Our 6 Favorite Children’s Books About MLK

Weekly Trip to the Library

On Monday Americans honor the great civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a day of service. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a United States holiday marking the birth date of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., observed on the third Monday of January each year, around the time of King’s birthday, January 15.

Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights nonviolent activism movement of the 1960’s. At the age of 35, Martin Luther King Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of over $54,000 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement. He was assassinated in April 4, 1968.

Here are some books to use with children to learn more about the nonviolent civil activist:

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. By Doreen Rappaport

This picture-book introduces Martin Luther King Jr. to young children. It uses quotes from King’s writing and speeches from King’s life, beginning with his childhood experience of seeing “White Only” signs sprinkled throughout his hometown. He questions his mother about their meaning, and she assures him, “You are as good as anyone.” Listening to his father preach, the boy asserts that “When I grow up, I’m going to get big words, too.”

The author also discusses King’s role in the Montgomery bus strike that followed Rosa Park’s 1955 arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger and his subsequent efforts as a civil rights crusader. After briefly describing the circumstances of his death, the story concludes, quite abruptly, with the statement, “His big words are alive for us today.”

The author relies on Martin Luther King’s own words to show his power, passion, and pacifism. Watercolor and cut paper collage art feature closely focused, lifelike images of King and other individuals against an inventive montage of patterns and textures. The portraits of the civil rights activist exude his spiritual strength and peaceful visage.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Apostle of Militant Nonviolence By James A. Colaiaco

This short book for older children discusses all the main issues and themes of the life of King. The author traces the course of events from the emergence of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a national black spokesman during the Montgomery bus boycott to his radical critique of American society and foreign policy during the last years of his life. He also provides the first in-depth analysis of King’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail – a manifesto of the American civil rights movement and an eloquent defence of non-violent protest.

A Kid’s Guide to African American History: More than 70 Activities (A Kid’s Guide series)By Nancy I. Sanders
Reveiw by Carolyn Phelan

This large-format paperback introduces many aspects of African American history, from Africa to colonial America, from plantations, to emancipation. There is also information about the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, the achievements of black Americans, the civil rights movement, and hopes for the future. Throughout the book, crafts and other projects offer nannies, parents, and teachers practical ways to involve children in African American heritage.

Included are activities such as making a bead necklace, constructing a star-watching chart, and various recipes and crafts that revolve around the symbols of Kwanzaa. The pages are well designed, with illustrations in shades of gray and plenty of white space.

A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. By David Adler

This picture-book is a great way introduce the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. to young children ages about 4 to 9. It highlights King’s life including his childhood and family. Children will immediately relate to his painful early experiences of racism and understand the genesis of his lifelong struggle for racial equality. The book portrays the hatred King endured, the horror of his assassination, and the intense power of his message.

As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March toward Freedom By Richard Michelson

I love this book. It compares Martin Luther King, Jr. and the German-born rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and what led them to walk together in the famous 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Both men were raised by wise, loving parents and followed in their fathers’ footsteps. Both of them also experienced hatred and prejudice close to home. Whether the signs said “Whites Only” or “No Jews Allowed,” they were equally hurtful and inspired them to strive for peace and equal rights for all.

March: Book One By John Lewis

Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon. He is one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

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.

There are sequels to this book because John Lewis still fights for justice today. So be sure to also read March: Book Two and March: Book Three as well.

Click on the titles of the books above to purchase your own copy of the books we have reviewed.

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