Martin Luther King Jr. was a prominent leader and activist of the Civil Rights Movement whose legacy lives on more than 50 years after his death. He is most known for helping organize the 1963 March on Washington where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, a year before he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to combat racial inequality through nonviolent resistance.
Teaching children about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy is a great way to show how courage and resilience can change the world. The inspirational message of Dr. King and the stories of his efforts to end segregation and racism in America will have a tremendous impact on students as they recognize how Dr. King’s words still resonate today.
The following books are excellent resources for children in grades K-8 and can be used to teach about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and the Civil Rights Movement in America and as part of larger Black History Month and social studies curriculums.
A First Biography for Young Readers
In Let's Read About... Martin Luther King, Jr., readers in grades K-1 will learn about how racism shaped Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood as he grew up in the South. This biography is a great introduction to Martin Luther King Jr. and how his courage led him to stand up for the things he believed in as he fought for justice and racial equality.
Dr. King’s Sister Shares Memories of a Boy Who Became a Leader
Renowned educator Christine King Farris, older sister of the late Dr. King, wrote two books about her brother’s life and activism, for readers in grades 1-4.
In My Brother Martin, Farris joins with celebrated illustrator Chris Soentpiet to present a sister’s memories of growing up with Martin, including the pivotal boyhood experience that inspired Dr. Kings lifelong pursuit of equality that ultimately changed history.
In March On!, Farris presents her account of the 1963 March on Washington in the definitive tribute to the man, the march, and the speech that changed a nation. London Ladd's beautiful full-color illustrations bring to life the thousands of people from all over the country who came to the nation's capitol to inspire social change, culminating in Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Celebration of a Peaceful Warrior
In Martin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior (grades 4-7), readers are given a clear-eyed history of the trials, achievements, and murder of the civil rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr. His life, work, and death are traced in poignant and personalized moments from his childhood through his career as a minister and organizer of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, freedom rides, sit-ins, and protest marches. The biography doesn’t shy away from the hardships and violence activists faced and covers Dr. King’s assassination and the establishment of a national holiday in his memory, ensuring that his legacy lives on.
A Fresh and Emotional Tribute
In Martin Rising (grades 5-8), Andrea and Brian Pinkney present a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion to convey the final months of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life, and of his assassination, through metaphor, spirituality, and multi-layers of meaning. This fresh perspective of Martin Luther King Jr. reminds students that courage and conviction can make dreams a reality and that even after his death, Dr. King continues to transform and inspire everyone who shares his dream.
Whether children are reading about Dr. King’s early life or the impact his legacy has had on America, they will learn just how important Martin Luther King Jr. was in shaping the world they live in today. And readers of all ages will be inspired to follow his lead and make their own impact on the world through courage and conviction.
Source: Scholastic Teaching Tools Book List '21
Every year on November 11, our country has been honoring United States veterans. This annual day of observance may leave children wondering why they don't have school, or why mom or dad has the day off from work. This list of picture books is a great opportunity to share why we observe Veterans Day with the kids in your life.
The Poppy Lady, by Barbara Walsh, illustrated by Layne Johnson
This picture book follows Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia who was determined to find a way to honor and remember soldiers. Moina wanted to make the poppy a symbol of remembrance. Her determination paid off and the poppy is now a familiar symbol of Veterans Day. After reading this book, your child will be spotting red poppies everywhere they go.
The Wall, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler
This picture book is about a young boy who travels to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall with his father, in search of his grandfather’s name. As the boy looks for the name, he encounters a wheelchair-bound veteran visiting the wall too. The boy’s curiosity is overshadowed by his dad’s somber reason for visiting. Reading this book together, you can explore the historical significance of the Vietnam War and pay tribute to its veterans.
America’s White Table, by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Mike Benny
This picture book helps to explore the significance of military service from the perspective of a family. When service members have fallen, are missing, or are held captive in the line of duty, a white table is set up in remembrance. Every item placed on the table is a symbol for understanding and appreciating the service these men and women have provided for the United States. This book offers a great way to explain to children the importance of remembering those who have died in service, and the sacrifices they have made for their country.
Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond Between a Soldier and His Service Dog, by Luis Carlos Montalvan and Bret Witter, photographs by Dan Dion
This story is about a service dog by the name of Tuesday who helps a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Based on a true story and told through the eyes of Tuesday, this picture book helps children understand the true day to day life of a returning veteran. The adorable pictures of Tuesday will be sure to please, while also providing an example of how service dogs can help veterans.
Why Do We Celebrate Veterans Day, by Grace Houser
With this informative picture book children will discover the history of Veterans Day complete with facts and definitions. What better way to honor those who have served than by teaching children about the sacrifices they made for their country?
H is for Honor, by Devin Scillian, illustrated by Victor Juhasz
This alphabet picture book delves into everything military—from history, to the meaning of ranks and divisions, to what it is like to be a military child. Navy SEALS, Green Berets, and Army Rangers are written about in more detail, and pictures reveal what life on base is really like. Your child will discover the meaning of patriotism and have an opportunity to discuss courage and commitment. After reading this book, your little one may be interested in sending off a care package to a soldier overseas.
Hero Dad and Hero Mom, by Melinda Hardin ; illustrations by Bryan Langdo
These two picture books tell the story of a boy who compares his father, a U.S. soldier, to a superhero. However, these superhero soldiers can be moms too. These books are presented as a pair to highlight the fact that moms can be soldiers too. Kids will be able to recognize that military families come in many different forms.
Rags: Hero Dog of WWII, by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Petra Brown
This true story shows us how canines have been used as soldiers of war since World War I. Found on the streets of Paris by Private James Donovan, Rags was brought back to base and put to work. He learned to help clear trenches, deliver messages, and even salute! The muted illustrations show the dark time of war, but spare the reader from grim details. Dog lovers will enjoy learning about this furry war veteran and the capacity of one dog to be loyal to a country, as well as to the solder who took him in.
America The Beautiful, by Katharine Lee Bates ; illustrated by Chris Gall
This book features four verses of the classic nineteenth-century poem. Written from his unique perspective as the great, great grandnephew of “America the Beautiful” writer, Katharine Lee Bates, Chris Gall transforms this beloved patriotic song into monumental works of art–from purple mountain majesties to gleaming alabaster cities.
F is for Flag, by Wendy Cheyette Lewison ; illustrated by Barbara Duke
F Is for Flag shows children in simple terms how one flag can mean many things: a symbol of unity, a sign of welcome, and a reminder that-in good times and in bad-everyone in our country is part of one great big family.
For young readers, picture books are an important part of learning how to read. Usually this type of format marks the first step in introducing a child to reading and is often the start of language development for many children. Libraries that include picture books to promote literacy to young readers are boosting beginner-level vocabulary skills, introducing sentence structure and developing story analysis. Read the benefits of picture books for young readers below.
Building Language Skills – When reading through picture books during story time, at home or in the classroom, children can practice sounding out the language while adults introduce and explain new and interesting words. The rhythm and rhyme of picture books makes them easy to understand and fun to read aloud, allowing children to learn words quickly. In addition, reading the same story repeatedly increases vocabulary by 12%.
Inspiring Visual Thinking - Illustrations in a picture book help children understand what they are reading, allowing new readers to analyze the story. If children are having difficulty with the words, the illustrations can help them figure out the narrative, which can increase their comprehension.
Increasing Engagement – Picture books allow teachers and parents to spend time discussing the story, pictures and words. This gives young readers confidence and allows them to talk about what they see on the page, what happened in the story, what the characters are doing and which events have unfolded. Another good activity to try in the library or classroom is working in a small groups by placing children into groups of three with a picture book. Have one child concentrate on reading the text aloud; have another concentrate on the illustrations (pointing out details as the book is read); and have the third highlight what they see in the story that might differ from the others.
