heart pounding, your blood pumping, and your senses prickling.

I think the part that I enjoyed the most was the whole setting. As much as I love reading books by local authors, what’s even better is reading books set in my beloved home state of Tennessee. Lost on the Water takes place in the quiet town of Smithville (which is real and I have passed by it), home to Center Hill Lake, which may or may not be haunted. To see all of the references to Tennessee life and culture made me so happy—small details like the freeway being referred to as an “interstate” and people drinking really really sweet tea filled me with joy. Certainly, the author got Tennessee life in a small town right. In addition, she truly transports her readers into nature, making them feel as if they were paddling on the vast lake or stumbling through a dark forest. Driver’s prose was very well-written, and I commend her greatly for that.

Lost on the Water is a great read for both the summer and the fall. It’s a spooky tale that is one thrill of a ride—a journey that will take on the waters of a lake that may seem serene but is haunted by the memory (or possibly more than that) of a terrible accident. Dannie’s adventure will have readers feeling goosebumps and wanting more after each chapter.


About the AuthorSAMSUNG

D. G. Driver is an optimist at heart, and that’s why she likes to write books about young people who strive to make a difference in the world. From her teen environmentalist in The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, a young girl teaching her friends autism acceptance and to stop bullying people with special needs in No One Needed to Know, a princess who desires to be more than a pampered prize for a prince in The Royal Deal, to a boy who learns that being genuine and chivalrous are the ways to win a girl’s heart in Passing Notes, Driver hopes to write characters that you’ll want to root for. When she’s not writing, she is a teacher in an inclusive child development center in Nashville, and she can often be found strutting the stage in a local musical theater production.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Lost on the Water? Do you like ghost stories?

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

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Exclusive Interview with Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, MG Author of “A Dog Like Daisy”

Hi guys! School is out in less than two weeks! I am super stoked for summer to come! I have AP exams next week (ugh) and after graduation, I’m off to Boys’ State! Woo hoo! This year has been really awesome for me, and not only have I grown so much with everything, but this blog has grown a lot. Even though it might not have the reach it once had last year, it means a lot more to me to be able to touch more hearts rather than to just reach out to them. That is truly what being a blogger is about.


About A Dog Like DaisyA Dog Like Daisy

Max meets A Dog Called Homeless in this sweet and poignant middle grade novel told from the humorous, thoughtful perspective of a rescued pit bull as she trains to be a service dog for an injured veteran and his family.

Daisy has only ten weeks to prove her usefulness or else be sent back to the pound. Yet if she goes back, who will protect Colonel Victor from his PTSD attacks? Or save the littler human, Micah, from those infernal ear muzzles he calls earphones? What if no one ever adopts her again?

Determined to become the elite protector the colonel needs, Daisy vows to ace the service dog test. She’ll accept the ridiculous leash and learn to sit, heel, shake, even do your business, Daisy when told to. But Daisy must first learn how to face her own fears from the past or risk losing the family she’s so desperate to guard—again.

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Kristin O'Donnell Tubb Header.png

1. Your latest novel A Dog Like Daisy, which released last summer, follows the story of Daisy as she tries to prove her usefulness as a service dog before being sent back to the pound. What was it like writing from an animal’s perspective, and how is it different from storytelling with a human’s point of view? Could you describe to us your approach as you created Daisy’s narration?

I love research, because it often gives me many plot points (hello there, “truth is stranger than fiction” adage!), and it sometimes even provides the voice of character. That was certainly the case for Daisy. I read while researching that some experts believe dogs experience the world as a human with synesthesia might – in other words, their five senses blend into something beautifully unique. Someone with synesthesia might see colors when they hear music, or experience a certain taste when they have intense feelings; something in their brain combines multiple senses exceptionally. When I read that – boom! – there was Daisy’s voice, in all its bacon-loving, color-hearing glory.

2. What inspired you to write a novel about service dogs? Would you like to tell us some of your experiences and adventures working with them?

Ideas are dust – they’re floating everywhere if you’re paying attention and look hard enough to find them. (From this statement it should be obvious that cleaning is WAY LOW on my priority list – ha!) The idea for Daisy came about when my dog was playing with a neighbor’s dog. She mentioned in passing that the man from whom she bought her Great Dane also trained dogs that assist veterans. I thought, “Hmmm. I wonder what that training looks like? I’ve read what service dogs can do, of course, but how do they learn it?” I’ve learned that when I say “hmmmm” to myself, it’s likely that others would say “hmmmm” to that same question. And that? That is a story idea.

