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Books for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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.

Quotable Quotes: The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go. -- Dr. Seuss

Because They Marched

By: Russell Freedman
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Fifty years ago well-known civil rights leaders came together with other lesser known but key individuals in Selma, Alabama. Events leading to breaking down the barriers to voting rights for African Americans are detailed through strong images and moving, well-documented narrative.

Chicken Sunday

By: Patricia Polacco
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Love and caring extend across generations and cultures as a young Jewish girl from a Russian background and two African-American boys work creatively to get their gramma, Miss Eula, an Easter hat. Illustrations detail the warmth of the relationships as well as the subtleties of their different backgrounds.

Child of the Civil Rights Movement

By: Paula Young Shelton
Illustrated by: Raul Colón
Genre: Nonfiction
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
Genre: Fiction
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)

Coretta Scott King: I Kept on Marching

By: Kathleen Krull
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Before she married Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott was known for her beautiful singing voice – and for her willingness to stand up for what was right. This installment of the series is similar in appearance and appeal as women from different historical times and places share the series title in common; each were "Women Who Broke the Rules."

Dear Mr. Rosenwald

By: Carole Boston Weatherford
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
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).

Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery

By: Russell Freedman
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

From a shy child, Eleanor grew up to be an activist and a quietly powerful First Lady. Her life is chronicled in an understandable, well documented narrative complemented by an array of photographs. This is a solid companion to Freedman's biography of Eleanor's husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins

By: Carole Boston Weatherford
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
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.

Generation Fix: Young Ideas for a Better World

By: Elizabeth Rusch
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Young people see a need and work to better their world in this upbeat chronicle of youthful activists.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King

By: Jean Marzollo
Illustrated by: Brian Pinkney
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
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.

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez

By: Kathleen Krull
Illustrated by: Yuyi Morales
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

As a young boy, Cesar Chavez grew up on an 80-acre ranch in Arizona in the midst of joyous family reunions. When his family had to leave Arizona, however, to work as migrant laborers in California, their lives were turned upside down. During these excrutiating days and nights, Cesar struggled — but then found the resolve to one day help his fellow workers. Yuyi Morales brings Cesar's childhood and early days as an organizer to life with stunning illustrations.

Here Come the Girl Scouts

By: Shana Corey
Illustrated by: Hadley Hooper
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Juliette "Daisy" Gordon was born into a family of pioneers, she loved the outdoors, and yearned to make a difference in the world. Combining her passion for service with her own adventurous spirit and her belief that girls could do anything, she founded the Girl Scouts. March 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts and they're still going strong, with more than 3 million Girl Scouts throughout the world!

I Am Rosa Parks

By: Rosa Parks, James Haskins
Illustrated by: Wil Clay
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
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.

Luna and Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest

By: Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Julia “Butterfly” Hill was born much later than Luna, a thousand year old redwood tree. But her bravery and tenacity saved Luna and the forest from destruction by living in the tree for about two years. This unusual story of activism is told from the perspective of both Butterfly and Luna accompanied by gentle, eye-catching, and informative illustrations. 

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World

By: Christine King Farris
Illustrated by: London Ladd
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
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
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
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
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
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.

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangara Maathai

By: Claire Nivola
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Wangari Maathai's native Kenya was a changed land, literally blowing away because its trees and growth had been destroyed. Rather than complain, she started a reforestation effort for which she was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Handsome illustrations combine with crisp text to tell the story of one person’s impact.

Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World

By: Laurie Lawlor
Illustrated by: Laura Beingessner
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Rachel Carson was a shy child, always drawn to nature. She grew up to become a professional biologist and enter a field with few women and write a book that changed the way people looked at the environment. Soft, cartoon-like illustrations and straightforward narrative present an overview of Carson's life; sources are included at the end.

Rosa

By: Nikki Giovanni
Illustrated by: Bryan Collier
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
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.

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama

By: Hester Bass
Illustrated by: E.B. Lewis
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Huntsville, Alabama, home to the Marshall Space Center, was desegregated nonviolently during the 1960s. The people there nurtured the seeds planted by Martin Luther King, Jr. and others as they worked for equality. Realistic watercolors are expressive, effectively evoking the period and people.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down

By: Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by: Brian Pinkney
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
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 Gardener

By: Sarah Stewart
Illustrated by: David Small
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

A girl is sent to live with her taciturn uncle (a baker) until her father gets a new job. How Lydia Grace brightens the drab city and her uncle's bakery is told through a series of letters home and subtle, expressive line and wash illustrations.

The Quiltmaker's Gift

By: Jeff Brumbeau, Gail de Marcken
Illustrated by: Gail de Marcken
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Fairy Tales and Folk Tales
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 Johnny Appleseed

By: Aliki
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fairy Tales and Folk Tales, Myths and Legends
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Once, long ago, a young man named John Chapman traveled the United States. Not only did he like being with his own thoughts, he liked apples and so helped plant apple trees wherever he traveled gaining a nickname and planting seeds for an orchard of stories. Johnny Appleseed comes alive in simple but expressive illustrations showing how one person can change the look of a country.

The Story of Ruby Bridges

By: Robert Coles
Illustrated by: George Ford
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
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
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
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.

We March

By: Shane Evans
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Two children aroused by their parents join a march for equal rights.  Short sentences and semi-abstract illustrations convey the children's evolving feelings as they join scores of others in what adults recognize as an historic march for civil rights.

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Rachael Walker
March 23, 2017

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