This week, as we take a day off from school to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his life’s work, take some time to read one of these fabulous picture books honoring the great Civil Rights leader.
Yes, the books featured in this week’s post are all picture books. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that these books are just for younger students. Many picture books have much to offer older students and even adults. As Megan Schliesman of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center says in introducing her list of picture books for older readers, “Some picture books are created with an older audience in mind. Others embody a level of sophistication in the text or art that offers intrigue for older children and/or teens even as they also appeal to a younger audience.”
Start a tradition of reading a picture book together as a family on special occasions and holidays. Taking the time to read together as a family shows that your family values reading and encourages children to see themselves as readers while creating treasured life-long memories of shared family experiences.
Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by Brian Pinkney
This is perhaps my favorite book about Dr. King to share with very young children because it approaches Martin Luther King day as a celebration of Dr. King’s life. Ms. Marzollo’s simple, straight forward text, while not overly detailed, adequately conveys Dr. King’s message that all people are created in the image of God and deserve an equal right under the law to live in peace and be treated justly. Mr. Pinkney’s wonderful oil and scratchboard illustrations are my favorite part of the book and deserve special attention as they so beautifully depict Dr. King’s gentleness of spirit and strength of character.
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier
This multiple-award-winning book is perhaps the best picture book biography on Dr. King’s life you can find. Beautifully illustrated by Bryan Collier, the book is visually stunning. I could spend hours just contemplating the wonderful illustrations. As beautiful as the illustrations are, Ms. Rappaport tells the story of Dr. King’s life through equally eloquent words. It is not the gorgeous illustrations or Ms. Rappaport’s prose that make this book so outstanding, however. Ms. Rappaport made the decision to weave Dr. King’s own words into the biography, and it is Dr. King’s words that resonate with readers. Even very young students are able to develop an understanding of Dr. King’s most memorable speeches through Ms. Rappaport’s carefully worded introductions and Mr. Collier’s amazing illustrations. This is a book not to be missed and will speak to the hearts of readers of all races, young and old alike.
My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Christine King Ferris and illustrated by Chris Soentpiet
Ms. Ferris tells stories of the young Martin Luther King, Jr. as no one else can. In this beautifully illustrated memoir, Dr. King’s older sister recalls growing up with her brother Martin. Readers are introduced to a mischievous boy who basks in the love of his multi-generational family and his father’s congregation at the Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. When two white boys in the neighborhood announce that they cannot play with M.L. and his brother because they are “Negroes,” Ms. Ferris’s younger brothers are hurt and baffled. Their mother explains to the boys, “[Whites] just don’t understand that everyone is the same, but someday, it will be better.” M.L. replies, “Mother Dear, one day I’m going to turn this world upside down.” Martin Luther King, Jr. made it his life’s mission from that point on to seek equal rights for all, regardless of skin color. My Brother Martin is a fabulous book on Dr. King’s life and should be on everyone’s must read list.
As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michaelson and illustrated by Raul Colon
The Civil Rights Movement focused primarily upon the inequalities between black and white Americans, but Dr. King realized that if one group of Americans was treated unfairly, it meant that any group of people could also be persecuted. Another man, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel had experienced such persecution in Europe. Rabbi Hershel had fled the Holocaust years earlier and now made the decision to stand with Dr. King in the fight for equal rights for black Americans. This beautiful picture book tells the story of both men and how they stood and marched together to Montgomery in 1965 to bring attention to the struggle for Civil Rights for all.
I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Kadir Nelson, the award winning author and illustrator of Heart and Soul, has illustrated the best known lines from Dr. King’s most famous speech in a beautiful picture book for all ages. This book is a magnificent introduction to Dr. King’s speech given 50 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The entire text of the speech is included in the back of the book as well as a CD recording of the actual speech.
I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and illustrated by Caldecott Award Winning Artists
This picture book version of Dr. King’s speech is harder to find than the recently published Nelson version mentioned above, but it is well worth the search for older students. The entire text of Dr. King’s speech is presented and illustrated by a cadre of Caldecott Award Winning Artists. This speech should be required reading for all Americans, especially in this 5oth anniversary year of its presentation. My family reads this book each year on Dr. King’s birthday to remind us of how far our nation has come and how far we have to go in assuring equal rights for all Americans.
Marching to the Mountaintop: How Poverty, Labor Fights, and Civil Rights Set the Stage for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Hours by Ann Bausum
This documentary picture book published by National Geographic is longer than the other books listed here, but is worthy of inclusion, especially due to Memphis’s connection to Dr. King. On April 3, 1968, in Memphis, Dr. King delivered some of his most stirring words in the fight for equal rights, “I’ve been to the mountaintop . . . And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
Less than 24 hours after delivering those words, Dr. King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Hotel in downtown Memphis. Dr. King had come to Memphis to support the strike of the city’s sanitation workers, men who had worked under some of the most abhorrent conditions in the nation. This book tells the story of the city’s sanitation workers and Dr. King’s mission to bring support and hope to these men. Dr. King’s murder shocked the nation, sparked riots across the country, but ultimately created the conditions that would bring about the settlement of the strike and begin the process of racial reconciliation in Memphis, a process that continues to this day.