Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January in the United States. This day is designed to be a “day on” instead of a “day off,” with the King family asking us to honor his legacy by supporting fair voting practices, expanding our knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement, and serving our community. Here are my recommendations for the best 16 books about Martin Luther King Jr. for kids between the ages of 3–13.
As educators and grownups, MLK day is a great opportunity to support the learning of our students and children. While there are many educational resources on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., some resources stand out when providing an accurate, helpful portrayal of who Martin Luther King Jr. was and how he contributed to the Civil Rights Movement.
Who Was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. organized millions to challenge racism and classism through direct action. His nonviolent organizing strategy won over the hearts of millions. More importantly, it led to three significant benefits that we can all feel today.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it illegal to have rules or policies that would make it hard for Black citizens to vote. This piece of legislation ensures we’re living in an antiracist democracy.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968
The passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 protected renters and soon-to-be homeowners from being discriminated against due to racism. This legislation is crucial because zip codes determine much more than the style of a house—they can determine access to resources, life expectancy, and a person’s quality of life.
Nonviolent Organizing Philosophy
Lastly, his work inspires people worldwide to continue to build a loving antiracist democracy through nonviolent organizing and a lot of love.
16 Books About Martin Luther King Jr. For Kids That I Recommend
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1. We March by Shane W. Evans
Recommended Age: 3-4 years old
This book still stands as my #1 MLK Day book for early educators. The powerful imagery helps bring the importance of the famous march on Washington to life for those who read it. The minimal words on the page mean that grownups can easily read this book in one sitting with their kids, keeping their kid’s attention through the entire story. Every page illustrates a Black family preparing to march, centering the lives of everyday Black people during this historic moment.
- Practice marching at home or attend a local march
- Make signs together
- Listen to “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens Answer the question: What’s one dream you have for your neighborhood? For the world?
- Write a birthday card or thank you card to Dr. King
- Bake a cake for Dr. King and sing “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder
- Display a photo of Dr. King in your home
2. Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King Jr. by Jean Marzollo
Recommended Age: 5-7 years old
This book makes a perfect addition to the Kindergarten–2nd-grade classroom. The author, Jean Marzollo, consistently says “Martin Luther King and many other people,” highlighting that Dr. King didn’t act alone. Her language is clear, simple, and to the point.
- Make a timeline of events as you read the book
- Find and observe primary photos of Dr. King and others from this time period
- Play Dr. King’s favorite song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” by Mahalia Jackson
3. The Story of Martin Luther King Jr.: A Biography Book for New Readers by Christine Platt
Recommended Age: 8-10 years old
This book is perfect for independent reading. Broken into chapters, learners can easily read a chapter a day. The book contains helpful design elements: call-out boxes, reflection questions, and myth v. fact. It also offers opportunities to gauge understanding. The back of the book includes a child-friendly glossary of words.
4. Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan
Recommended Age: 11-12 years old
This picture book follows a nine-year-old girl whose father was a sanitation worker who participated in the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike. The strike was in response to the deaths of two Black sanitation workers due to unsafe work equipment. This was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final protest, as he was assassinated the night after giving his famous “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” sermon.
5. As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson
Recommended Age: 13+ years old
This book tells the story of the friendship between Dr. King and Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish Rabbi and influential peaceful activist. Although they did not share cultural backgrounds, Dr. King and Abraham Joshua Heschel shared a passion for social justice and equality for all.
6. Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
Recommended Age: 5-8 years old
Dr. King was one of the best speakers of all time, and this book uses his direct quotes to paint the picture of his life and legacy—and to inspire the next generation of activists.
7. Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton and Raul Colón
Recommended Age: 6–12 years old
This book is written by Paula Young Shelton about her experience growing up as the daughter of Andrew Young, a Civil Rights Activist. Through her young eyes, learners can witness Civil Rights history as it was made by a community of activists, including Dr. King.
Recommended Age: 6-9 years old
While everyone has heard of Dr. King, most people have not heard of Georgia Gilmore. This is her incredible story of using her baking skills to help the Montgomery Bus Boycott succeed.
9. Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders
Recommended Age: 5-8 years old
This picture book helps instill in learners a sense of responsibility for standing up for what’s right. It shows peaceful methods that learners can use to support social justice efforts in their communities.
10. Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson and Frank Morrison
Recommended Age: 5-9 years old
Readers will be inspired to learn that in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, thousands of Black children marched for their rights. This book, illustrated with oil paintings, helps children see that their voices have an impact, no matter how young or small they are.
11. A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson
Recommended Age: 5-8 years old
This is another remarkable book that shows youth participation in the Civil Rights Movement. Specifically, it follows two young Black girls as they march for their rights.
12. Nobody Gonna Turn Me ‘Round: Stories and Songs of the Civil Rights Movement by Doreen Rappaport
Recommended Age: 9-12 years old
This is a powerful book that tells various stories from the Civil Rights Movement, from Moses Wright as he testified against the three white men who murdered Emmett Till, to the songs that kept Black southerners moving forward through writing, singing, and playing music.
13. Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round: My Story of the Making Martin Luther King Day by Kathlyn J Kirkwood
Recommended Age: 8-12 years old
This middle-grade memoir-in-verse tells the story of how Kathlyn J. Kirkwood joined the movement of activists fighting to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.
14. Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford
Recommended Age: 4-8 years old
This poetic picture book aims to inspire young people to “Be a King,” and use Dr. King’s philosophy and actions to continue to fight for racial justice in their everyday lives.
15. Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Recommended Age: 6+ years old
This picture book tells the famous story of the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in, a key peaceful protest in the Civil Rights Movement. At the sit-in, four Black college students sat at the “Whites Only” Woolworth lunch counter—forever making a mark on history.
16. The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson
Recommended Age: 5-12 years old
This book introduces readers to the youngest-known child to be arrested for a Civil Rights protest: nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks.
Doing The Work
Reading books provides an opportunity for connection, engagement, and education, but it doesn’t move the needle toward justice. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I call you beyond reading and into action.
Some ideas to get you started include:
- Sign up to be an election worker
- Volunteer to register voters in your local elections
- Advocate for fair voting legislation
- Support voting organizations like the League of Women Voters, Black Voters Matter, Native American Voting Rights, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and Voto Latino
- Learn how to make your classroom antiracist
And if you’re not already practicing antiracism, use Dr. King’s birthday as a kickstart to your antiracist work. As an antiracist educator, it is my job to help provide antiracism resources for educators and parents; I invite you to explore them. At the heart of antiracism is community, so bring your friends, kids, and community into the work with you. It’s never too early to start and it’s never too late to make this world a better place for all children.
I’m rooting for you.