Martin Luther King, Jr. Day always sneaks up on us. Another day off from school already?! While I’m busy thinking about how I’ll entertain my boisterous family for a long weekend, one of my kids usually reins me in by asking, “Which holiday is it, again?” This reminds me that the holiday is the perfect segue into important conversations about racism, fairness, and activism, and the celebration of a truly remarkable leader in the civil rights movement. Luckily, there are fantastic books available to help spark these discussions. Here are seven helpful titles:
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Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream and You, by Carole Boston Weatherford and James E. Ransome
This artful book intersperses images depicting important events in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s own life with illustrations of children carrying out Dr. King’s messages today. While many books indirectly inspire conversations about the continued relevance of Dr. King’s work, this is the first one I’ve seen to make such a clear connection to the lives of today’s children. This is the perfect book to purchase when your children are young, and revisit in increasingly complex ways as they mature.
My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up With the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., by Christine King Farris and Chris Soentpiet
This book gives an insider perspective on Dr. King’s childhood. For my sons, reading about the practical jokes Martin and his siblings played on their neighbors and crotchety piano teacher humanized a man who is often portrayed as a larger-than-life adult. Kids will relate to the accounts of the discrimination young Martin and his family experienced and the heartache of the forced ending of his friendship with white playmates. The brief description of his adult life lays groundwork for more reading and conversation about his impact.
My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Martin Luther King III and AG Ford
In another memoir from a unique point of view, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s son, “Marty,” shares his memories of his father, touchingly introducing the text by saying, “This book is about my daddy, what it was like to live with him, and how much I loved him.” He portrays Dr. King as a powerful speaker and organizer who was even willing to go to jail for his beliefs, but also as a dad who tossed a football with his kids. The book shares lesser-known examples of the King family’s activism along with historic ones, such as how his family built a bonfire to burn toy guns the children received as Christmas gifts to demonstrate their belief in nonviolence.
I Am Martin Luther King, Jr., by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos
The “Ordinary People Change the World” series by Brad Meltzer depicts influential figures in comic-book-style biographies. The format is engaging and the facts are simply but accurately presented. If your children have an appreciation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life story from other books, this text provides more background information about key events, definitely adding to the conversation.
I Have A Dream, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kadir Nelson
This book pairs the original text of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech with breathtaking paintings. Again, this book is best coupled with others on the topic, as even with the support of the paintings, the text will likely be too challenging for young children to unpack in isolation. There’s something to be said, though, for letting powerful words speak for themselves, and this book exemplifies that. The included CD recording provides another way to appreciate Dr. King’s iconic words.
Let the Children March, by Monica Clark-Robinson and Frank Morrison
This story is told from the point of view of a young African-American girl who hears Dr. King speak at her church. Answering his call for peaceful protestors, she joins the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade. While sensitively told, parents should know that this story does include the narrator being pushed and sprayed with water by the police and even briefly going to jail. Regardless, this story presents opportunity to talk about how even children can be a powerful force in the fight for social justice.
Who Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?, by Bonnie Bader and Elizabeth Wolf
Over the past year, my elementary-school-age son has upped the ante with his constant questioning; more complex books help give him the information he craves. Part of the “Who HQ” nonfiction chapter book series, this title is readable yet informative. In addition to an account of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life, breakout sections give background information on topics like the Jim Crow Laws and Brown v. Board of Education. It’s as if the author anticipated my son’s curious inquiries and wanted to provide me with an alternative to my fumbling, half-complete answers—much appreciated! This one is a helpful addition to our collection.
What are your favorite books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to read with your kids?