On January 21, here in the United States, we will celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While our kids are probably spending some time learning about him in school, we can deepen their learning—and demonstrate how important we consider his contributions to the civil rights movements—by reading children’s books together at home, too. Here are 11 interesting books to read about Martin Luther King, Jr. (Plus some bonus books tucked into my commentary!)
I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer: This book is part of the Ordinary People Change the World Series. Aimed at kids in kindergarten through third grade, this is the story of a little boy who was shocked at the way African-Americans were treated and how he grew up to do something about it.
I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr.: This picture book contains excerpts of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream Speech, which was delivered on steps on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The text is accompanied by gorgeous paintings by Kadir Nelson. And if you can make it through the book without crying, I tip my hat to you; it’s definitely a tough read-aloud. The full text of the speech is at the end, and a CD of the speech is included, making this book appropriate for discussion with older children, as well. If your child is interested in learning more about the March on Washington and how Dr. King composed his I Have a Dream Speech, check your local library for I Have a Dream: The Story Behind Martin Luther King Jr.’s Most Famous Speech by Kerry A. Graves.
I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr.: Nope, that’s a not a typo. This, too, is an illustrated copy of Dr. King’s speech. This book contains the full text of the speech, and beautifully diverse illustrations by fifteen different artists, each of whom is a Coretta Scott King Award and Honor Book Artist. The title of each illustration is under the picture throughout the book, and at the end of the book, each artist explains their work. The book contains a forward by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King.
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport: In this book, readers will learn what inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. to want to grow up and use “big words” to change the world. Big words like “White Only,” that hurt, and words that he read in the Bible and heard his father say from the pulpit on Sundays that inspired. This book, while a longer picture book that tells a story, does highlight some simple, important words throughout, and uses font to pull out quotes that help children understand key messages. Like other books in this list, it does tell the full story of Dr. King’s life and death, but it ends on an uplifting note.
When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates by Mark Andrew Weakland: I was so excited to find this book! Sometimes, it can be hard for kids to really picture historical figures as actual people. This book, for students in first through fourth grade, helps children do just that by describing Martin Luther King Jr. as a child—just like them.
My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart by Angela Farris Watkins: Speaking of books that talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. in a more human capacity and not just as a heroic leader of the civil rights movement, here is one written by his niece that mixes everyday family anecdotes with stories of his work as an activist. The review suggests other books that will provide a complete picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the suggested books courtesy of Amazon include books like My Daddy, Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King III and My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Christine King Farris.
A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. by David A. Adler: Dr. King’s experiences as a child shaped his life as an advocate for civil rights. This book explores those experiences and his growth into an advocate for equality and a leader in the civil rights movement, as well as his lasting impact on our world today. Another book that does not shy away from age-appropriate historical facts, this one is targeted at 5- to 8-year-old children in first through third grades.
Robin Hill School: Martin Luther King Jr. Day by Margaret McNamara: This book is one of the 28 Robin Hill School books, which follow a first-grade class through their school year. All the books are Level One readers (starting to read.) Here, they learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and talk about their own big dreams for making the world a better place.
National Geographic Readers: Martin Luther King, Jr. by Kitson Jazynha: If your child is really into reading non-fiction, this book is a great choice. It’s colorful and fun to look at for children who might find a level three reader a bit much, yet those same details are aids to help children who are starting to read or on their own. All in all, an engaging biography for young readers who want to learn about Martin Luther King, Jr.
Who Was Martin Luther King Jr., by Bonnie Bader: This book is part of a New York Times best-selling series—and it’s a best-selling series for a reason. Every time I pick up of these books or my second-grader tells me what she’s reading about in of them, I learn something new that I didn’t learn in school. The book on Martin Luther King, Jr. is no different. And while the book’s content is age-appropriate (for ages 8-12/grades 3-7), it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s historically accurate, and it tells it like it was. This is a great book to either read together or else be sure you’ve read the book before giving it to your child. Obviously, there are a lot of teachable moments, but chances are that your child is going to have a lot of questions—mostly “whys.”
Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan: What happens after the death of such an influential leader as Martin Luther King, Jr.—particularly one so sudden and violent? Well, this book is based on the true story of what was happening in Memphis in 1968, and the events that occurred there after Dr. King’s death.
Have you found a book that really sparks your child’s interest in the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Please share it with us in the comments so that our families can learn more!