Delivering Fun – Picture books should always make the reading experience fun. If a child’s first experience with reading is a negative one, and looked at as a chore, it may make reading appear to be work rather than fun, which might hinder a child’s progress from picture books to chapter books.
Like any experience for children, it’s important that they like what they’re doing in order to succeed. Teachers and parents should encourage children to read whatever they’re interested in, including graphic novels, comics, magazines and poems. Check out these picture e-books picked out from the CLAMS OverDrive e-book collection.
A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory A clear, straightforward approach on how to introduce a complex and heavy topic to your child, A Kids Book About Racism will help you start a much needed conversation. Written to make a difficult conversation more digestible for little minds, your child as young as 6 can begin to understand what racism is, how it makes others feel, and why it happens.
Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan I tried to explain slavery to my own 7-year-old, and despite my best effort, I fumbled through it and didn't have answers to many of his questions. In a gentle, very powerful way, Freedom Over Me utilizes actual slave auction and plantation documents to create a picture of what putting a dollar amount on a human really meant. Along with creating a picture of slavery, the author also parallels beautiful poetry that represents the very human dreams of each individual. As slavery is a major part of the nucleus that is the racial biases and injustices in this country, helping your child understand the roots of the story is invaluable.
White Water by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein Drinking from a water from a public fountain is hardly seen as a privilege today. However, back in the ’50s and ’60s, a Black child quenching his thirst at a "Whites Only" fountain was essentially a death sentence. White Water tells the tale of Michael, a boy that simply wants to drink cold, clean water on a hot day. When he sips from his designated "Blacks Only" fountain, the water tastes awful. Glancing over at the other fountain, he wonders if the "Whites Only" fountain serves of better, more refreshing water. If it is for white people, it must be better than the fountain he has access to, right? It's only when he sneaks over to take a few sips that he realizes there is actually no difference between the fountains or the water — and much like racist constructs that rule the Deep South, the separate but unequal dogma is man-made.
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara It is never too early to teach your child about equality, tolerance, and civil rights. A is for Activist is a vibrant board book written to start the process of awareness for your little one. With upbeat alliteration and rhymes, you can use this board book to teach your child the basics of equality.
Teach Your Dragon About Diversity by Steve Herman When it comes to teaching your child about race, approaching the topic with a blanket of color-blindness can do more harm than good. However, the alternative of addressing differences between people based on skin color and ethnicity could feel counter intuitive. Teach Your Dragon About Diversity simplifies this complicated topic of tolerance and diversity through the medium of dragons. Instead of ignoring our differences and the aspects of us that make us individuals, this book calls the reader to teach their dragon that our variances of color, race, gender, and more is what makes us unique and special — but it doesn't have to be the catalyst for superiority or discrimination.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia For the first time in 7 years, Delphine and her two little sisters are going to go visit their mother who moved across the country for a radical political movement. It is the summertime in the late '60s, and racial tensions are as steamy as the long hot days. The news and the media portray the Black Panther Party as violent and harmful to everyone, including Black people. When Delphine and her sisters get to California, their mother thrusts them into learning about with the Black Panther Party is really all about. During this one crazy summer, the girls learn self-pride, how to advocate for themselves, and the importance of fighting against injustice.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes Twelve-year-old Jerome is dead. He was shot and killed by a white police officer who mistook his toy gun for a real one. Now that he is a ghost, Jerome is able to watch the turmoil, protests, and pain that unfolds after his death. It's a lot to process, even for a ghost. He soon meets up with Emmett Till, a boy who was killed decades earlier by the Ku Klux Klan for allegedly whistling at a white woman in 1955. Emmett helps Jerome process everything that is unfolding in the aftermath and how historic racism and prejudices led to the events that caused his death. Weaving together dangerous historical displays of racism and current events, your child will be able to gain a better understanding of why these things continue to happen.
Breakout by Kate Messner Nora Tucker is ready to jump headfirst into her summer break. But instead of long days in the pool and popsicles for breakfast, Nora and everyone in her upstate New York town are on a sudden lockdown thanks to a couple of inmates breaking out of the local prison. As Nora and her friends figure out how to stay safe in the midst of a breakout, the Black families in the town endure microaggressions and outright racism from their neighbors. With reflections on race, lack of diversity, and our broken prison system, your middle-grade reader will have a list of topics that they'll want to discuss.