I didn’t have personal experience with service dogs prior to researching Daisy, but one thing I’ve found in my decade of writing: people love to tell you about their passions, and those who train service dogs are very passionate about it. I was fortunate enough to chat with Katie Young, a trainer for Southeastern Guide Dogs (https://www.guidedogs.org), and she taught me gobs and gobs about training service animals. Since then, a Southeastern trainer came with a dog-in-training, Rickie, to Daisy’s launch party. I give out information about Southeastern at my book events. And a portion of all sales of A Dog Like Daisy goes to Southeastern for their amazing work. Needless to say, I believe in what they do.

3. In your book, Colonel Victor struggles with PTSD, but Daisy is there to protect him. Why do you believe it is important to portray mental illnesses such as PTSD in middle grade fiction, and in what ways do you want A Dog Like Daisy to impact readers, young and old alike?

A Dog Like DaisyOne review of Daisy captured something that I honestly hadn’t considered when writing the story; the reviewer said that approaching a topic like PTSD from a dog’s point of view makes the story a bit more approachable to a young reader. I agree with that; the story would be far different if the main boy character, Micah, had told it.

Many middle graders experience mental illness in their own homes, and some, in their own bodies. Since the release of Daisy, I’ve met a nine-year-old with PTSD, and her mother tearfully thanked me for writing a book for her age group that included a character with her same challenges. I’ve met a twelve-year-old whose father is a veteran; she told me she’s read the book four times and each time sees something new. I had a veteran who bravely writes speaks about his PTSD request that I join him and other veteran-writers on a panel, and he thanked me for writing this book for military families. I’ve even had a unit of disabled veterans buy copies of the book and donate them to their local library. Honestly, I’m humbled and honored by the response to this story. I’m just delighted that Daisy seems to be offering her service-animal skills far off the page, especially to people who have given so much of themselves to our country.

Kristin's Dogs4. Who are your favorite fictional and/or real-life dogs? Do you have any pets of your own?

Snoopy, for certain. I love the idea of him leading all these secret lives, while Charlie Brown thinks he’s simply lying atop his dog house, waiting for dinner. I can’t wait to see the Isle of Dogs – it looks gorgeous. And of course Dug from Up – “Squirrel!”

I have two dogs – Lucky and Cookie. I narrate their thoughts all the time; Lucky is goofy and lovable, Cookie is neurotic and headstrong. They are very much a part of our family. I’ve included a photo of them here!

5. What is your favorite part about the writing process (i.e. research, drafting, revising, creating characters, writing dialogue, etc.), and why?

Researching! I love discovering and learning new things, and research helps me make real-life connections to the thoughts and feelings I hope to convey in the story. That is the BEST feeling! Research helps me with voice, plot, characterization, setting – I always struggle quite a bit with writing if I don’t take enough time to soak in the aspects of a character’s world through research.

6. It is so great to meet another wonderful author from my home-state of Tennessee! What do you like most about living in the Volunteer State and the Nashville area, which both have amazing writer communities?

Nashville’s literary community is second-to-none! Between Parnassus Books (http://www.parnassusbooks.net), the regional chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI Midsouth; https://midsouth.scbwi.org), the Southern Festival of Books (http://humanitiestennessee.org/programs/southern-festival-books-celebration-written-word), and the best libraries and librarians in the known universe (including those who organize SEYA: https://www.seyabookfest.com), there is no shortage of incredible writing, writing workshops, and events that celebrate powerful stories. I love this community; readers and writers are the heart and soul of stories, and I’m delighted and honored that I get to be a part of it.

7. As a veteran author with multiple books published across various genres (contemporary, fantasy, historical fiction), how have your writing abilities transformed over the past few years? What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned throughout your writing career?Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

Probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that every book comes to life differently. Simply because The 13th Sign was written one way doesn’t mean that A Dog Like Daisy or The Story Collector will be written similarly. And I don’t mean voice or characters here – I mean the actual process of creating. Some books beg to be written long hand. Some books are written chunk by chunk, rather than in plot order. Some are outlined, other pour out of your fingertips. I think that’s why it can be so difficult for authors to give advice on “how to be a writer;” they are many different types of writers themselves!

8. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

I think Liz Gilbert (author of “Eat, Pray, Love”) said it best on her “Magic Lessons” podcast: Writing is the only thing that, when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a mask of any sort. I am fully, completely, 100% me when I’m writing. It’s when I feel most authentic.

