January 17 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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About the Holiday

Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the life and legacy of the man who dedicated his life and work to teaching—as Coretta Scott King stated—“the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service” and led a non-violent Civil Rights movement to enact racial equality and justice throughout state and federal law. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, setting it on the third Monday of January to coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on January 15. The holiday was officially observed in all 50 states in 2000. Today, learn more about the life and work of Martin Luther King and how you can help promote justice and equality for all. Consider volunteering in your community where help is needed

I’d like to sincerely thank Alice Faye Duncan for sharing a digital copy of Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

 

Informed by the memories of Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, a teacher who as a child participated in the sanitation strike and told through the eyes of fictional nine-year-old Lorraine, Alice Faye Duncan relates the story of the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King just a day after giving his final sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” at Mason Temple Church in support of the strike.

Through thirteen titled vignettes composed of lyrical and powerful language, Duncan reveals the detailed facts and emotions of those days that changed lives, altered the Civil Rights movement, and still resonate today. Duncan begins with “Memphis—1968” in which Lorraine describes a Memphis roiled by “the stinking sanitation strike” when “Black men marched for honor” and she also marched “with red ribbon in [her] hair.” She entreats the reader: “You must tell the story—so that no one will forget it.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“Mud Puddles” tells of the moment in January when Lorraine’s father comes home so “distressed and out of breath” that Lorraine’s muddy shoeprints are forgotten by her mama as he tells them about his two fellow sanitation workers and friends—Echol Cole and Robert Walker—who were killed when a truck’s packer blade malfunctioned. “Daddy told Mama, ‘It ain’t right to die like that.’ / Mama shook her head, and I saw a new storm rising up. / I saw it in their eyes.”

In “Marching Orders” Lorraine lays out the ugly conditions sanitation workers like her father toiled under and introduces readers to Mayor Loeb, who refused to increase their wages from $1.70 an hour. She states, “When they could take the abuse no more, 1,300 men deserted their garbage barrels. They organized a labor strike on February 12, 1968. In the morning and afternoon, for sixty-five days, sanitation workers marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

As the strike continued through the winter, “[crippling] garbage collection with terrific success,” “Winter Blues” depicts the sacrifices Lorraine’s family made, from going without electricity to missing bill payments to skipping treats or getting anything new. But Lorraine also “learned what the grown folks knew. Trouble visits every life. But as strikers marched through sun and rain, help came in many forms.” Two of these were a group of Memphis preachers who helped strikers pay bills and the NAACP.

Winter turns to spring with no concessions from Mayor Loeb and no end to the strike in sight. But then in “Martin” Lorraine learns in the newspapers her mama’s boss gave her that Martin Luther King Jr. would be coming to support the striking workers. “Silver Rights” recounts Lorraine’s memories of listening to Dr. King, his voice “loud and stirring” when he said, “‘All labor has dignity.’” He set the date of March 22nd when he would march with the striking workers. Lorraine’s daddy and mama vowed to be there. And as she recalled, “then Mama patted my hand and said, ‘We will take Lorraine. She can march with us.’” A haiku “Omen” reveals the cancellation of the march.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memphis-martin-and-the-mountaintop-mud-puddles

Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Beale Street,” Lorraine explains more about Dr. King’s dreams and work and his crusade he named “the ‘Poor People’s Campaign.’” The march was rescheduled for March 28, and on that day “Six thousand people—blacks, whites, men, women, and children—gathered in downtown Memphis. / Police stood guard with tear gas, billy clubs, and guns.” When looters shattered storefront windows, the police moved in, spraying tear gas and beating people.” Lorraine became separated from her mother but was swept to safety by her father. Following the riot, the National Guard was called in and a curfew put in place.

In the aftermath of the riot, Dr. King left Memphis, Lorraine tells readers in “Dreamers.” But he had promised to return despite death threats, and on April 3 he flew from his home in Atlanta to Memphis. It was a stormy night, but Lorraine and her family along with many others packed Mason Temple Church to hear Dr. King preach. But when they got there, Dr. King’s friend Ralph Abernathy told the crowd that Dr. King was too sick to appear.

Other people gave speeches about the strike, and Lorraine had fallen asleep in her mother’s arms when “KABOOM! A voice like the evening thunder shook me from my sleep.” In his booming voice, Dr. King “charged men, women, and children to make the world a promised land flowing with freedom and justice” and “encouraged Memphis strikers and strike supporters to march, boycott, and raise their voices for worker rights until victory was won.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memphis-martin-and-the-mountaintop-marching-orders

Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Lorraine” the narrator reveals that her name is the same as the Memphis motel where Dr. King lost his life. She recounts his last hour spent with friends and the moment when he steps out onto the balcony and James Earl Ray shot him from a boarding house nearby. In other cities across the country grief-fueled protests broke out, but Memphis was relatively quiet. As Lorraine listened to the radio that night, she wrote a poem “The King is Dead” that her mama hung on the wall of their rented house.

