Sixteen Children’s Books To Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

While most of us know Martin Luther King Jr. as a minister, activist, and spokesperson for the Civil Rights Movement, it’s easy to forget that many young readers may not be as familiar with Dr. King, or the Civil Right Movement itself.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, than to share his story with younger readers and encourage the next generation to stand up for equality. So today, I will be sharing a few books about the man himself, as well as a few additional books related to the Civil Rights Movement, to facilitate further conversations of Dr. King’s legacy and the accomplishments of the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.

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Board Books

Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? by Lisbeth Kaiser, Illustrated by Stanley Chow (Bookshop | Amazon)

“The chronology and themes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s meaningful life are presented in a masterfully succinct text, with just a few sentences per page. The fresh, stylized illustrations are sure to captivate young readers and adults alike. With a read-aloud biographical summary in the back, this age-appropriate introduction honors and shares the life and work of one of the most influential civil rights activists of our time.”

No! My First Book Of Protest by Julie Merberg, Illustrated by Molly Egan (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Little ones who love to say “No!” can chime in while they learn about iconic activists from Frederick Douglass and Alice Paul to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malala.

Each spread introduces an iconic figure—such as Gloria Steinem or Cesar Chavez—along with a super simple summary of the actions they took to change the course of history. Activists of all ages will learn about the abolitionist movement, civil rights, women’s rights, and more! Detailed, colorful art will thoroughly engage toddlers and preschoolers. And the chance to join the refrain on every spread “NO, NO!” is sure to please the tiniest protestors. (A mini history of protest movements at the end of the books is a handy cheat sheet for parents!)”

My First Little People Big Dreams: Rosa Parks by Lisbeth Kaiser, Illustrated by Marta Antelo (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Rosa Parks grew up in Alabama, where she learned to stand up for herself at an early age. Rosa went on to become a civil rights activist. In 1955, she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Her courageous decision had a huge impact on civil rights, eventually leading to the end of segregation on public transport. She never stopped working for equal rights. Babies and toddlers will love to snuggle as you read to them the engaging story of this fascinating icon, and will also enjoy exploring the stylish and quirky illustrations of this sturdy board book on their own.”

Picture Books

My Little Golden Book About Martin Luther King Jr. by Bonnie Bader, Illustrated by Sue Cornelison (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with this Little Golden Book biography all about the civil rights leader! The perfect introduction to nonfiction for preschoolers.

This Little Golden Book captures the essence of Martin Luther King, Jr. for the littlest readers. They’ll learn how his childhood in segregated Atlanta—and in his father’s church—shaped the future civil rights leader. And they’ll gain a clear understanding of the way he became an eloquent, powerful voice for African Americans.”

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo, Illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney (Bookshop | Amazon)

“This book is a beautifully-rendered study of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, told in simple, straightforward language for even the youngest of readers to understand. Pinkney’s scratchboard and oil pastel illustrations convey both the strength and gentleness of King’s character. Both text and art carry his central message of peace and brotherhood among all people.”

I Have A Dream by Martin Luther King, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Bookshop | Amazon)

“On August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, Martin Luther King gave one of the most powerful and memorable speeches in our nation’s history. His words, paired with Caldecott Honor winner Kadir Nelson’s magnificent paintings, make for a picture book certain to be treasured by children and adults alike. The themes of equality and freedom for all are not only relevant today, 50 years later, but also provide young readers with an important introduction to our nation’s past. Included with the book is an audio CD of the speech.”

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Meet the youngest known child to be arrested for a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963, in this moving picture book that proves you’re never too little to make a difference.

Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks intended to go places and do things like anybody else.

So when she heard grown-ups talk about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws, she spoke up. As she listened to the preacher’s words, smooth as glass, she sat up tall. And when she heard the plan—picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails!—she stepped right up and said, I’ll do it! She was going to j-a-a-il!

Audrey Faye Hendricks was confident and bold and brave as can be, and hers is the remarkable and inspiring story of one child’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.”

The Teachers March!: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, Illustrated by Charly Palmer (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Demonstrating the power of protest and standing up for a just cause, here is an exciting tribute to the educators who participated in the 1965 Selma Teachers’ March.

Reverend F.D. Reese was a leader of the Voting Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama. As a teacher and principal, he recognized that his colleagues were viewed with great respect in the city. Could he convince them to risk their jobs–and perhaps their lives–by organizing a teachers-only march to the county courthouse to demand their right to vote? On January 22, 1965, the Black teachers left their classrooms and did just that, with Reverend Reese leading the way. Noted nonfiction authors Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace conducted the last interviews with Reverend Reese before his death in 2018 and interviewed several teachers and their family members in order to tell this story, which is especially important today.”

Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito, Illustrated by Laura Freeman (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Georgia Gilmore was a cook at the National Lunch Company in Montgomery, Alabama. When the bus boycotts broke out in Montgomery after Rosa Parks was arrested, Georgia knew just what to do. She organized a group of women who cooked and baked to fund-raise for gas and cars to help sustain the boycott. Called the Club from Nowhere, Georgia was the only person who knew who baked and bought the food, and she said the money came from “nowhere” to anyone who asked. When Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for his role in the boycott, Georgia testified on his behalf, and her home became a meeting place for civil rights leaders. This picture book highlights a hidden figure of the civil rights movement who fueled the bus boycotts and demonstrated that one person can make a real change in her community and beyond. It also includes one of her delicious recipes for kids to try with the help of their parents!”

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Bookshop | Amazon)

“This picture book is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the momentous Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in, when four college students staged a peaceful protest that became a defining moment in the struggle for racial equality and the growing civil rights movement.

Andrea Davis Pinkney uses poetic, powerful prose to tell the story of these four young men, who followed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words of peaceful protest and dared to sit at the “whites only” Woolworth’s lunch counter. Brian Pinkney embraces a new artistic style, creating expressive paintings filled with emotion that mirror the hope, strength, and determination that fueled the dreams of not only these four young men, but also countless others.”

Middle Grade

Trailblazers: Martin Luther King, Jr.: Fighting for Civil Rights by Christine Platt (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Bring history home and meet some of the world’s greatest game changers! Get inspired by the true story of the civil rights leader whose peaceful fight for justice still motivates people today. This biography series is for kids who loved Who Was? and are ready for the next level.

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to more than 250,000 people in Washington, DC about his dream of racial equality. His message of peaceful protest inspired a generation to stand up for their rights. Find out how a boy who was not allowed to go to school or the movies with white people blazed a trail in civil rights.”

Mighty Justice (Young Readers’ Edition): The Untold Story of Civil Rights Trailblazer Dovey Johnson Roundtree by Katie McCabe (Bookshop | Amazon)

“A young reader’s adaptation of Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights, the memoir of activist and trailblazer Dovey Johnson Roundtree, by Katie McCabe.

Raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the height of Jim Crow, Dovey Johnson Roundtree felt the sting of inequality at an early age and made a point to speak up for justice. She was one of the first Black women to break the racial and gender barriers in the US Army; a fierce attorney in the segregated courtrooms of
Washington, DC; and a minister in the AME church, where women had never before been ordained as clergy. In 1955, Roundtree won a landmark bus desegregation case that eventually helped end “separate but equal” and dismantle Jim Crow laws across the South.

Developed with the full support of the Dovey Johnson Roundtree Educational Trust and adapted from her memoir, this book brings her inspiring, important story and voice to life.”

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose (Bookshop | Amazon)

“On March 2, 1955, an impassioned teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.
Based on extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others, Phillip Hoose presents the first in-depth account of an important yet largely unknown civil rights figure, skillfully weaving her dramatic story into the fabric of the historic Montgomery bus boycott and court case that would change the course of American history.”

Graphic Novels

Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story by Alfred Hassler and Benton Resnik (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Nearly sixty years after its creation, a little-known landmark of comic book history returns! This 16-page comic is a simple but revolutionary account of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, in which Rosa Parks, Dr. King, and 50,000 others used the power of nonviolence to battle segregation on city buses – and win. First published in December 1957 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, it went unnoticed by the mainstream comic book industry, but spread like wildfire among civil rights groups, churches, and schools, helping to mobilize a generation to join the global fight for equality – nonviolently. Personally endorsed by Martin Luther King, Jr. himself, over time this comic book has reached beyond his time and place to inspire activists in Latin America, South Africa, Vietnam, Egypt, and beyond… as well as inspiring MARCH, the new graphic novel trilogy by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.”

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Bookshop | Amazon)

“March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.”

Rosa Parks And The Montgomery Bus Boycott by Connie Rose Miller and Dan Kalal (Bookshop | Amazon)

“This powerful graphic novel follows the courageous life of Rosa Parks, who was arrested in 1955 for not giving up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. With comic book-style illustrations and engaging, easy-to-read text, this biography will inspire, entertain, and inform young readers about an individual who made a significant contribution to society. A must-have in any home, classroom, or library seeking a historical understanding of contemporary racial issues.”

I hope you all enjoyed this collection of books, and maybe found a book or two to add your library. Did I miss any of your favorites? Be sure to share them in the comments below!

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