New Kid by Jerry Craft Jordan Banks would love to go to art school, but his loving parents have something else in mind. Instead of spending his days sketching and drawing, Jordan makes the long daily hike from his Washington Heights apartment to the ritzy Riverdale Academy Day School. Told through fantastic graphics, readers will go on the journey of diversity and classism, and see how Jordan Banks learns how to navigate his new school while staying true to himself.
Blended by Sharon M. Draper Isabella is biracial with a white mom and a Black dad. While her parents are divorced and in new relationships, she spends equal time with both of them. Being a child of divorced parents already makes Isabella feel like she is constantly divided between her father's wealthier lifestyle and the more modest life of her mother. However, being biracial is another struggle for Isabella to cope with as she is constantly bombarded with questions of who she really is. When she is pulled over with her soon-to-be stepbrother Darren and a cellphone is thought to be a weapon, shots are fired and Isabella's life becomes that much more complicated. Understanding race, diversity, and discrimination when you are comprised of two different backgrounds can be confusing for a child. Reading Isabella's story can be both relatable for your own child and help them build empathy for others.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis The Watson kids are restless and getting into a bit of trouble, especially the eldest son. Instead of hanging out in Michigan, the family decides to head down to Birmingham, Alabama to visit their grandmother. Unlike the north, the Deep South in 1963 is a boiler room of racial tension that is just about ready to explode. During their time there, the Watson family witnesses some of the most horrific displays of racism in America's history. Understanding the bloody, difficult, and tense past of America is a major piece to the puzzle when it comes to grasping where we are now. Reading about the Watson family will give your own child a keyhole view into the past and help them shape an understanding of the origins of racism.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone Despite being an honor student, staying out of trouble, and making an effort to escape his less-than-desirable neighborhood, Justyce Mcallister is still struggling. Between the harassment from cops, ridicule from his old neighborhood friends, and contempt from his current classmates, it feels like nothing he does is pushing his life forward. Justyce turns to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help guide him to the answers of what to do next. When Justyce and his friend Manny are driving through town with their music cranked up, an off-duty white cop can't resist pulling them over for driving while black. In the midst of it all, shots are fired and, as the dust rises and falls, it is Justyce that is left holding the blame. By highlighting the innocent, smart person that Justyce is, your own young reader will be able to make a connection between the headlines of slain Black people and, instead of seeing them as just a headline, see them as actual people.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas There are many teens who straddle two worlds. In one, they are surviving in poor neighborhoods that don't have consistent access to important resources. In the other, they are navigating glitzy private schools where they are a part of a 1% diversity quota. This is the life of Starr until she witnesses her childhood friend being killed by a white officer, despite being unarmed. As the media gets a hold of the story, she watches as her loving and sweet friend's memory transforms into that of a criminal and street thug. During all of this, she has to figure out if she should speak up, putting her family at risk, or keep her mouth shut as her friends memory is dragged through the mud. A story that will promote understanding, empathy, and insight to situations that your own teen has seen play out repeatedly, The Hate You Give is a must-read.
Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi Watching the deaths of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and George Floyd and many others play out in the media and the racist overtones of each could have your teen feeling confused and wondering where this all began. Stamped is a readable history of racist ideas in America for teenage readers. Through incredible research, your reader will go on a journey of where it all started and why after centuries, racism still lingers in our everyday.
This Book Is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell If you asked your child how they would dismantle racism, what would they say? It's a big question that many adults don't even have the answer to. This Book is Anti-Racist will give your child both a deeper understanding of racism and tangible ways to be the change that they want to see. Through a world view, Jewell informs readers how racism has touched many parts of the world from America to the indigenous people of Australia. By the end of this book, your child should feel informed and like they have the confidence to stand up to racist adults and peers that they may encounter in life.