Best Children's Books About Civil rights

26 Inspiring Books About Those Who Have Advanced and Protected Civil Rights

Updated Jan. 22, 2019

Children's books can be wonderful for introducing important topics that can also feel a little abstract for children, like the concept of civil rights. This list shares inspiring stories of those who have worked to protect their rights and the rights of those around them.

Let the Children March book
#1
Let the Children March
Written by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9
Thoughts from B is for Bookworm

This book is so inspirational. I love that it talks about the children who march for their rights! This book is so important, as it really brought this historical event to life, especially through the different perspective of children. This is an amazing story of love, perseverance, determination, courage, bravery, and activism. Even when the children faced danger, they knew that they were helping bring about a change and that together, they could help change the world. Also, I thought the illustrations were wonderful.

Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, children and teenagers march against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

Hidden Figures book
#2
Hidden Figures
Written by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8
Thoughts from The Book Snob Mom

This is a great introduction for little readers to the four true stories of how African American women helped the space program, overcoming gender and racial biases. I like how it exposes civil rights and women's rights issues at a level that is appropriate and understandable for children and focuses on how each of these four women worked hard and persevered.

Based on the New York Times bestselling book and the Academy Award–nominated movie, author Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrator Laura Freeman bring the incredibly inspiring true story of four black women who helped NASA launch men into space to picture book readers! Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good. They participated in some of NASA's greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America's first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world. In this beautifully illustrated picture book edition, we explore the story of four female African American mathematicians at NASA, known as "colored computers," and how they overcame gender and racial barriers to succeed in a highly challenging STEM-based career. "Finally, the extraordinary lives of four African American women who helped NASA put the first men in space is available for picture book readers," proclaims Brightly in their article "18 Must-Read Picture Books of 2018." "Will inspire girls and boys alike to love math, believe in themselves, and reach for the stars."

A Sweet Smell of Roses book
#3
A Sweet Smell of Roses
Written by Angela Johnson and illustrated by Eric Velasquez
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8
Thoughts from The Fun Uncle

I love the way Angela Johnson presents such an emotional and important piece of history in a way that conveys the importance of what was happening, while keeping it child appropriate. It's thought provoking and is sure to help our little ones be curious about the civil rights movement, leading to great opportunities of acceptance and friendship to all. The illustrations by Eric Velazquez are so life-like and well done.

Minnie and her sister hear about a freedom march and leave their home to go to their city's downtown area where they listen to Dr. Martin Luther King and join the march, all the while smelling roses.

With Books and Bricks book
#4
With Books and Bricks
Written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Nicole Tadgell
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Booker T. Washington had an incredible passion for learning. Born a slave, he taught himself to read. When the Civil War ended, Booker finally fulfilled his dream of attending school. After graduation, he was invited to teach in Tuskegee, Alabama. Finding many eager students but no school, Booker set out to build his own school—brick by brick. An afterword gives detailed information on how the school was built.

Someday is Now book
#5
Someday is Now
Written by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and illustrated by Jade Johnson
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

Someday Is Now tells the inspirational story of the celebrated civil rights leader, Clara Luper, who led one of the first lunch-counter sit-ins in America. How will you stand against something you know is wrong? One way is to follow the lessons of bravery taught by civil rights pioneers like Clara Luper. As a child, Clara saw how segregation affected her life. Her journey famously led her to Oklahoma, where she and her students desegregated stores and restaurants that were closed to African-Americans. With courage and conviction, Clara Luper led young people to “do what had to be done.” This moving title includes additional information on Clara Luper's extraordinary life, her lessons of nonviolent resistance, and a glossary of key civil rights people and terms.

Gloria Takes a Stand book
#6
Gloria Takes a Stand
Written by Jessica M. Rinker and illustrated by Daria Peoples
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Throughout Gloria Steinem’s life, she stood up for many things. In a time when most women didn’t go to college, Gloria knew the importance of education and studied at Smith College. In a time when almost all women stayed at home to raise a family, Gloria traveled to India and wrote about what she learned there. In a time when many people were fighting for equality, Gloria wanted to write about these important events. And as she heard more and more stories from women who didn’t have as many rights as men, Gloria decided to start Ms. Magazine to give women a voice. This text introduces a new generation of children to Gloria Steinem, the icon who fought for a better world for all women—and encourages all readers to "stand up and speak for equal rights for all people."

Granddaddy's Turn book
#7
Granddaddy's Turn
Written by Eric Stein, Michael S Bandy and illustrated by James E. Ransome
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

Based on the true story of one family's struggle for voting rights in the civil rights-era South, this moving tale shines an emotional spotlight on a dark facet of U.S. history. Life on the farm with Granddaddy is full of hard work, but despite all the chores, Granddaddy always makes time for play, especially fishing trips. Even when there isn't a bite to catch, he reminds young Michael that it takes patience to get what's coming to you. One morning, when Granddaddy heads into town in his fancy suit, Michael knows that something very special must be happening--and sure enough, everyone is lined up at the town hall! For the very first time, Granddaddy is allowed to vote, and he couldn't be more proud. But can Michael be patient when it seems that justice just can't come soon enough? This powerful and touching true-life story shares one boy's perspective of growing up in the segregated South, while beautiful illustrations depict the rural setting in tender detail.

