As parents, the phrase "Use your words" will sound familiar. But using your words takes on a whole new meaning when we teach children about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the powerful words he spoke, even in the face of adversity and hate. Learning about MLK through children's books is an effective way to connect the man, and history, to contemporary events, feelings, and actions. Not only will this benefit our kids, is a reminder to us as mothers and caregivers that though there has been progress, there is still much work to be done.
From board books for babies (because you are never too young to learn about equal rights) to chapter book biographies, these 13 Martin Luther King Jr. books for kids belong in every child's library, school, and bookshelf. Read them, share them, and read them again—not only on the official day we honor Dr. King but every day.
This little board book packs a big impact by walking children through the roots of who Martin Luther King Jr. was from a young age, including the family he was born into and some of the early events in his life that directed his path toward being a Civil Rights leader. The board book version has simplified the plot and the language to make an excellent first introduction to learning about MLK, all accompanied by bright illustrations by Mai Ly Degnan. Number 33 in the Little People, Big DREAMS series, this Baby Edition is for ages zero to three.
Part of the Good Night Our World series, this structure of this board book will feel familiar to children as they read along and learn about Martin Luther King Jr. —” Good morning, Martin Luther King Jr.” and “It’s nice to see you, peaceful leader.” The tiniest members of your family, from ages zero to three, will learn about both the ordinary and the extraordinary aspects of his life: from a paper route to starting college at 15, to becoming a renowned leader of the Civil Rights Movement, the Great March on Washington and so much more. Illustrated by Julissa Mora.
Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series could not be complete without including the remarkable Martin Luther King, Jr. who embodies bravery. Inviting readers to dream with Martin Luther King Jr. the message conveyed in this board book form empowers our youngest citizens to act bravely and with all their heart so that they can be like Martin Luther King Jr. and change the world. The illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulos embody the warmth and positive message in the words. The book is geared toward ages 2-5 but younger kids will still get the message.
Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Honor Carole Boston Weatherford offers children a way to embody the fundamental principles upon which Martin Luther King Jr. based his life. Using elegant, lyrical prose, Weatherford invites readers ages four to eight (and beyond) to be a king through their own actions: stand against bigotry, beat the drum for justice, march to your own conscience. By providing children with relevant, inspiring ways to Be a King, the deeper message of Martin Luther King Jr.’s great work becomes actionable off the page. The artwork by Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor and renowned children’s picture book illustrator James E Ransome make this book a treasure for any bookshelf.
The first book in the new Holly Celebrates series aimed toward teaching kids ages four to eight about different holidays throughout the year, Holly Celebrates MLK Day gives kids a deeper understanding of this important holiday. Told through the eyes of a young girl, children will find both the story and the images engaging while learning about the reason why we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on MLK Day, and how we can honor him every day through our own actions.
The remarkable artwork by Bryan Collier, which combines collage and watercolor techniques, is not the only reason to buy this beautiful picture book, but it’s certainly one of the reasons. It’s the perfect companion to author Doreen Rappaport’s story, which weaves quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. and brings them directly into context for readers. She uses Martin’s words to demonstrate to children both the history of Martin Luther King’s life and the power of words in action. The book does not shy away from the truth, which means it does include references to
Black people being beaten, jailed, and murdered as they fight for justice. We believe these concepts are explained in an age-appropriate way, for children six and up.
Written by Dr. King’s niece, Watkins gives children not only the story of the great Civil Rights leader and his remarkable achievements, but also the man that he was in everyday life. Children will immediately connect with the relationship between Watkins and “Uncle ML” while they learn about his family history as well as how he made history. The loving relationship between the author and her uncle reveals his dedication to his country, equal rights, and his beloved family. Beautifully illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Watkins is also the author of Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King’s Six Guiding Principles and My Uncle Martin’s Words for America.
A Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, the gorgeous illustrations by artist Kadir Nelson accompany the complete text of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic speech. Bust out the boombox, or head to your parent’s house, because the book also comes with an audio CD of his entire speech. Hearing the words of the “I Have a Dream” speech as they follow along in the book is a powerful tool to help children understand just how impactful Dr. King’s words are.
Inspired by the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, in which more than 1,000 children ages seven to 18 skipped school to march for freedom and equality, author Monica Clark Robinson corresponded with people who were there to compose Let the Children March. The incredible bravery of these children is considered to be a pivotal point in the Civil Rights Movement and the catalyst for desegregation. Written from the point of view of a young Black girl in Birmingham, Alabama in the same year, after hearing a speech from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the girl and her brother decide to speak up and join the protest. This moving book will ignite the fire in young leaders everywhere. Frank Morrison’s exemplary oil-on-board illustrations are evidence of the artist’s own connection with Martin Luther King Jr.’s words on his life and art. Not surprisingly, this book was named a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. Written for children six to nine, we believe this book will benefit children of all ages, to learn about King’s legacy, and to see the power children have in the world.
Trailblazers is a biography series about some of the most influential people of our times, and in this chapter book, author Christine Platt details not only the accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. but also the foundational issues that have contributed to systemic racism in the United States. The introduction provides context with a detailed explanation of slavery, enslavement, the Underground Railroad, the Fourteenth Amendment, Jim Crow, and segregation.
First published in 1964, this new edition of Ed Clayton’s chapter book includes a foreword by his widow, Xernona Clayton, and dynamic new illustrations by Donald Bermudez. Written in a biographical format, along with his adult life, middle-grade readers (ages eight to 12) will also learn the details of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life as a child and his life as a public-school student, which laid the foundation for his life’s work. Notably, chapter five talks about Martin participating in a speech contest for his school, for which he took second place. On the bus ride home from this event, the bus driver asked all the Black people on the bus, young and old, to give up their seats for the white passengers. Martin and his fellow students refused, even amid the driver’s horrific racial slurs. Eventually, at the request of their teacher, they stood and had to ride standing for more than 90 minutes. Readers will also learn about Black history leaders, such as Frederick Douglass, who inspired a young Martin, as well as literature and philosophies that helped shape his ideas. The paperback will come out in February of 2022.
This fiction book, inspired by true events involving the shooting of unarmed African American teenagers, follows honor student Justyce McAllister. After an incident at his predominantly white high school, in which Justyce, who is Black, is thrown to the ground and handcuffed by a white police officer, Justyce tries to make sense of it by turning to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As the plot unfolds, revealing systemic racism amid a rollercoaster of teenage emotions, Justyce writes letters to the spirit of Dr. King. The sequel, Dear Justyce, came out in 2020. Suitable for ages 14 and up, read it at the same time as your tween to have an open discussion about injustice and parenting.