I had an amazing opportunity when I was in sixth grade, thanks to my wonderful school librarian: I got to interview Madeleine L’Engle by telephone! (Yep!) When I told her I wanted to be a writer, she said, “Good for you! Keep reading and you can do it.” Well, when Madeleine L’Engle tells you you can be a writer, you give it a try! And you know what? My first poem, a haiku called “The Weeping Willow,” was published in a student anthology the very next year. I visit a lot of schools now, and I try to pay that same sentiment forward.

9. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

Oh, picking a favorite genre is like picking a favorite flavor of ice cream! It just depends on what you’re in the mood for: Salted caramel? Creamy vanilla? Super-rich dark chocolate swirl? A Wrinkle In Time has a special place in my heart, for obvious reasons (see above) and I still say it’s my favorite book of all time. But recently I’ve adored The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – I adore poetry, and would love to try a novel-in-verse someday. And I attribute Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself by Judy Blume for my love of historical fiction; my favorite historical titles of late have been anything by Ruta Sepetys and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (both Tennessee writers!). See? I can’t pick just one!

10. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

There’s a time when a writer isn’t writing? J I feel like I’m always observing, always listening (read: always eavesdropping), with hopes that I can write better characters, build a better fictional world, tell a better story. But for some reason, that doesn’t feel like a full-time job to me; the actual writing happens around real life, in stolen quiet moments.

The Story Collector11. Your upcoming novel The Story Collector is slated to release this August from Henry Holt and Co. (BYR). What could readers look forward to in The Story Collector, and are there any secrets about it you would like to share with us?

EeeeEEEEeeee I’m so excited about this story! The Story Collector is based on a real-life girl, Viviani Fedeler, who was born and raised in the flagship building of the New York Public Library – the iconic one at 5th and 42nd, with the lions. She and her brothers have sleepovers, play in the stacks, hide from guards – all within the library. It’s a ghost story (many claim the building truly is haunted by a ghost named Big Red) and a mystery, based on a real-life stamp collection that was stolen from the library while the Fedelers lived there. The book also features photos from the NYPL (https://www.nypl.org) archives, a timeline, and gorgeous illustrations from Iacopo Bruno (http://iacopobruno.blogspot.com)

It’s also a story about a young writer who struggles to find her voice, which I think a lot of writers can relate to. So in that spirit, I’d like to share the first three paragraphs of the story:

Some people are story collectors. While others collect seashells, or stuffed animals, or stamps, story collectors wrap themselves in words, surround themselves with sentences, and play with participles, even those pesky, perky dangling ones. They climb over Cs and mount Ms and lounge in Ls. Soon enough they land in the land of homonyms, then, WHAM! They stumble into onomatopoeia, that lovely creaking, booming bit of wordplay – and that, Dear Friend, is where our story begins:

Crack!

The bat swung over Viviani Fedeler’s left shoulder, then clanged to the terracotta-tile floor of the New York Public Library. She shrieked and ran, red hair flying, nothing short of a firework whizzing about the bases.

The book is available for pre-order, and if you get it from Nashville’s awesome indie, I’ll sign & personalize it for you! Just put how you’d like the book personalized in the comment section upon check-out. Here’s the link:
http://www.parnassusbooks.net/book/9781250143808

12. Before you go, would you like to share any advice you have to any aspiring authors or writers reading this interview?

I firmly believe that EVERYONE – yes, EVERYONE – is a writer. (Now, whether or not you want to share your story is a personal choice.) You’re likely already doing the kinds of things that professional writers do on a daily basis: if you text, you’re writing dialogue. If you play video games, you’re worldbuilding. If you’re a rule-breaker, you’d likely excel at poetry. So first, think about the kind of writing you’re already doing regularly, that you already love, and hone that skill.  Then: get involved in your local community of writers! There is nothing like sharing your ideas with other writers to give you the courage to share your stories with the world. Best of luck, story collectors – I am cheering you on!

Thanks so much, Kristin, for coming onto the blog! It’s so great to have you here today!


About the AuthorKristin O'Donnell Tubb

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is the author of The Story Collector series, A Dog Like Daisy, John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy (written as E.F. Abbott), The 13th Sign, Selling Hope and Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different. She’s also written many activity books featuring well-loved characters like Scooby-Doo, Bugs Bunny, the Powerpuff Girls, and Strawberry Shortcake. Kristin lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her bouncy-loud family. Just like her two dogs, she can be bribed with cheese.

Kristin can be found far too often on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Oh, and she has a website, too.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read A Dog Like Daisy? Do you like books set from an animal’s perspective?