I Have a Dream book
#8
I Have a Dream
Written by and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Presents the text of the famous speech given on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. by Martin Luther King, Jr., complemented by paintings illustrating the ideals the civil rights leader described.

The Youngest Marcher book
#9
The Youngest Marcher
Written by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-10
Thoughts from Mr. Stacatto

I loved learning about segregation from the perspective of Audrey Faye Hendricks. What a brave young girl. I found the author's note at the end of the book enjoyable as well and getting to know a little bit more about the protest and Audrey.

Meet the youngest known child to be arrested for a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963, in this moving picture book that proves you’re never too little to make a difference. Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks intended to go places and do things like anybody else. So when she heard grown-ups talk about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws, she spoke up. As she listened to the preacher’s words, smooth as glass, she sat up tall. And when she heard the plan—picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails!—she stepped right up and said, I’ll do it! She was going to j-a-a-il! Audrey Faye Hendricks was confident and bold and brave as can be, and hers is the remarkable and inspiring story of one child’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.

When Eleanor Roosevelt Learned to Jump a Horse book
#10
When Eleanor Roosevelt Learned to Jump a Horse
Written by Mark Andrew Weakland and illustrated by John Joseph
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-11

Eleanor Roosevelt was the niece of one president, and the wife of another. But did you know she was a leader in her own right? From supporting civil and women's rights to speaking to the public through her newsletter, My Day, Eleanor paved the way. This playful story of her childhood will help young readers connect with a historic figure and will inspire them to want to achieve greatness.

A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr book
#11
A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr
Written by David A. Adler and illustrated by Robert Casilla
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

A brief biography of Baptist minister and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Be a King book
#12
Be a King
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by James Ransome
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

You can be a King. Stamp out hatred. Put your foot down and walk tall. You can be a King. Beat the drum for justice. March to your own conscience. Featuring a dual narrative of the key moments of Dr. King's life alongside a modern class as the students learn about him, Carole Weatherford's poetic text encapsulates the moments that readers today can reenact in their own lives. See a class of young students as they begin a school project inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and learn to follow his example, as he dealt with adversity and never lost hope that a future of equality and justice would soon be a reality. As times change, Dr. King's example remains, encouraging a new generation of children to take charge and change the world . . . to be a King.

Love Will See You Through book
#13
Love Will See You Through
Written by Angela Farris Watkins and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-11

The niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. reveals six timeless and universal principles that encompass the civil rights leader’s greatest legacy: Love will see you through. Growing up as the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Farris Watkins witnessed firsthand the principles and values that “Uncle M.L.” practiced and lived by throughout his fight for equality. Drawing from experiences and episodes both personal and well-known, Dr. Watkins artfully details the guiding beliefs of one of the greatest men in history. Including “have courage” and “love your enemies,” these six hallmarks of virtue and nonviolence reinforce the truth that “the universe honors love” and will inspire readers of all ages.

Voice of Freedom book
#14
Voice of Freedom
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ekua Holmes
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

A collage-illustrated collection of poems and spirituals inspired by the life and work of civil rights advocate Fannie Lou Hamer.

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song book
#15
Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song
Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

They were each born with the gift of gospel. Martin's voice kept people in their seats, but also sent their praises soaring. Mahalia's voice was brass-and-butter - strong and smooth at the same time. With Martin's sermons and Mahalia's songs, folks were free to shout, to sing their joy. On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and his strong voice and powerful message were joined and lifted in song by world-renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. It was a moment that changed the course of history and is imprinted in minds forever. Told through Andrea Davis Pinkney's poetic prose and Brian Pinkney's evocative illustration, the stories of these two powerful voices and lives are told side-by-side -- as they would one day walk -- following the journey from their youth to a culmination at this historical event when they united as one and inspiring kids to find their own voices and speak up for what is right.

This Is the Rope book
#16
This Is the Rope
Written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James Ransome
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

A rope passed down through the generations frames an African-American family's story as they journey north to New York City from the rural south during the time of the Great Migration. Full color.

My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. book
#17
My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Written by Martin Luther King III and illustrated by A.G. Ford
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

What was it like growing up as a son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? This picture book memoir, My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King III, provides insight into one of history’s most fascinating families and into a special bond between father and son. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King III was one of those four little children mentioned in Martin Luther King’s groundbreaking “I Have a Dream” speech. In this memoir, Martin Luther King Jr.’s son gives an intimate look at the man and the father behind the civil rights leader. Mr. King’s remembrances show both his warm, loving family and a momentous time in American history. AG Ford is the illustrator of several other books for children, including the New York Times bestselling Barack. He is the recipient of an NAACP Image Award.

