23 Picture Books to Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. and Civil Rights

Updated Jan. 21, 2019

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was created in 1983. It is a powerful reminder of the life and legacy of Dr. King and his commitment to civil rights. This list of children's books can help you teach your young reader about Dr. King and the lasting changes he helped create.

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.

Martin's Big Words book
#2
Martin's Big Words
Written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8
Thoughts from Mom of Boys

Martin's Big Words is a great book that explains some of the big points he makes during his years of helping to end segregation. "He said, together, when others said, separate." I especially like how this book teaches such a positive way to solve problems. He focuses on love and persistence and when changes seem out of reach.

This picture-book biography is an excellent and accessible introduction for young readers to learn about one of the world’s most influential leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Doreen Rappaport weaves the immortal words of Dr. King into a captivating narrative to tell the story of his life. With stunning art by acclaimed illustrator Bryan Collier, Martin’s Big Words is an unforgettable portrait of a man whose dream changed America—and the world—forever.

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.

Hidden Figures book
#4
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."

This Is the Rope book
#5
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.

Love Will See You Through book
#6
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
#7
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
#8
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.

When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates book
#9
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.

Granddaddy's Turn book
#10
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.

The Cart That Carried Martin book
#11
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.

Martin and Anne book
#12
Martin and Anne
Written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-11

Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. were born the same year a world apart. Both faced ugly prejudices and violence, which both answered with words of love and faith in humanity. This is the story of their parallel journeys to find hope in darkness and to follow their dreams.

Young, Gifted and Black book
#13
Young, Gifted and Black
Written by Jamia Wilson and illustrated by Andrea Pippins
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Meet 52 icons of color from the past and present in this celebration of inspirational achievement - from figureheads, leaders and pioneers such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, to cultural trailblazers and sporting heroes, including Stevie Wonder, Oprah Winfrey and Serena Williams. Strong, courageous, talented and diverse, these extraordinary men and women's achievements will inspire a new generation to chase their dream … whatever it may be.

As Good As Anybody book
#14
As Good As Anybody
Written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Raul Colon
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

A Baptist preacher from Atlanta. A rabbi born in Poland. Their names came to stand for the struggle for justice and equality. Martin Luther King Jr. grew up in a loving family in the American South, at a time when many of this country’s doors were closed to African Americans. He aimed to open those doors. He became a minister like his daddy, and he preached and marched for his cause. Abraham Joshua Heschel grew up in a loving family in a Europe that did not welcome Jews. He found a new home in America, where he was a rabbi like his father, carrying a message of peace and acceptance. Martin put out a call for others to join him. Abraham knew he must answer Martin’s call. Here is the story of how two men formed a remarkable friendship and turned their personal experiences of discrimination into a message of love and equality for all.

I Am Martin Luther King, Jr book
#15
I Am Martin Luther King, Jr
Written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

"A biography of Martin Luther King Jr. that tells the story of how he used nonviolence to lead the civil rights movement"--

Climbing Lincoln's Steps book
#16
Climbing Lincoln's Steps
Written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Colin Bootman
picture book
Recommend Ages: 7-10

Interweaves the story of black Americans' struggle for equality with important moments in African-American history that have occurred at the Lincoln Memorial, including Marian Anderson's concert in 1939; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous speech in 1963; and a visit from the first African-American president and his family in 2009.

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.

Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott book
#18
Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Written by Dee Romito and illustrated by Laura Freeman
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

This stunning picture book looks into the life of Georgia Gilmore, a hidden figure of history who played a critical role in the civil rights movement and used her passion for baking to help the Montgomery Bus Boycott achieve its goal. Georgia decided to help the best way she knew how. She worked together with a group of women and together they purchased the supplies they needed-bread, lettuce, and chickens. And off they went to cook. The women brought food to the mass meetings that followed at the church. They sold sandwiches. They sold dinners in their neighborhoods. As the boycotters walked and walked, Georgia cooked and cooked. Georgia Gilmore was a cook at the National Lunch Company in Montgomery, Alabama. When the bus boycotts broke out in Montgomery after Rosa Parks was arrested, Georgia knew just what to do. She organized a group of women who cooked and baked to fund-raise for gas and cars to help sustain the boycott. Called the Club from Nowhere, Georgia was the only person who knew who baked and bought the food, and she said the money came from "nowhere" to anyone who asked. When Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for his role in the boycott, Georgia testified on his behalf, and her home became a meeting place for civil rights leaders. This picture book highlights a hidden figure of the civil rights movement who fueled the bus boycotts and demonstrated that one person can make a real change in her community and beyond. It also includes one of her delicious recipes for kids to try with the help of their parents!

Lillian's Right to Vote book
#19
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.

I Have a Dream book
#20
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
#21
The Youngest Marcher
Written by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-10

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.

A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr book
#22
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
#23
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.

Have a suggestion for a book to add to this list? Send an email to [email protected]!