Reflecting on 2018

Image result for new year imageThe idea for this blog came to me when I was driving home from work with my three-year-old who was telling me stories about his day from the backseat of my Mazda CX5 (nicknamed “The Mom Mobile”). I was distractedly listening while thinking about the limitations of sharing my research about children’s literature only with an academic audience. I’d presented my work about LGBTQ children’s literature at the Children’s Literature Association conference the previous month, and had published a book chapter and a journal article on the subject, but I knew the conversation about kid’s lit was happening beyond academic conferences and publications. I wanted to participate in it.

I have found so many brilliant and generous kid lit scholars through this blog and my Twitter account. Of course, people have been developing lists and reviews of diverse children’s literature to share with parents, educators, and librarians. And, of course, many of these people are parents, educators, and librarians! It’s been wonderful to connect with people who have different experiences and reasons for engaging children’s literature. I’ve had awesome conversations with writers, librarians, and other bloggers. Thank you! I hope folks continue to reach out. I’m always happy to consider books for review and talk about children’s literature with other passionate readers!

I posted my first review, of Jessica Love’s Julián Is a Mermaid, on July 28th. Since then, I have posted dozens of reviews. Most of these reviews focus on books that explore race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability.

I am so excited about how quickly my followers have grown! I think I’ll reach 1500 blog and 1500 Twitter followers by my six month blogaversary on January 28!! I’m also slowly but steadily building a following on GoodReads and Facebook!

One of my most exciting 2018 accomplishments was judging the Cybils Awards. I was a round one judge for easy readers and early chapter books. This meant reading, evaluating, and sometimes reviewing 100 really great books! I appreciated the opportunity and hope to participate in the future!

In 2019, I will be adding middle grade and young adult book reviews to my blog. It’s a natural extension of the work I am already doing. I’ll publish my first YA review tomorrow – Ruth Lehrer’s Being Fishkill. I’ll follow this with my first middle grade review later this week. I love Zetta Elliot’s children’s picture books and have reviewed a couple. It makes sense that Dragons in a Bag will be the first middle grade book I review.

I am also participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day January 25th and am very excited about it!

A BIG thank you to everyone following me, reading my reviews, and making good book choices! We need children’s literature that is inclusive, socially relevant, and beautifully written and illustrated.


Jennifer Miller, PhD


Trying to make a list of my TOP 10 CYBILS AWARDS NOMINATED BOARD BOOKS/PICTURE BOOKS made me feel relieved I am not a Round 2 Judge! Unlike judges in this category I had not read all the titles, so take my list with a grain of salt. I DO love all of these books and I have reviewed most of them. I tried to create a list that reflects the diverse titles nominated.

10. All Are Welcome By Alexandra Penfold

9. The Book Tree By Paul Czajak; illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh

8. Islandborn By Junot Díaz

7. Julián Is a Mermaid By Jessica Love

6. C is for Consent By Eleanor Morrison

5. If You’re Going to a March By Martha Freeman, illustrated by Violet Kim

4. You Can Be By Elise Gravel

3. Drawn Together By Minh Lê

2. Prince & Knight By Daniel Haack

1. Families By Jesse Unaapik Mike and Kerry McCluskey; Illustrated by Lenny Lishchenko

Families is #1 by me. It’s published by Inhabit Media, an Inuit-owned small press that brings amazing #ownvoices children’s literature into the world. I love that the book celebrates diverse family formations and represents indigenous peoples in a non-romanticized contemporary setting that organically incorporates cultural specificity while dealing with universal issues.

Du8Fv8YXQAIbvg0.jpg largeThe Armchair Cybils Shortlist Contest

Alice Faye Duncan’s Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

“King was an exceptional leader, but still it took countless leaders and countless people on the ground to create what we reflect back on as one of the greatest social movements ever.”

