In honor of the upcoming Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Holiday on January 21, we put together a list of children's books that pay tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Activist, civil rights leader and wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, reflected on the Meaning of the King Holiday:
"The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate the timeless values he taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.
We commemorate Dr. King’s inspiring words, because his voice and his vision filled a great void in our nation. Yet, Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk, that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible. And so we commemorate on this holiday the man of action, who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day, the man who braved threats and jail and beatings and who ultimately paid the highest price to make democracy a reality for all Americans.
No other day of the year brings so many people from different cultural backgrounds together in such a vibrant spirit of brother and sisterhood—and it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream.
This holiday honors the courage of a man who endured harassment, threats and beatings, and even bombings. We commemorate the man who went to jail 29 times to achieve freedom for others, and who knew he would pay the ultimate price for his leadership, but kept on marching and protesting and organizing anyway.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not only for celebration and remembrance, education and tribute, but above all a day of service. All across America on the Holiday, his followers perform service in hospitals and shelters and prisons and wherever people need some help.
We call you to commemorate this Holiday by making your personal commitment to serve humanity with the vibrant spirit of unconditional love that was his greatest strength, and which empowered all of the great victories of his leadership. And with our hearts open to this spirit of unconditional love, we can indeed achieve the Beloved Community of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.
May we who follow Martin now pledge to serve humanity, promote his teachings and carry forward his legacy into the 21st Century."
All of the books featured on this list are written by Black authors, including members of Dr. King's family. We hope they will inspire and empower youth to promote justice, serve humanity, and take action with courage and compassion:
Be A King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by James E. Ransome: You can be a King. Stamp out hatred. Put your foot down and walk tall. You can be a King. Beat the drum for justice. March to your own conscience. Featuring a dual narrative of the key moments of Dr. King's life alongside a modern class as the students learn about him, Carole Weatherford's poetic text encapsulates the moments that readers today can reenact in their own lives. See a class of young students as they begin a school project inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and learn to follow his example, as he dealt with adversity and never lost hope that a future of equality and justice would be a reality. As times change, Dr. King's example remains, encouraging a new generation of children to take charge and change the world...to be a King. Ages 4-8.
My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King III, illustrated by AG Ford: What was it like growing up as a son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? This picture book memoir, My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King III, provides insight into one of history’s most fascinating families and into a special bond between father and son. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King III was one of those four little children mentioned in Martin Luther King’s groundbreaking “I Have a Dream” speech. In this memoir, Martin Luther King Jr.’s son gives an intimate look at the man and the father behind the civil rights leader. Mr. King’s remembrances show both his warm, loving family and a momentous time in American history. Ages 4-8.
Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Six Guiding Beliefs (As Told by His Niece) by Angela Farris Watkins, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport: The niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. reveals six timeless and universal principles that encompass the civil rights leader’s greatest legacy: Love will see you through. Growing up as the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Farris Watkins witnessed firsthand the principles and values that King practiced and lived by throughout his fight for equality. Drawing from experiences and episodes both personal and well-known, Dr. Watkins artfully details the guiding beliefs of one of the greatest men in history. Including “have courage” and “love your enemies,” these six hallmarks of virtue and nonviolence reinforce the truth that “the universe honors love” and will inspire readers of all ages. Ages 6-11.
Belle, The Last Mule at Gee's Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, illustrated by John Holyfield: A true story inspires the moving tale of a mule that played a key role in the civil rights movement—and a young boy who sees history anew. When African Americans in a farming community—inspired by a visit from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—defied local authorities who were trying to stop them from registering to vote, many got around a long detour on mule-drawn wagons. Later, after Dr. King's assassination, two mules from Gee's Bend pulled the farm wagon bearing his casket through the streets of Atlanta, leading over 50,000 people marching in procession. Ages 5-8.
Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, paintings by Kadir Nelson: Walking many miles to school in the dusty road, young Coretta Scott knew the unfairness of life in the segregated south. A yearning for equality began to grow. Together with Martin Luther King, Jr., she gave birth to a vision of change through nonviolent protest. It was the beginning of a journey—with dreams of freedom for all. A poetic and stunningly illustrated view of the Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of the woman who stood hand-in-hand with Martin Luther King Jr. in the fight for social justice. Ages 4-9.
We March by Shane Evans: On August 28, 1963, a remarkable event took place--more than 250,000 people gathered in our nation's capital to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march began at the Washington Monument and ended with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech, advocating racial harmony. Many words have been written about that day, but few so delicate and powerful as those presented here by award-winning author and illustrator Shane W. Evans. When combined with his simple yet compelling illustrations, the thrill of the day is brought to life for even the youngest reader to experience. Ages 0-4.
Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney: On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and his strong voice and powerful message were joined and lifted in song by world-renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. It was a moment that changed the course of history and is imprinted in minds forever. Told through Andrea Davis Pinkney's poetic prose and Brian Pinkney's evocative illustration, the stories of these two powerful voices and lives are told side-by-side—as they would one day walk—following the journey from their youth to a culmination at this historical event when they united as one. Ages 7-10.
I've Seen The Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the most celebrated figures of the twentieth century. Set against key moments of the Civil Rights Movement, here is the story of the powerful, eloquent spiritual leader and his belief that nonviolence could be used to overcome racial discrimination. Walter Dean Myers's moving narrative and Leonard Jenkins's compelling paintings convey a vivid and striking image of the man who moved American society closer to the ideals of freedom and fairness. Dr. King's dream that all Americans would be judged by their individual actions and character is one we still cherish today. Ages 5-8.
I Have A Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., paintings by Kadir Nelson: From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s daughter, Dr. Bernice A. King: “My father’s dream continues to live on from generation to generation, and this beautiful and powerful illustrated edition of his world-changing "I Have a Dream" speech brings his inspiring message of freedom, equality, and peace to the youngest among us—those who will one day carry his dream forward for everyone.” 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. Ages 4 & up.
My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Christine Farris King, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet: "Mother Dear, one day I'm going to turn this world upside down." Long before he became a world-famous dreamer, Martin Luther King Jr. was a little boy who played jokes and practiced the piano and made friends without considering race. But growing up in the segregated south of the 1930s taught young Martin a bitter lesson—little white children and little Black children were not to play with one another. Martin decided then and there that something had to be done. And so he began the journey that would change the course of American history. Ages 6-11.
Martin Rising, Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney & Brian Pinkney: In a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion, Andrea and Brian Pinkney convey the final months of Martin Luther King's life—and of his assassination—through metaphor, spirituality, and multilayers of meaning. Andrea's stunning poetic requiem, illustrated with Brian's lyrical and colorful artwork, brings a fresh perspective to Martin Luther King, the Gandhi-like, peace-loving activist whose dream of equality—and whose courage to make it happen—changed the course of American history. And even in his death, he continues to transform and inspire all of us who share his dream. Ages 9-12.
The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon: In 1968 Chicago, it’s not easy for thirteen-year-old Sam to be the son of known civil rights activist Roland Childs. Especially when his older brother, Stick, starts keeping to himself. Then, one day, Sam finds something under Stick’s bed that changes everything: literature about the Black Panthers. Suddenly, nothing feels certain anymore. And when Dr. King is shot and killed, Sam’s father’s words are no longer enough to make him believe in change….This moving, coming-of-age story gracefully encompasses the scope of the struggle between the civil rights and black power movements through an intimate and relatable lens. Ages 10-14.
Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan and R. Gregory Christie: This historical fiction picture book presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest. In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose. Ages 8-12.