Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrates the life and civil rights work of Dr. King. In 1994, the holiday was officially recognized as a National Day of Service where volunteers across the country work together to make a difference in their communities. The titles below include children’s books about Dr. King, fiction and nonfiction books about ordinary people who stand up for what’s right, and stories about helping others and giving back.

 

Child of the Civil Rights Movement
By: Paula Young Shelton
Illustrated by: Raul Colón
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader
The youngest daughter of civil rights leader Andrew Young shares a time when she and her two older sisters moved from New York to Atlanta to protest and ultimately change unfair laws. The narration is innocent and child-like — effectively describing what Jim Crow was and giving glimpse of the leaders of the period (including Martin Luther King, Jr.). Soft lined, textured illustrations evoke the time and its tenor while portraying people in a recognizable way. An end note provides additional information about the people depicted.

City Green
By: DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader
There is a garbage-filled, vacant lot on the street where Marcy lives. Instead of growing flowers in coffee cans like they usually do each spring, she and her friend Miss Rosa decide to plant a garden there. Their enthusiasm and energy spread and everyone in the neighborhood joins together to create an urban oasis. (From School Library Journal)

Dear Mr. Rosenwald
By: Carole Boston Weatherford
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Beginning Reader
A 10 year old girl narrates this fictionalized story, based on real events and people, of how her rural southern town builds a new school for African American children with the help of Julius Rosenwald (then president of Sears Roebuck).

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins
By: Carole Boston Weatherford
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Beginning Reader
A girl and her mom want to have a sweet treat on a hot day but cannot sit at the soda fountain simply because they are “colored.” Impressionistic paintings soften the harshness of the story of segregation in the South during a turbulent time.

Freedom Summer
By: Deborah Wiles, Jerome Lagarrigue
Illustrated by: Jerome Lagarrigue
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader
Joe and John Henry are friends who have many interests in common, including swimming. But because John Henry has brown skin and Joe’s is the “color of pale moths,” they cannot swim together in the town’s pool. Told by Joe and eloquently illustrated, the emotions and power of friends trying to understand an unfriendly world are timeless.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King
By: Jean Marzollo
Illustrated by: Brian Pinkney
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader
The significance and impact of Dr. King and why his birthday is celebrated is presented in a handsome package. Fluid text combines with stunning illustrations done in scratchboard and paint, to make a sometimes difficult subject accessible to younger children. Also available in Spanish.

I Am Rosa Parks
By: Rosa Parks, James Haskins
Illustrated by: Wil Clay
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader
The famous civil rights activist Rosa Parks has simplified her autobiography for young readers in this Puffin Easy to Read book. She describes how she was arrested for not giving up her bus seat and shows that her personal role was part of a wider political struggle.

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World
By: Christine King Farris
Illustrated by: London Ladd
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader
Martin Luther King, Jr. prepared diligently for his now famous “I have a dream” speech given on August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was King’s unshakable belief in nonviolence and the power of words that galvanized the country. This informal account is both personal and satisfying as revealed by Martin’s older sister who watched it on television with their parents in Atlanta. Full-color illustrations and expressive typography highlight words and enhance the tone.

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
By: Doreen Rappaport
Illustrated by: Bryan Collier
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Beginning Reader
Martin Luther King Jr. grew up fascinated by big words. He would later go on to use these words to inspire a nation and call people to action. In this award-winning book, powerful portraits of King show how he used words, not weapons, to fight injustice.

Miss Rumphius
By: Barbara Cooney
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader
Miss Rumphius leaves the world more beautiful with an unusual legacy. This gentle story can relate to not only the language arts, but to dreams, legacies, and the environment.

Mrs. Katz and Tush
By: Patricia Polacco
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader
In this special Passover story, Larnel Moore, a young African-American boy, and Mrs. Katz, an elderly Jewish woman, develop an unusual friendship through their mutual concern for an abandoned cat named Tush. Together they explore the common themes of suffering and triumph in each of their cultures.

Rosa
By: Nikki Giovanni
Illustrated by: Bryan Collier
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader
Rosa Parks was an ordinary woman who became a hero because she “was not going to give in to that which was wrong.” A catalyst for the famous Montgomery Bus boycott in Alabama, she turned the nation’s attention to a glaring injustice in our society. Powerful illustrations evoke a time before the Civil Rights era and give the reader a glimpse at a person, her impact, and a period in American history.

Show Way
By: Jacqueline Woodson, Hudson Talbott
Illustrated by: Hudson Talbott
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader
Soonie’s great grandmother was only seven-years-old when sold to the big plantation. A quilt that showed the way to freedom and chronicled the family’s history connects the generations, and continues to do so. Idealized illustrations and the poetic text provide an unusual family story.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down
By: Andrea Pinkney
Illustrated by: Brian Pinkney
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader
The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired four students to protest in a way that ultimately changed the United States. Their peaceful dissent at the segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, would “combine black with white to make sweet justice.” The “Greensboro Four” began their sit-in on February 1, 1960 and contributed to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The text suggests storytelling and is accompanied by light-lined but evocative illustrations; back matter completes this compelling portrait.

The Quiltmaker’s Gift
By: Jeff Brumbeau, Gail de Marcken
Illustrated by: Gail de Marcken
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader
A beautifully illustrated, sentimental tale about a king who only takes and a master quiltmaker who only gives. The story tells of the true benefits that come from both giving and receiving.

The Story of Ruby Bridges
By: Robert Coles
Illustrated by: George Ford
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader
This is the true story of a brave six-year-old child who found the strength to walk through protesters and enter a whites-only school in New Orleans in 1960. The sepia watercolors capture the warmth of Ruby’s family and community.

Through My Eyes
By: Ruby Bridges
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader
Six-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first African American to integrate an elementary school. Her memories of that year, when so much hatred was directed at her, makes for a powerful memoir. A 1999 Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner.

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