Though I’ve had a growing booklist for Black History Month and have a few books about Martin Luther King, Jr. on that list, I had never made a list of books specifically about Martin Luther King, Jr. until a follower asked me for one. Fortunately for us all, many picture books have been written about Dr. King, but the flip side of that is that it can be hard to weed through them all and find the really engaging, interesting, and thoughtful Dr. King biographies for young children.
Never fear, though, because I did some weeding and came up with seven marvelous picture books about Dr. King for you to share with your children and students, whether you read them for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (which is coming up on Monday, January 18, 2021!) or other times throughout the year. Read on to see which titles made the final cut!
Marvelous Picture Books for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
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I Have a Dream: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. illustrated by Kadir Nelson — I’m a sucker for anything Nelson illustrates, and let me tell you, when you combine his illustrations with Dr. King’s most famous words from his “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington, you’re bound to get chills. You can find the whole speech in the backmatter, for those interested, and the accompanying cd allows you to hear the speech from the mouth of this poweful orator. Ages 4-8.
My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King III, illustrated by AG Ford — Written by Dr. King’s son, this gem allows us to see the human, father side of Dr. King, and to view his work through the eyes of his children. The innocence and relatability makes this one a winner for children trying to understand that someone who did so many great, ground-breaking things was a person, too. Ages 4-8.
I am Martin Luther King, Jr. (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos — My girls LOVE the Ordinary People Change the World series, and I can understand why. These books walk readers through the childhoods of famous people and are both engaging and informative. It’s amazing how enticing reading about famous people as children is for young readers! Meltzer’s story begins before Martin could read and ends with the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, though King’s assassination is included in the backmatter timeline. Ages 5-8, but definitely appropriate younger, too.
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier — If I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. is my girls’ favorite book on this list, then Martin’s Big Words is probably mine. Lyrically written and stunningly illustrated, you’re definitely going to wand to read this one! Rappaport masterfully intertwines her narratives with actual quotes from Dr. King as she walks us through his life, from childhood until his assassination (yes, this one does directly tell readers he was shot). Be sure to read the Author’s and Illustrator’s Notes, and check out the informational backmatter. Ages 5-9.
My Brother, Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up WIth the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Christine King Farris, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet — Another book that somewhat normalizes Martin Luther King, Jr. (see My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. above), My Brother, Martin spends a lot of time focusing on the normalcy of his childhood (playing pranks, practicing piano, etc). Farris also introduces us to the moment she remembers her brothers learning of the injustice and cruelty in the world, just because of colors of skin. The bulk of this book introduces us to Dr. King as a child, with just a few pages of overview of how he got into the work he did as an adult. Ages 6-12 (this one’s long, so it’s harder to go younger here).
A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney — While there are tons of picture books about Martin Luther King, Jr., many of them focus on the March on Washington and his “I Have a Dream” speech… And for good reason, for sure. But, I have to admit, I don’t love all of them… I love Nelson’s illustrated version of the iconic words above, and I love Wittenstein’s behind-the-scenes account of the days and minutes leading up to that speech, as well as the insight into the friends and advisors who helped Martin through his writing process. Be sure to read the notes from the author and artist, as well as the brief bios of his Willard Hotel Advisors and other influential voices at the March on Washington. Ages 7-10.
Great Lives in Graphics: Martin Luther King, Jr. published by Button Books — Many thanks to Button Books for sending us this fascinating book of infographics about Martin Luther King, Jr.! Not much of a picture book or read aloud book, this would instead be perfect for an independent reader to pour over during a few different sittings. Adults are bound to learn almost as much as your kiddos, too (for example, did you know Martin was born Michael, but his dad changed both their names when Martin Jr. was 5?). Ages 8-12.
If you liked this post, be sure to check out my booklist for Black History Month!