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

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Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s Assassination with April’s LILbooKtalk: “Portraying Pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement for Young Readers” with Alice Faye Duncan and Andrew Maraniss

Hi guys! Today is the 50th commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, which took place in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was one of the greatest figures in American history, and to honor his legacy, this month’s LILbooKtalk is dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement. Alice Faye Duncan and Andrew Maraniss, two local Tennessee authors, are here today to discuss “Portraying Pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement.” I hope you find this panel insightful.


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.

Martin, Memphis, and the Mountaintop releases on August 28, 2018!

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About Strong Inside: Young Reader’s EditionStrong Inside

The inspirational true story of the first African American to play college basketball in the deeply segregated Southeastern Conference–a powerful moment in Black history.

Perry Wallace was born at an historic crossroads in U.S. history. He entered kindergarten the year that the Brown v. Board of Education decision led to integrated schools, allowing blacks and whites to learn side by side. A week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Wallace enrolled in high school and his sensational jumping, dunking, and rebounding abilities quickly earned him the attention of college basketball recruiters from top schools across the nation. In his senior year his Pearl High School basketball team won Tennessee’s first racially-integrated state tournament.

The world seemed to be opening up at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt University recruited Wallace to play basketball, he courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the Southeastern Conference. The hateful experiences he would endure on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be the stuff of nightmares. Yet Wallace persisted, endured, and met this unthinkable challenge head on. This insightful biography digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a complicated, profound, and inspiring story of an athlete turned civil rights trailblazer.

Strong Inside: Young Reader’s Edition just released a paperback edition!

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LILbooKtalk 5

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is Alice Faye Duncan, a Memphis-based author whose upcoming children’s picture book Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is releasing in August! Would you like to describe a bit about your book and yourself?

Memphis, Martin, and the MountaintopAlice: I am a school librarian who writes books for young readers. Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is the story of the 1968 Sanitation Strike that is told through the eyes of a 9 year old girl, Lorraine Jackson. It is also the story of Dr. King’s last stand for justice and his assassination.

Kester: I’m super excited to read your book, Alice! I can’t wait until it comes out! Alongside Alice, we have Andrew Maraniss, a Nashville-based author whose New York Times bestselling biography Strong Inside has been adapted into a Young Reader’s Edition just last year! Could you tell us a bit about your latest biography and your background?

Andrew: Thanks, Kester! I am really excited for Alice’s book, too. I was just in Memphis a few weeks ago and visited the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated. It’s a very important topic for young readers, not just the assassination but the circumstances of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike. As for Strong Inside, it’s a biography of Perry Wallace, who was the first African American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. He is someone I first wrote about when I was a sophomore at Vanderbilt way back in 1989! I did a paper about him for a Black History class and his story stuck in my mind. Finally I decided to write a book about him. He is so much more than just a basketball player. He was a high school valedictorian, engineering major at Vandy, Columbia University law graduate, National Guard veteran, US Justice Department attorney, and law school professor. He is the most impressive person I ever met.Strong Inside

Alice: Awesome! I now must learn more about Perry Wallace. Great Work, Andrew! By the way, I am a big Lusia Harris Stewart fan. I am working on her biography for children. She is the first woman officially drafted into the NBA.

Andrew: Fantastic! I don’t know much about her. When was she drafted?

Alice: She was drafted in 1977 by the New Orleans Jazz! But she had the Mississippi Blues! She was from the Delta!

Andrew: That’s really cool. I am sitting outside my daughter’s first grade basketball team practice right now. Maybe she’ll be drafted someday, too!

Alice: I am writing my book for your daughter.

Kester: That’s so awesome to hear from the both of you! Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop revolves around the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s role in it while Strong Inside: Young Reader’s Edition follows Perry Wallace, the first African American athlete to play in the SEC, as he overcomes racism and prejudice throughout his life and his collegiate career. Alice and Andrew, how did you both discover, respectively, the strikes and Perry Wallace? What prompted you to write a book about these people and events?

Andrew: I first learned about Perry Wallace when I was a student at Vanderbilt. A student a year ahead of me wrote an article for a campus magazine about the time Perry first played a game in the state of Mississippi, at Mississippi State University in 1967. He was concerned that he might be shot out on the basketball court, just for being African American. I was a kid who was interested in sports and history and I was taking a Black History class. I asked my professor, Dr. Yollette Jones, if it was OK to write about sports in college. I thought she might say no, that it wasn’t a serious enough topic. Thankfully she said yes! So I called Perry and interviewed him for my paper. It remained the most interesting thing I had ever done. I couldn’t get Perry off my mind. So, 17 years later, I decided I wanted to write a book about him. I emailed him to see if he remembered me and my paper. He did! And he said he thought it would be great if I wrote about him. I didn’t need his permission, but I was happy to have his support.

