Best Martin Luther King Jr. Day Book

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Book

The life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is observed on the third Monday in January throughout most of the United States. I usually like to take the day off of work to reflect on Dr. King’s message in some sort of meaningful way. I take a break from my day-to-day obligations to think about the future I want for my children and the dreams I have for them as a parent.

Even if you don’t formally celebrate or commemorate Dr. King, the holiday is a great opportunity to talk to children about important values he emphasized like peace and racial and cultural equality. It’s also a good time to talk about simple ways that kids can help keep his dreams and wisdom alive. To support these conversations, I like to read books with my children that teach them about the civil rights movement and how Dr. King helped to fight for equality.

Since my kids were born, I’ve been reading Kadir Nelson’s book I Have a Dream with them. The book contains snippets from the famous “I Have a Dream” speech as well as the speech in its entirety in the back of the book. There is also an accompanying CD to go along with it.

Reading this book makes me think about my own dreams for my children. My goals and dreams for my children are simple: I want them to be happy, smart, loving, caring, successful, to be treated fairly, and to be respectful citizens of the world. Ultimately, I want my children to remember how fortunate we are not only to have dreams but to have the opportunity and chance to make our dreams come true — just like Dr. King did.

  • My Little Golden Book About Martin Luther King Jr.

    My Little Golden Book About Martin Luther King Jr.

    by Bonnie Bader, illustrated by Sue Cornelison


    This Little Golden Book biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. tells his story in a way that’s digestible for the littlest of readers. Preschoolers will learn all about his life — from growing up in segregated Atlanta to his impact on the civil rights movement.
    (Ages 2 – 5)

  • My Dream of Martin Luther King

    My Dream of Martin Luther King

    by Faith Ringgold


    This story is told from an imaginative and creative child’s perspective through a dream. It discusses the history of Martin Luther King Jr. along with the civil rights movement.
    (Ages 6 – 9)

  • I Am Martin Luther King, Jr.

    I Am Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos


    This picture book biography shows Martin Luther King Jr. taking notice of injustice during his childhood, further proving that you’re never too young to start a life of activism. Pair it with I am Brave, another MLK-focused title from the Ordinary People Change the World series.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

  • Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

    Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

    by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes


    I adore this powerful biography of Fannie Lou Hamer, an activist and singer. I think it’s the perfect read for Martin Luther King Day as it gives a good overview of Fannie’s life from her early days as a sharecropper to the many contributions she made to the civil rights movement.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

  • All Are Welcome

    All Are Welcome

    by Alexandra Penfold


    The heartening environment pictured in All Are Welcome — a diverse and inclusive school community, where everyone’s traditions are not just tolerated but celebrated — is what Dr. King fought for. Every child deserves a school like this one.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

  • This Is the Rope

    This Is the Rope

    by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James E. Ransome


    Based on the author’s own family, this is a beautiful story of how one piece of rope serves as a symbol of change during the Great Migration (1900 – 1970) of African Americans from the rural south to northern cities. I love how Jacqueline Woodson used an ordinary piece of rope and transformed it into a powerful symbol of change.
    (Ages 5 – 8)

  • Lillian’s Right to Vote

    Lillian’s Right to Vote

    by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans


    It’s Voting Day and Lillian is determined to vote. As she climbs up a steep hill to the voting booth she reflects on the history of her ancestors who were denied the right to vote. This book is intended as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
    (Ages 5 – 9)

  • The Oldest Student

    The Oldest Student

    by Rita Lorraine Hubbard


    Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848. She would go on to live through the tenure of 26 presidents, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. At age 116, she achieved her dream of learning to read. The Oldest Student captures Mary’s inspiring legacy.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

  • A Is for Activist

    A Is for Activist

    by Innosanto Nagara


    A Is for Activist uses the alphabet to introduce children to concepts like activism, democracy, justice, human rights, protests, and freedom. Although some of the vocabulary may be a little advanced for the smallest readers, this book does a good job of making connections to things that kids are familiar with.
    (Ages 3 – 7)

  • I am Rosa Parks

    I am Rosa Parks

    by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos


    I am Rosa Parks is suitable for the smallest readers to explain Rosa Parks’s history in a way that is easy to understand. I often recommend this book to adults who want to educate their little ones about the important history of oppression that still continues today.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

  • Thurgood


    by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Bryan Collier


    Dubbed Mr. Civil Rights for his work trying cases for the NAACP (including Brown v. Board of Education), Thurgood Marshall went on to become the first black justice to serve on the Supreme Court in 1967. Five years earlier, King wrote to President Kennedy and made a case for Marshall’s appointment to the court. This lively biography pays homage to a critical figure in American history.
    (Ages 5 – 9)

  • Granddaddy's Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box

    Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box

    by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by James E. Ransome


    Little Michael couldn’t be more proud — he’s about to accompany his grandfather to Town Hall to witness him voting for the first time in his life. A powerful picture book to introduce children to the civil rights movement and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
    (Ages 6 – 9)

  • Child of the Civil Rights Movement

    Child of the Civil Rights Movement

    by Paula Young Shelton, illustrated by Raul Colon


    A niece of Dr. King’s, Paula Young Shelton wasn’t yet a year old when her parents moved the family from New York City back to the South in order to be on the front lines of the civil rights movement. Paula narrates this moment in history from the perspective of her 4-year-old self, making the story uniquely accessible for young readers.
    (Ages 4 – 8)

  • I Look Up To… Michelle Obama

    I Look Up To… Michelle Obama

    by Anna Membrino, illustrated by Fatti Burke


    The I Look Up To series distills the qualities and values of remarkable women so that even the littlest of readers can learn from their examples. In addition to Michelle Obama, share with your children the voices of Serena Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Malala Yousafzai, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Misty Copeland.
    (Ages: 0 – 3)

  • She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World

    She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World

    by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger


    She Persisted features 13 amazing women from history — people like Harriet Tubman and Ruby Bridges — who decided to persist and refused to take no for an answer. The book opens with these lines: “Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy. At some point, someone probably will tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible. Don’t listen to them.”
    (Ages 4 – 8)

  • Dear Malala, We Stand with You

    Dear Malala, We Stand with You

    by Rosemary McCarney


    As Dr. King did, Nobel Peace Prize–winner Malala Yousafzai shows young readers that magic lies within each person — in their words and in their voice. I think this book, which includes excerpts from Malala’s UN speech, is so powerful for teaching children to speak up for themselves and stand up for what’s right.
    (Ages 4 – 8)


  • That Is My Dream!

    That Is My Dream!

    by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Daniel Miyares


    In stunning watercolors, Daniel Miyares illustrates his vision of Langston Hughes’s renowned poem, “Dream Variation.” As a young boy navigates life dominated by segregation and discrimination, he dreams of a brighter tomorrow.
    (All Ages)

  • Overground Railroad

    Overground Railroad

    by Lesa Cline Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome


    Martin Luther King Jr.’s life overlapped with the Great Migration, an era during which six million African Americans left the rural South to create new lives for themselves. Lesa Cline Ransome’s Overground Railroad follows one such family as they board the Silver Meteor for New York.
    (Ages 4 – 8)


  • Counting on Community

    Counting on Community

    by Innosanto Nagara


    Nagara’s follow-up to A is for Activist deserves a shout out in its own right for its celebration of community in all its forms, and its empowering message to young readers — they, too, can contribute to their communities, from their neighborhood to the planet itself.
    (Ages 3 – 7)

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