The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in D.C. is celebrating its first Martin Luther King Jr. Day this month in its recently renovated building. To mark the occasion, DC Public Library is sharing its favorite children’s books inspired by the life and legacy of one of our nation’s most prominent civil rights activists.
“Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968”
By Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Prompted by the death of two of their own due to faulty equipment, Memphis sanitation workers led a city-wide strike in February 1968. This strike would become Dr. King’s last fight for justice, chronicled in this picture book for older readers through poetry and prose.
“A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story”
By Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
On the same day Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial, the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Maryland became desegregated. Sharon Langley was the first African American child to ride the merry-go-round, which now resides on the National Mall. This rich, tender picture book chronicles the significance of that moment complete with author notes and photos of Sharon on the carousel.
“My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart”
By Angela Farris Watkins, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Told from the perspective of MLK Jr.’s young niece, this picture book offers personal insight into one of the 20th century’s most influential activists and a rare glimpse into Dr. King’s home life.
“Martin Luther King Jr.: A Peaceful Leader”
By Sarah Albee, illustrated by Chin Ko
Journey through the milestones of Dr. King’s life, from his time as a pastor to his fight for equal rights to his legacy. This book is perfect for young ones beginning to read on their own but who still need a little help. It includes a timeline, illustrations, interesting facts and historical photographs.
“Dream March: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington”
By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
This moving and easily digestible story recounts the 1963 March on Washington and the visionary man behind the mission for racial equality in America.
“Martin Luther King Jr: Civil Rights Leader and American Hero”
By Hugh Roome
This Rookie Read-About Biography introduces the life and career of the noted civil rights leader for the youngest of readers. Colorful photos and age-appropriate text make the book accessible for those just starting to read on their own or with a caregiver.
“Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?”
By Bonnie Bader
With short chapters written in clear, succinct text and complemented by black-and-white illustrations throughout, this entry in the popular “Who Was?” series explains the historical context of Dr. King’s life and legacy in an accessible way for upper elementary and middle school students.
“Martin Rising: Requiem for a King”
By Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
This beautiful tapestry of poetry, musicality and spirituality explores the final months of one of the most influential men in U.S. American history.
“A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation”
By Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Explore this true story behind one of the most celebrated and legendary speeches of all time. This book shows how Dr. King spent the night before the historic March on Washington figuring out what to say and how to say it.
The March Trilogy
By John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
Long before he was a member of Congress, John Lewis was a key leader in the Civil Rights movement alongside his friend, Martin Luther King Jr. This graphic novel trilogy, told from his own perspective, follows Lewis’s childhood in rural Alabama to his first meeting with Dr. King to the Nashville sit-in campaign, the March on Washington and the showdown in Selma to end voter suppression.
“The Rock and the River”
By Kekla Magoon
In 1960s Chicago, 14-year-old Sam is caught in a conflict between his father’s nonviolent approach to seeking civil rights for African Americans, inspired by the work of Dr. King, and his older brother, who has just joined the Black Panthers.
By Nic Stone
Top of his class and bound for the Ivy League, Justyce McAllister begins writing a journal to Martin Luther King Jr. in an attempt to make sense of his recent experience with systemic racism. Through his writing, Justyce explores if Dr. King’s teachings hold up today and how to make sense of a world that doesn’t seem to trust him.
A version of this story originally appeared in our January 2021 issue.