Alice: Many of the participants in the 1968 strike lived on my street or attended my church, when I was a young child. It is a story that I grew up knowing all of my life.  As a school librarian, I found it odd that there were no picture books about the subject.  So, I set out to write the book, myself. This is my same reason for writing about Lusia Harris.  Not one picture book or adult book addresses her legendary place in American sports.

Andrew: There are so many “hidden figures” who did amazing things who simply haven’t had their stories told yet. Whenever I visit a classroom, I tell the students they can be the ones to uncover those stories.

Alice: Andrew, as I writer, I believe that the story I am seeking is also seeking me.  Perry Wallace was waiting on a “you.”

Andrew: We became very, very close friends and I always felt like it was a special,
“meant to be” kind of relationship. I was born a week before he played his last game in college. Our birthdays were 5 days apart. We both went to Vanderbilt. I arrived when he was first invited back to be honored. He ended up living in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is where I went to elementary school!

Alice: Uncanny, Andrew!

Kester: I definitely agree that there are so many “hidden figures” history that we need to uncover. When I read your book, Andrew, I found myself relating so much to Perry Wallace and loved both him and his story. He’s definitely inspiring and I wish more people knew about him.

Andrew: And your stories seem so tailor made for you too, Alice. I think the passion for your subject always shines through.

Kester: Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is going to be awesome, I know that for sure!

Alice: Thank you, both. We shall see.  It required 10 years from writing it to publishing it.

Andrew: So glad you stuck with it! Strong Inside took me 8 years — I can relate!

Alice: Here is the new discovery that I made.  I have been researching and writing about the Civil Rights Movement as it took place in Memphis since 1993.  Never, once, did I ask thoughtful questions about Coretta Scott King and her specific role in the movement.  Then, two months ago, I picked up her autobiography.  I now suggest that academics and students spend the next 50 years studying her life and activism.  She was astute and able to build coalitions that have given us the Dr. King that children know and love today.

Kester: So what is it like writing for children and younger readers? What are some of the challenges of writing a picture book (for Alice) or adapting a larger biography into a middle school edition (for Andrew)?

Andrew MaranissAndrew: The biggest challenge for me was literally the editing — taking a nearly 200,000 word book and converting it to around 40,000 words. It was important to me that it not lose anything in the process, that the story not be “whitewashed” for young readers. I felt it only did justice to Perry if they learned the same story as adults and felt what Perry felt. That meant confronting young readers with the racism Perry encountered. Thankfully the publisher agreed.

I have loved visiting students and my next book will be for young readers, not adults. I want to try to write the kids of books I would have read as a middle and high schooler!

Alice: Writing picture books is like writing a song lyric. You have to pack a lot of information and emotion in a few words.  It is not a task that comes easily.

My greatest challenge with writing about Lusia Harris and Coretta Scott King is presenting the salient points in a way that is accessible and inviting to the young reader.  The challenge keeps me fighting and engaged.

Andrew: I think people underestimate that about children’s books, Alice! I’ve thought about doing a picture book about Perry and have had a hard time figuring out how to tell the story in so few words!

Alice: Toni Morrison says that she writes the kind of books that she wishes to read.

Andrew: Well, if she says it, then I think it’s a good idea!

Kester: Back in February, I posted a discussion post on why I believe MG has so much power, and that can be attributed to children’s books, too. There’s so much potential children’s and MG books have to change people’s lives, and that power should not be underestimated.

Andrew: I think that’s true, Kester. There is great power in books. I also think students already possess great power and possibilities, as we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks in Florida. Sometimes books can remind them of that and encourage them to act.

Kester: I definitely agree! The best books are the ones that make a tremendous impact on you to where you’re driven to do something or change something.

Alice: Middle Grade books are also still in keeping with classic literature–books of old.  Nothing is really new fangled. For example, there is no foul language and no sex, and the focus is primarily emotional exploration and personal change.  That’s everything found in the classics!

Andrew: That’s a really interesting point and I hadn’t really thought of MG books in those terms before but you are so right!

Kester: My next question is this: Which pioneers and events of the Civil Rights Movement inspire you the most, and how do they impact you in your everyday lives?