Lillian's Right to Vote book
#18
Lillian's Right to Vote
Written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Shane W. Evans
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-9

A 50th anniversary tribute to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finds an elderly woman reflecting on her family's history, from the passage of the 15th Amendment through her participation in the protest march from Selma to Montgomery.

Martin Rising book
#19
Martin Rising
Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

In a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion, Andrea and Brian Pinkney convey the final months of Martin Luther King's life -- and of his assassination -- through metaphor, spirituality, and multi-layers of meaning. Andrea's stunning poetic requiem, illustrated with Brian's lyrical and colorful artwork -- brings a fresh perspective to Martin Luther King, the Gandhi-like, peace-loving activist whose dream of equality -- and whose courage to make it happen -- changed the course of American history. And even in his death, he continues to transform and inspire all of us who share his dream. Wonderful classroom plays of Martin Rising can be performed by using the "Now Is the Time" history, and the 1968 timeline at the back of the book as narration -- and adding selected poems to tell the story!

Meet Miss Fancy book
#20
Meet Miss Fancy
Written by Irene Latham and illustrated by John Holyfield
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

A charming and significant story set prior to the Civil Rights Movement about a boy who finds a way to challenge segregation laws. Frank has always been obsessed with elephants. He loves their hosepipe trunks, tree stump feet, and swish-swish tails. So when Miss Fancy, the elephant, retires from the circus and moves two blocks from his house to Avondale Park, he’s over the moon! Frank really wants to pet her. But Avondale Park is just for white people, so Frank is not allowed to see Miss Fancy. Frank is heartbroken but he doesn’t give up: instead he makes a plan! Frank writes to the City Council so his church can host a picnic in the park, and he can finally meet Miss Fancy. All of his neighbors sign the letter, but when some protest, the picnic is cancelled and Frank is heartbroken all over again. Then Miss Fancy escapes the zoo, and it’s up to Frank to find her before she gets hurt.

When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates book
#21
When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates
Written by Mark Weakland and illustrated by Patrick Ballesteros
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-12
Thoughts from Lemony Snickers

This is a wonderful book for teaching children about Martin Luther King Jr. I think this book brings Dr. King's story to a personal level in a unique way that is more relatable for children. The illustrations are fun and modern, but the words on each page are packed with facts and history. This book is a great find for introducing kids to as important a changemaker as Dr. King.

Martin Luther King Jr. led the American Civil Rights Movement. But do you know what he was like as a child? From roller skating to playing football and basketbal, Martin was a fun-loving child. This playful story of his childhood will help young readers connect with a historic figure and will inspire them to want to achieve greatness.

Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.? book
#22
Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

An introduction to the life Martin Luther King, Jr. Including how he organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott and African American people across the country in support of the right to vote, desegregation, and other basic civil rights.

Preaching to the Chickens book
#23
Preaching to the Chickens
Written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E.B. Lewis
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Critically acclaimed author Jabari Asim and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis give readers a fascinating glimpse into the boyhood of Civil Rights leader John Lewis. John wants to be a preacher when he grows up—a leader whose words stir hearts to change, minds to think, and bodies to take action. But why wait? When John is put in charge of the family farm’s flock of chickens, he discovers that they make a wonderful congregation! So he preaches to his flock, and they listen, content under his watchful care, riveted by the rhythm of his voice. Celebrating ingenuity and dreaming big, this inspirational story, featuring Jabari Asim’s stirring prose and E. B. Lewis’s stunning, light-filled impressionistic watercolor paintings, includes an author’s note about John Lewis, who grew up to be a member of the Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and demonstrator on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. John Lewis is now a Georgia congressman, who is still an activist today, recently holding a sit-in on the House floor of the U.S. Capitol to try to force a vote on gun violence. His March: Book Three recently won the National Book Award, as well as the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King Author Award, Printz Award, and Sibert Award.

The Cart That Carried Martin book
#24
The Cart That Carried Martin
Written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Don Tate
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

A unique retelling of Martin Luther King Jr.s funeral, focusing on the cart used to transport his coffin through the streets of Atlanta, Georgia, from Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College. The text also features the large number of people who walked the funeral route and were buoyed by MLKs positive influence, as well as Ada and Belle, the mules that pulled the cart.

Lincoln and Kennedy book
#25
Lincoln and Kennedy
Written and illustrated by Gene Barretta
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-10

President Abraham Lincoln grew up in a one-room log cabin. President John F. Kennedy was raised in the lap of luxury. One was a Republican and one a Democrat. They lived and served a hundred years apart. Yet they had a number of things in common. Some were coincidental: having seven letters in their last names. Some were monumental: Lincoln's support for the abolitionist movement and Kennedy's support for the civil rights movement. They both lost a son while in office. And, of course, both were assassinated. In this illuminating book, Gene Barretta offers an insightful portrait of two of our country's most famous presidents.

Have a suggestion for a book to add to this list? Send an email to [email protected] with your book and list suggestion.