Books by Theme
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.
A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation
Luminous illustrations and free verse combine to tell the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. When King arrived for the March on Washington in 1963, his speech was not yet completed. Nonetheless, he found a “place to land” to complete his historical speech then give it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Focusing on this singular moment in history is powerful and stunningly presented in word and image.
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round
What makes an activist? The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Tennessee in 1968 so effected young Kathlyn, she started tirelessly working to improve the lives of African Americans and make MLK’s birthday a national holiday. She tells her own story in verse, contextualized by the time in which she lived
Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You
Young readers are called to action, because it is possible that “You can be a King” in small everyday ways. Brief, recognizable scenes and sophisticated ideas are realistically interspersed with simpler, child-like classroom goings-on to bring the concept closer to familiar experiences. The result is a lyrical book just right to launch discussions.
Because They Marched
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Evicted!: The Struggle for the Right to Vote
This civil rights book examines the little-known Tennessee's Fayette County Tent City Movement in the late 1950s and reveals what is possible when people unite and fight for the right to vote. Powerfully conveyed through interconnected stories and told through the eyes of a child, this book combines poetry, prose, and rich illustrations to shine light on this forgotten history.
Finish the Fight
“It took the better part of a century to pass a law saying American women had the right to vote.” The 19th Amendment was the result of a massive effort by “tons of women beyond Susan and Elizabeth’s demographic…” Black, Native, Asian, and white women who contributed are presented here in an attractive format to broaden the understanding of women’s history.
Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins
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
Young people see a need and work to better their world in this upbeat chronicle of youthful activists.
Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King
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.
I Am Rosa Parks
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.
Justice Rising: 12 Amazing Black Women in the Civil Rights Movement
You've heard the names Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, but what about the many other women who were crucial to the Civil Rights Movement? Told through twelve short biographies, this book celebrates just some of the many Black women — each of whom has been largely underrepresented until now — who were instrumental to the nation’s fight for civil rights and the contributions they made in driving the movement forward.
Luna and Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest
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
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 Rising: Requiem for a King
The final months of King’s life are presented in rich, moving poetry accompanied by swirling, evocative paintings. The requiem wonders about King’s assassin in “Baby James” asking, “”Did his tiny soul,/once clean,/know it would someday/be soiled by hate?” Additional information and photographs conclude this sophisticated volume.
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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.
Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman
This beautifully written book, illustrated by four-time Caldecott Honor recipient Jerry Pinkney, makes the story of Harriet Tubman's childhood accessible to very young readers. As a young slave nicknamed Minty, Harriet Tubman was a feisty and stubborn girl with a dream of escape, and a rebellious spirit that often got her into trouble. Pinkney's expressive illustrations bring every emotion to brilliant life – from troubled sorrow to spirited hope for freedom.
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.
Nibi Emosaawdang / The Water Walker
Based on a true story, The Water Walker, shares the story of Josephine Mandamin, a woman who was inspired by a prophecy to protect water. The book tracks her activism around water protection and the group of Water Walkers that she formed who join her on her many walks across North America. This is a dual-language edition in English and Anishinaabemowin.
Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangara Maathai
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
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 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
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.
She Persisted: Claudette Colvin
She was named after a white actress of the time, but this young Black girl’s life took a very different path. Claudette Colvin became a 15-year-old activist who refused to give up a bus seat to a white woman — before Rosa Parks. This early chapter biography makes a difficult and complex time and life accessible to younger readers. Look for additional titles in this thoroughly researched, well conceived, and thoughtfully presented series.
Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chávez/Lado a Lado: La Historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chávez
Many years ago in California, an energetic young Girl Scout named Dolores worked to raise money for soldiers fighting in World War II. A thoughtful young boy named Cesar worked in the fields to help his family put food on the table. As young adults, these two extraordinary individuals would meet and spend the rest of their lives working tirelessly on behalf of migrant workers and children through nonviolent struggle — side by side. Monica Brown and Joe Cepeda bring the story of Dolores and Cesar to life through this vibrant bilingual book, which will make an excellent addition to units on migrant farmworkers, civil rights, or women's history.
Sister Corita’s Words and Shapes
A picture book biography of Sister Corita, a nun, educator, and activist who became a celebrated pop artist while creating works meant to inspire good in others. Through her art, she called for an end to the Vietnam War and advocated for women’s rights, civil rights, and tolerance and love in a time of social upheaval. Her legacy as a teacher, activist, and artist with great creativity, compassion, and perseverance will inspire young readers.
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down
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.
Thanks to Frances Perkins: Fighter for Workers’ Rights
Once, there were no protections for workers who often toiled in dangerous conditions for long hours. Until Frances Perkins, that is. After she witnessed a tragedy, Perkins toiled tirelessly to help workers all over the United States. This illustrated biography of the first woman on President Roosevelt’s cabinet is compelling, highlighting the events that shaped Perkins. Additional resources are included.
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 Story of Ruby Bridges
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
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.
Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank
Growing up in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus witnessed extreme poverty all around and was determined to eradicate it. Muhammad founded Grameen Bank where people could borrow small amounts of money to start a job, and then pay back the bank without exorbitant interest charges. Over the next few years, Muhammad's compassion and determination changed the lives of millions of people by loaning the equivalent of more than 10 billion US dollars in micro-credit. His work has empowered the poor, especially women, who often have limited options.
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.
William Still and His Freedom Stories
William Still was the youngest child of parents who escaped slavery and went on to become the father of the Underground Railroad. His record keeping of those seeking freedom helped to reunite families separated by enslavement. Accessibly written, attractively illustrated, and well-researched, readers will discover a new and different kind of champion.
Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass
A young Frederick Douglass narrates this handsome, moving, and authentic story of his early life as a slave, his desire to learn, and plans to escape slavery. The child who grew up to be an abolitionist, memorable writer, and orator knew that words — reading — would set him free.
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