Alice: If you had asked me this question two months ago, I would have answered, Rev. Henry Logan Starks, Fannie Lou Hamer or Dr. King.   As of today, they must take a seat behind my new hero–Coretta Scott King from Heiberger, Alabama.

Andrew: As for your question, Kester, Perry Wallace used to say that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Sometimes we think of civil rights figures as these larger than life heroes, but they were just regular people who stepped up in courageous ways. We all have that capability. We can choose to be bystanders or upstanders, standing up for what we believe in or people who are being treated unfairly. In terms of specific people, of course Perry Wallace is the person I have come to admire most, but I will also bring up a name that applies to both Alice’s book and mind: the Reverend James Lawson, who was one of the leading theorists on non-violence. He inspired Perry and the sanitation strike!Alice Faye Duncan

Alice: It was Mrs. King who said, “Struggle is a never ending process.  Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.”  In other words, no generation will escape the need to press for equality and fairness.  For always, a struggle will continue.

Andrew: Perry Wallace had a chance to meet Fannie Lou Hamer when she came to speak at Vanderbilt while he was a student and he told me how inspired he was by her. A small woman (in comparison to him at 6′ 5″) who blew him away with her presence!

Alice: Speaking of Mrs. Hamer, it was Coretta Scott King who said, “Women, if the soul of this nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.” Mrs. Hamer carried the soul of her people in every fiber of her being.  She was mighty.

Andrew:  We are seeing that again today.

Kester: Here’s the next question! Since the focus of your books hits very close to home here in Tennessee, why do you believe it is important for children to learn more about their local history?Alice Faye Duncan

Alice: As for young people and activism, since 1964, African Americans and other minorities have leaned on the laurels of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  As a entire nation, those of us who love freedom and justice for all, are understanding that we must continue to be vigilant and work toward justice.  The struggle continues.

A child is bolstered and self-esteem is healthy when that child understands she comes from a legacy of resilience and goodness. Thus, it is necessary to know local history and family history, too.

Andrew: Well, I think the best stories have universal themes and can be enjoyed by readers anywhere, but it IS important for young people to understand their own local history. That’s where change begins, for one thing. For another, I think students simply just find it more interesting when they recognize certain names or places in a book they are reading. And if that sparks a greater interest in reading and studying history, then that can stick with them the rest of their lives.

Kester: Certainly! My AP US History teacher (who’s also our county historian) is always incorporating how things or people we’ve learned about relates to my hometown of Paris. There’s so much hidden history that it’s fascinating!

Alice: My book 12 Days of Christmas in Tennessee will be released in October 2018.  It is a travelogue/Christmas book that takes children on a journey to Tennessee historical sites and land formations.  Some of the places visited are the Lost Sea in Sweet Water and Tina Turner’s Flagg Grove School in West Tennessee.

Andrew: That sounds like a really fun book, and a great Christmas present!

Alice: Thank you. I bring it up because it addresses TN History. Like, Andrew Jackson and the Hermitage. We have to take the ugly with the good.

Kester: Both of you chose very different formats to write your stories. Could you describe to us the thought process as you decided to write a children’s picture book or a middle grade biography?

Andrew: Writing narrative non-fiction is the kind of writing I think I can do best. It’s my favorite way to tell a story. I love every part of it, from the interviews and library research to the outlining and writing. And at the most important parts of Perry’s life, he was a teenager. Whether someone cares about basketball or not is irrelevant — he was encountering challenges and trying to overcome them, something all middle schoolers can relate to.

Alice: I don’t really consider myself a poet, but I write in a lyrical style that is conducive to picture books.

My great ambition this year is to write a longer text.  I was excited about writing a YA Novel this year.  And then, I stumbled across the harrowing and courageous life of Coretta Scott King.  She has impeded my progress.  I am presently wrestling with a picture book text about her life.  OH. WELL.  Picture books have chosen me as my favorite genre.

Kester: Before we end this LILbooKtalk, would you both like to share any advice to young readers and writers who are viewing this discussion?

Andrew: Keep reading! And keep writing! My dad used to say there’s no excuse for being bored – you can always read a book.

Alice: After researching the American Civil Rights Movement for 20 years, I have learned 4 important things from the life of Dr. King. In actualizing your hopes and dreams,

  1. Make a plan with the end in view
  2. With your plans, leave yourself open to miracles and chance encounters
  3. Add effective people to your team and cut team members, who hinder you.
  4. And finally, when you do succeed, be sure to help someone else.

Andrew: Great advice! Thank you Kester and Alice, this was a lot of fun! Kester, you are doing amazing work, I admire all that you do to encourage reading. Alice, it was a pleasure joining you for this chat. Hope to see you someday soon!