– Charlene A. Carruthers in Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements

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

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968, written by Alice Faye Duncan and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, is not the story of a single man – it is the story of a collective struggle. Duncan makes this struggle real and accessible to even the youngest of readers by unapologetically representing racism and the abuses of power that are a central logic and practice of capitalism. Christie’s atmospheric illustrations envelope each of Duncan’s interconnected vignettes helping express the shifting tone of the emotionally challenging story that puts American history on display in all its complexity.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is told in the first-person through the point-of-view of a Memphis teacher who was the daughter of a sanitation worker during the 1968 strike. Black sanitation workers were fed up with poor wages that kept them on welfare as well as with unsafe equipment, which led to the deaths of two black sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker. Workers formed a labor union to demand fair pay and dignity, but Memphis’s mayor, Henry Loeb, refused to recognize it. On February 12, 1968 “1,300 men deserted their garbage barrels.” The strike would last 65 days.

In March of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. infused the strikers with a new sense of hope by going to Memphis and planning a march. The peaceful march was interrupted by rioters and violence was exasperated by police force. King left the city with promises to return. He kept his word and was back in Memphis within a week.

In “Lorraine,” the most poignant vignette in the book, Duncan names her narrator, Lorraine Jackson. Then, Duncan breathlessly and unapologetically paints a painful picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last hours in The Lorraine Motel. She describes the details of King’s assassin’s rifle pointed at his hotel room, and the riffle’s bullet as it “pierced the dreamer’s neck.” Duncan’s unflinching description of King’s violent death refuses to spare young readers the real cost of social transformation, a rare show of respect for picture books’ target audience, and one I appreciate greatly.

Duncan moves her reader through the immediate aftermath of King’s assassination as Coretta Scott King worked to continue her partner’s pledge to support the sanitation strike, which ended April 16, 1968 as a result of federal intervention.

Duncan gifts us the story of families and communities doing the hard work of loving, living, and laboring to build a more just world. This is a biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told through the story of one community he helped change, but the community itself is an integral part of its telling. Duncan commits to communicating this hard history and does so beautifully and brilliantly. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for classroom and personal libraries.

Alice Faye Duncan’s A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Alice Faye Duncan’s A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks recounts Brooks’ life in carefully crafted verses and introduces readers to Brooks’ own work through sensitively selected poems. Xia Gordon’s evocative images pair well with the text, creating a meditative mood with pictures that at times appear to glow. The brightness of Gordon’s illustrations magnifies the light of Brooks’ words and Duncan’s remarkable tribute to them.

Readers are introduced to Brooks as an 8-year-old girl squatting next to a flower as she ponders if it can grow without sunlight. Brooks herself did not have to grow without sunlight, beamed on as she was by adoring parents, a message cleverly woven throughout the book in both image and text.

Duncan describes young Brooks as a little girl whose head is “filled with snappy rhymes.” She is depicted as ostracized by other children but loved fiercely within her home. In one vignette, a teacher accuses Brooks of plagiarizing and her furious mother rushes to the school in her defense. Brooks creates a beautiful poem on the spot to demonstrate that she “writes and speaks with the finest ease.”

As Brooks matures her parents continue to nourish her literary talent. They shield her from household chores and paid labor. As a result, Brooks “learns to labor for the love of words.” She perfects her drafts, publishes, joins a Black poetry group, enters poetry contests, wins poetry contests, eventually wins a Pulitzer Prize, and it is no longer a small circle of loved ones believing in her genius.

Family and poetry are the two foundations of Brooks’ life foregrounded in Duncan’s brilliant and accessible picture book. Importantly, Duncan does not weigh the text down with too much detail. She lets the story breath and encourages children and adults to continue their research. A detailed author’s note as well as a timeline provided at the end of the book offer readers information about Brooks’ commendable community involvement and place her work within the Black Arts Movement.

This picture book will be of interest to children who enjoy biographies, histories, and poetry. I highly recommend it for inclusion in school and home libraries. It is a beautifully told story of one of America’s finest poets.

*This book will be available January 1, 2019. I received a review copy from the author.

Alice Faye Duncan

Watch out for reviews of Alice Faye Duncan’s new and upcoming non-fiction children’s picture books next week on! Duncan’s work makes important contributions to children’s non-fiction by exploring American literary and political history. Her lyrical language transports even the youngest readers into the past, which is rendered rich in details that take unapologetic account of poverty and racism as well as hope and resistance.

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Order Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop.

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Pre-order A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks.

If you are not familiar with Duncan’s work learn more here.

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I want my words to be soul substance and a good time, mixed with a jolt of learning. — Alice Faye Duncan