Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968
by Alice Faye Duncan
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Calkins Creek, 2018
Grades 2-6

Through the eyes of nine year-old Lorraine Jackson, readers will learn about the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis. The main character is based on Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, whose father helped organize the strike.

This important picture book combines poetry and prose to describe the events and emotions related to the strike. Using the first person narrative, Alice Faye Duncan provides a child's point of view to the historic strike and tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Most young readers know about Dr. King's life and how he was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel, but few probably know why he was in Memphis that day.

Full-page gouache illustrations depict sanitation workers striking, people gathered at rallies and Dr. King speaking. Christie brilliantly adjusts the color palette to convey the mood and tone of the story. The story ends with a call to action in the form of a poem:

Dream big.
Walk tall.
Be strong.
March on.
Don't quit.
Never stop.
Climb up the MOUNTAINTOP!

Back matter includes a detailed timeline, lengthy bibliography and a list of museums to visit.
Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop fills a void in the history section; it is the first children's book I have seen about the 1968 Sanitation Strike. The book rises to the top of the nonfiction picture books from this year, and it's a recommended purchase for libraries, schools and homes. I expect to see this book pick up multiple awards during the ALA Youth Media Awards.

Listen to the author read Mountaintop from Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop.

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