Alice: Andrew and Kester, this was fantastic! Keep shining your light! Write ON! Write ON! Until we meet in the Real World!!!

Kester: Thanks so much, both of you, for coming back onto the blog! It’s been my honor and pleasure to host this chat!


About AliceAlice 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 AndrewAndrew Maraniss

A New York Times bestseller, Strong Inside is the first book by Andrew Maraniss. Andrew studied history at Vanderbilt University as a recipient of the Fred Russell – Grantland Rice sportswriting scholarship, earning the school’s Alexander Award for excellence in journalism and graduating in 1992. He then worked for five years in Vanderbilt’s athletic department as the associate director of media relations, dealing primarily with the men’s basketball team. In 1998, he served as the media relations manager for the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays during the team’s inaugural season, and then returned to Nashville to join MP&F Public Relations. He is now a Visiting Author and Visiting Innovator at Vanderbilt and a contributor to ESPN’s TheUndefeated.com. The son of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and best-selling author David Maraniss and trailblazing environmentalist Linda Maraniss, Andrew was born in Madison, Wis., grew up in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas and now lives in Brentwood, Tenn., with his wife Alison, and their two young children. Follow Andrew on Twitter @trublu24 and visit his website at andrewmaraniss.com.

Strong Inside was the recipient of the 2015 Lillian Smith Book Award and the lone Special Recognition honor at the 2015 RFK Book Awards. The Young Reader edition was named one of the Top 10 Biographies and Top 10 Sports Books of 2017 by the American Library Association.

Andrew has appeared on several national media programs, including NPR’s All Things Considered and Only A Game, NBC’s Meet The Press, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, ESPN’s Keith Olbermann Show, ESPN Radio’s The Sporting Life, and the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read any of Andrew’s or Alice’s books? What are some of your favorite books that revolve around the Civil Rights Movement?

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”

The First Ever LILbooKtalk!!: “Overcoming Obstacles in Middle Grade Fiction” with Emily Blejwas and Brooks Benjamin

Hi guys! It’s exactly one week until Christmas, and it’s also the first full week for me out of school! I still have a few performances I have to do with my choir today and tomorrow, but then it will all be just resting and relaxation these next couple of weeks! I’m really excited about Christmas this year–I’m going to spend the days before with friends at a few get-togethers and parties and with my family the weekend of. And I am going to try and read as many books as I can before the year ends!

Today I am posting the first ever LILbooKtalk! LILbooKtalks are online discussion panels in which two authors chat about a certain topic that relates to both of their novels. I wanted to try something new because I love going to author panels and I love interview authors, but why not ask questions to multiple authors at the same time? Why not have author panels online for many to access them? This is a new “skit” I’m trying out, so I definitely hope you will enjoy our first every LILbooKtalk on “Overcoming Obstacles in Middle Grade Fiction.”


About Once You Know ThisOnce You Know This

A girl wishes for a better life for herself, her mom, and her baby brother and musters the courage to make it happen in this moving and emotionally satisfying story for readers of Kate DiCamillo and Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

Eleven-year-old Brittany knows there has to be a better world out there. Lately, though, it sure doesn’t feel like it. She and her best friend, Marisol, stick together at school, but at home Brittany’s granny is sick, her cat is missing, there’s never any money, and there’s her little brother, Tommy, to worry about. Brittany has a hard time picturing her future as anything but a plain white sky. If her life is going to ever change, she needs a plan. And once she starts believing in herself, Brittany realizes that what has always seemed out of reach might be just around the corner.

This debut novel by Emily Blejwas is perfect for readers who love emotionally satisfying books. Thoughtful and understated, it’s the hopeful story of a girl who struggles to make her future bright . . . and the makeshift family that emerges around her.

Goodreads


About My Seventh Grade Life in TightsMy Seventh Grade Life in Tights

LIVE IT.

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

WORK IT.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

BRING IT.

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor.

Goodreads


 

LILbooKtalk 1

(Questions are bolded)

Kester: Today we are having our first ever LILbooKchat, an online discussion panel with authors from all sorts of genres! The first author we have is the lovely Emily Blejwas, who has recently released her MG debut novel Once You Know This a few months ago. I had the wonderful pleasure to be able to meet with you at Southern Festival of Books back in October! Could you tell us a little bit about your book and your background?Once You Know This

Emily: I grew up in Minnesota and have lived in Alabama since 2004. Once You Know This started with a scene from my work as a domestic violence victim advocate in Chicago, and a lot of the content comes from experiences working with people really struggling to get by.