“Black Widow” relates the events of April 8, when Coretta Scott King fulfilled her husband’s promise to march for the Memphis sanitation workers. Along with 40,000 other people—“ministers, labor leaders, political figures, entertainers, and everyday people”—from Memphis and around the country, Lorraine and her parents marched. In “Victory on a Blue Note,” the Memphis Sanitation Strike comes to an end when president Lyndon B. Johnson sent a labor official to negotiate a settlement. The men received a pay increase and promotions based on merit, not race. As Lorraine’s daddy and mama celebrate, Lorraine reveals what she has learned: “So much was won. / So much was lost. / Freedom is never free.”

An inspirational poem for all readers, “Mountaintop” closes the book. Back matter includes an extensive and detailed timeline as well as information on the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel and a list of sources.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memphis-martin-and-the-mountaintop-martin-luther-king-jr

Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, Alice Faye Duncan’s use of a nine-year-old narrator makes her book even more powerful for today’s children in telling the story of the Memphis sanitation strike and the world-changing events surrounding it. Duncan intertwines conviction, pride, activism, and heartbreak together in her compelling and lyrical snapshots that reveal the facts and emotions behind this pivotal Civil Rights and economic rights protest for a living wage for all Americans. Children’s hearts will be filled with empathy for Lorraine as she supports her father, accepts the sacrifices her family must make during the strike, joins her mother in marches, and fears for the safety of the strikers and Martin Luther King Jr.

The life and work of Dr. King, his influence, and the hope he embodied as well as his shocking assassination are all encapsulated in Duncan’s concise paragraphs, allowing readers to understand his enduring inspiration to all who fight injustice. By overlaying the text with descriptions of the volatile weather experienced during the winter and spring of 1968, Duncan amplifies the fearful atmosphere of the times in a metaphorical way that will resonate with readers. Lorraine’s growth and insight gleaned from her experiences will stay with readers long after they read the story.

R. Gregory Christie’s dramatic collage-style gouache paintings set off Duncan’s vignettes with bold blocks of color while inviting readers to experience the determination, community, and dignity of the workers fighting for the universal desire for and right to recognition, safety, and a living wage. Christie’s illustrations are all the more evocative for their varied use of perspective, subtle glimpses of hope and support, and moving portraits of Lorraine’s father, strikers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Lorraine herself. The death of Dr. King is depicted in a tiny image of the Lorraine motel balcony on which three men pointing upward, a kneeling figure, and the fallen Dr. King are all portrayed in silhouette. The intense focus the reader puts on this image increases its effect on the heart and mind.

Compelling, moving, and inspirational, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 is a must-read for all children. The book is a first-rate choice for home libraries and belongs in every school and public library.

Ages 7 and up

Calkins Creek, 2018 | ISBN 978-1629797182

Discover more about Alice Faye Duncan and her books on her website.

To learn more about R. Gregory Christie, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-martin-luther-king-jr-coloring-page

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait

 

To inspire your dreams of a better future for all, color this printable page and hang it in your room!

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memphis-martin-and-the-mountaintop-cover

You can find Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 28 – Endangered Species Act Day

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About the Holiday

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in by President Richard Nixon on this date in 1973.  The primary law in the United States for protecting imperiled species, the Act protects critically imperiled species from extinction as a result of the consequences of economic growth and development undeterred by concern for conservation. The US Supreme Court called it “the most comprehensive legislation for the preservation of endangered species enacted by any nation”. The purposes of the Endangered Species Act are to prevent extinction and to recover species to the point where the law’s protections are not needed, therefore protecting diverse species as well as the ecosystems in which they live or depend on. Today’s book reveals the story of a National Park that provides a unique refuge for many rare and endangered species. To celebrate the holiday, learn more about how the Endangered Species Act affects your state.

Thanks go to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas (Part of the She Made History Series)

Written by Vicki Conrad | Illustrated by Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew

 

“Long ago a trickle of water / spilled from a lake / and formed a tiny stream.” The stream spread until it covered almost half of the state of Florida, creating a shallow lake that moved like a slowly running river – “a river bursting with wildlife, / whispering to the world / to listen, to notice, to discover its wonders.” Mangroves and cypress trees grow from the water, the soil fed by the cycles of growing and dying sawgrass. The water, trees, and grass attract a “rainbow of birds” that wade in the shallows, hunting for food. “These are the Everglades. / The wildest, richest, and most diverse ecosystem in all the world – / every plant and animal needing another to survive.”

