Monday, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and his innumerable contributions to this nation’s history and advancement. Books for kids about MLK can be a great way to help little ones understand the importance of the day.
Although it’s a holiday in most states and therefore, understandably, a day to relax, I do like that many Americans instead treat it as a “day on” and seek out ways to volunteer in their communities and participate in one of the Day of Service events scheduled across the country. It’s an excellent opportunity to usher in the concept of service to our families, and teach our children about the importance of helping others.
This holiday is also a great time to introduce kids to MLK overall — the man, his legacy, and his message of peace, justice and equality. So here are four terrific children’s books for kids about MLK to help you do just that.
This post has been updated for 2023
Top image: illustration by Kadir Nelson, from I Have a Dream
Related: 10 outstanding books about activism in honor of Dr. King
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I Have a Dream (Ages 5-12)
Still one of our favorite children’s books — on any topic — since its release 10 years ago, “I Have a Dream” takes young readers through MLK’s powerful, heart-gripping “I Have a Dream” speech that he gave on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington in 1963. Nothing more. Just Kadir Nelson’s wonderfully vivid illustrations (also shown at top) to bring it to life. Although it does come with a companion CD as well.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Kid’s Book About Advancing Civil Rights with Nonviolence (Elementary)
One of the most recent books on our list, Mary Nhin and Yuliia Zolotova have put together a terrific book in the new Mini Movers and Shakers series about Dr. King’s work. It’s lyrical and sophisticated but accessible. They designed to inspire kids to dream like Dr. King — but also to do the work to help make good change in the world. And we could use more of that.
Related: 11 excellent new children’s books for Black History Month – and the rest of the year too
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Ages 5-9)
This highly lauded picture book by Doreen Rappaport is not a new one, but it’s a classic for sure. Illustrator Bryan Collier’s illustrations accompany only MLK’s own profound words from his powerful speeches, to tell the story of his instrumental life and work. It’s a wonderful biography, but told in such simple terms, that even a kindergartener can understand the basics, while middle-graders can discuss it on a whole different level.
Related: How to discuss Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech — the whole speech — with your kids today.
Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? (Ages 8-12)
The popular Who Was …? book series offers up clear information to early readers about our sometimes complicated world. This easy-to-read book in the series by Bonnie Bader, with illustrations from Elizabeth Wolf, tells the a straightforward story of King’s life and legacy for middle readers. It’s a great supplement to what your teen may already be learning in school, or a solid introduction all on its own. The revelation that he was only 25 when he organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott is an excellent reminder that anyone can make a difference.
There’s also a lovely companion board book for toddlers that’s recently available. Check out Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.? A Who Was? Board Book.
Related: Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech in its entirety: Where to watch, and what to talk about with your kids
I Am Brave: A Little Book About Dr. Martin Luther King (Ages 2-5)
Another book for younger kids about Dr. King that’s terrific, is Brad Meltzer’s board book from the popular “Ordinary People Change the World” series. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos, this fun, friendly book it reads a bit like a comic. It’s accessible, inspiring, and doesn’t talk down to the reader — even if they’re a toddler.
28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World (Ages 4-10)
The picture book 28 Days by Charles R Smith, with illustrator Shane Evans, by was released on January 15 several years back, in honor of MLK’s actual birthday. It’s a terrific segue into Black History Month, spotlighting a different influential person or moment in African American history for each of the 28 days of February.
To bring it to life even more, be sure to check out this video of author Charles R. Smith, Jr reading reading his evocative, child-friendly poem about the 250,000 people who gathered on the Washington Mall to hear Dr. King’s I Have a Dream Speech.
Today is also a perfect day to check out the Crash Course US History videos featured on Cool Mom Tech — specifically the videos on the civil rights movement through the 1950’s and 60’s. I think you’ll find this educational YouTube channel is an engaging, entertaining way to infuse the day with information and inspiration.