Kester: Thank you, Emily! Your book sounds super amazing–can’t wait to read it! Next, we have the awesome Brooks Benjamin, whose MG debut novel My Seventh Grade Life in Tights released last year. I also had the chance to meet you at the Southeastern Young Adult Book Fest back in March, and I really enjoyed reading your novel just recently! Could you also share with us a bit about your book and yourself?

Brooks: Sure! I’ve lived in Tennessee my whole life, always tucked back into the woods somewhere. I currently teach 4th grade at the only school in my town. I formed a dance crew back in middle school and we danced exclusively to New Kids on the Block (I know…I know…). That was the inspiration for M7GLiT which is all about a seventh-grade boy who wants to try out for a summer scholarship to a dance studio, much to the dismay of his dance-crew friends.

Emily: I love how you were NKOTB exclusive! That’s commitment!

Brooks: Haha! Right, Emily! We were, if nothing else, quite loyal to those guys.

Emily: Hey, loyalty is critical!

Kester: I definitely wished I knew how to dance like that back in middle school, or even now!

Brooks: You know? I wish I knew how to dance back in middle school, too, haha.

Continue reading “The First Ever LILbooKtalk!!: “Overcoming Obstacles in Middle Grade Fiction” with Emily Blejwas and Brooks Benjamin”

Exclusive Interview with Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Newbery Honor Author of The War that Saved My Life

Hi guys! Today marks the last day of the last full week of school for the semester! I am finally so glad that it’s almost over–I can finally take a big breather from all the busyness of the holiday and finals season. I am planning on relaxing, reading, and blogging more over the break and catching up on some needed-to-be-written posts and reviews. Today, I have for you an exclusive interview with another author I met back at the Southern Festival of Books (let me tell you, after book fests, I usually invite many of the authors I meet onto the blog–look at all the SE-YA author posts!). Funny story, I actually met Kimberly in the line for a Korean food truck there and noticed her name badge and realized that she was having a panel with Alan Gratz. I loved meeting with her, and she’s a Tennessee author, which is awesome! Here is our exclusive interview, and I hope you enjoy!


About The War that Saved My LifeThe War That Saved My Life

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

Goodreads


About The War I Finally WonThe War I Finally Won

When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—damaged, deranged, crippled mentally as well as physically. She’s not a daughter anymore, either. What is she?

World War II continues, and Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their loving legal guardian, Susan, in a borrowed cottage on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton—along with Lady Thorton herself and her daughter, Maggie. Life in the crowded cottage is tense enough, and then, quite suddenly, Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? The occupants of the house are horrified. But other impacts of the war become far more frightening. As death creeps closer to their door, life and morality during wartime grow more complex. Who is Ada now? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?

Goodreads


Kimberly Brubaker Bradley Interview

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

Wow, a tough question right off the bat. Why does anyone love anything? I was born loving both stories and books—I definitely loved reading before writing—but honestly, it’s just who I’ve always been.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

I like to think I have my own style. Childhood favorites included Madeleine L’Engle and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Right now I’m loving Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Holly Goldberg Sloan, Laura Amy Schlitz, among others. When I’m not reading children’s lit I like historical fiction and oddball nonfiction.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

Writing is the only job I have, so in that sense it’s full-time, but I don’t physically write 8 hours a day. There’s lots of research, for one thing. And I write best in 2-3 hour spurts. I work one afternoon a week at a local social justice center, and I ride my horse (and take care of our barn) and read a lot.

4. The War That Saved My Life is one of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read, and I loved following Ada as she discovers her strength and potential when she and her brother Jamie are evacuated to the English countryside and placed in care of Susan Smith, who at first does not want to take them in. How did you first stumble upon the mass evacuations of children in the United Kingdom at the start of World War II? What are some of the most interesting or surprising facts you’ve learned from your research?The War That Saved My Life

For me it wasn’t something I stumbled on—it’s a background fact in novels I read as a child, including Bedknob and Broomsticks and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Interesting facts—mmmm—well, I discovered why British people used to commit suicide by sticking their heads in gas ovens, but Americans never did and British haven’t since the 1960s—before that, British stoves ran on coal gas instead of natural gas, and coal gas is 10% carbon monoxide.

5. Ada was born and grew up with clubfoot. Why do you believe it is important to realistically portray characters that are going through both physical and mental challenges and their trials in MG and YA fiction?

Because children are going through physical and mental challenges.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Newbery Honor Author of The War that Saved My Life”