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Image copyright Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew, 2021, text copyright Vicki Conrad. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

But leaders and developers wanted to drain the water to create land to build on, land they could sell, land with which they could make money. They pumped the water out and built dams and drains to make farmland, but the farmland turned dry and burned easily. The animals and birds fled. The ecosystem was “desperate for a voice to protect them.”

When Marjory traveled from Massachusetts to Florida and saw the beautiful scenery, she knew immediately that this was her new home. She made a friend, Ernest, and together they spent time paddling a boat through the Everglades, “watching whirling wheels of white birds dance” and spying panthers, alligators, turtles, manatees, and more of the animals that lived there. Where other people saw a swamp, Marjory and Ernest saw “treasure.”

Marjory and Ernest wanted to do something to preserve the Everglades. They studied the map and the formation of the Everglades. Marjory called it “a river of grass.” Ernest wrote a bill for the United States Congress to consider, and “Marjory wrote a poem, / hopeful it would move Congress.” Although lawmakers did tour the Everglades and see its miraculous sights, the bill did not pass.

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Image copyright Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew, 2021, text copyright Vicki Conrad. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Marjory decided to write a book about the area she loved, and in 1947 The Everglades: River of Grass was published. Her book helped people see the marvels that lived within the Everglades: “the manatee munching seagrass / protecting her calf from harm”; “the red-bellied turtle, / laying eggs in the abandoned alligator nest, / dry and protected from water.”; the only place in the world where an alligator and a crocodile live together.”

At last people began to take notice – and care. Their voices joined with Marjory’s and Ernest’s and Everglades National Park was established that same year. “Yet only one-fourth of the Everglades was protected.” Marjory understood that “all the ecosystems needed one another.” When plans to build the world’s largest airport on land that was part of the Everglades, Marjory, now eighty years old, established the Friends of the Everglades, and their three-thousand voices convinced President Richard Nixon to stop the building.

Marjory continued to fight for the Everglades, giving speeches and putting hecklers in their place. When she was ninety-nine years old, Marjory could be found chipping away at a concrete drain to restore the land to its former waterway. At 105 years old, Marjory was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Adults and children sent her letters thanking her for saving the Everglades, but Marjory knew there would always be more work to be done to protect this unique ecosystem.

Back matter includes an extensive, illustrated discussion of the Everglades ecosystem, the nine different habitats that make it such a unique area, and many of the plants, animals, birds, and fish that call it home. More on the life of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and her legacy as well as how readers can help the Everglades are also included.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-voice-for-the-everglades-national-park

Image copyright Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew, 2021, text copyright Vicki Conrad. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

A compelling biography of a woman with vision and grit who took on a nearly impossible task and saved one of the world’s unique environmental treasures, A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas will inspire young environmentalists and would serve as a captivating resource to begin studies about ecosystems, conservation, endangered and rare species, and many other topics revolving around nature science. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, whose perseverance, dedication, and voice still resonate today, continues to be a role model for children and adults alike.

Through Vicki Conrad’s lyrical text and light incorporation of a “This is the House that Jack Built” cadence readers see how people’s actions build on and affect each other – whether detrimentally (as the building plans; pumps, dams, and drains; and disappearing wildlife do) or beneficially (as Marjory’s and Ernest’s appeals to Congress, Marjory’s writings, and her continued advocacy do) and understand that once voice can make a difference. Conrad does an excellent job of portraying the beauty and uniqueness of the Everglades and giving kids a view of the many wonders to be found there.

In their vivid illustrations, Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew depict the rich colors of the diverse flora and fauna found in the nine cohesive habitats, from the vibrant pink roseate spoonbills to the purple passion flowers to the elusive crocodiles and the breathtaking, fiery sunsets that blanket them all. Adarne and Yew also allow children to navigate the meandering waterways that weave through the mangroves and sawgrass in their slow, steady, and life-giving pace. The breadth of wildlife within the pages offer many opportunities for further learning and research at home and at school.

An enticing and educational look at one of the world’s most valued natural treasures – whose story and resources continues to influence nature studies and advocacy today – A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas is a book that every school and public library will want to add to its collection and would be an inspiring inclusion for home bookshelves for nature lovers and homeschoolers.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807584965

Discover more about Vicki Conrad and her books on her website.

You can connect with Ibon Adarne on Twitter.

You can connect with Rachel Yew on Twitter.

Endangered Species Act Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-everglades-national-park-coloring-page

Everglades National Park Coloring Page

 

Travel to the Everglades and see the diverse wildlife that lives there with this printable coloring page!

Everglades National Park Coloring Page 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-voice-for-the-everglades-cover

You can find A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support our local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review