Every January, we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We often want to reduce Dr. King to inspiring quotes we can repost on social media, but he was so much more than an inspired speaker. He was a leader and a force for change, and it’s important to study his entire life and work.
This list includes my absolute favorite books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that I’ve shared with both classrooms and my own children. However, I urge you: please don’t let Dr. King be the only influential African-American leader you study!
Dr. King’s legacy is best understood within the greater context of the civil rights movement, which was made up of many brave men and women. These books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are a great place to start, but don’t let them be where you finish.
Books About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Board Books About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Johnny Ray Moore
Even the youngest readers can begin to learn about Dr. King and his fight for equality. This board book explains Dr. King’s importance in a way even preschoolers and toddlers can understand. It’s never too early to start teaching our children the importance of justice and compassion.
This story is perfect for sharing with toddlers and preschoolers.
Picture Books About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. by David A. Adler
I really love this series of biographies from David A. Adler, and the biography of Dr. King is especially good. A straightforward examination of his life and his role in the civil rights movement, and why we still honor his memory today.
This fact-filled biography is an excellent choice for kids ages 6 and up.
March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris
Written by Martin’s sister, Christine, this book explores both the values the King children were taught in their childhood, and how that transferred over to Martin’s life as one of the foremost civil rights leaders in the nation.
The main focus of the story is the March on Washington and Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Readers get a glimpse at how he prepared for this monumental moment, his amazement at the number of people who attended the March, and how his life was changed after.
This gorgeous picture book is perfect for sharing with kids ages 7 and up.
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
This gorgeous book uses Dr. King’s own words to tell the story of his life. This is a great read both for the beautiful style of storytelling and for Bryan Collier’s stunning illustrations. Dr. King is no longer with us, but this book keeps his big words alive.
I recommend sharing this introduction to Dr. King’s speech with kids ages 6 and up.
My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King, III
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights leader and hero, but he was also a father. This picture book, written by his son, takes a look at the personal side of Dr. King, and what it was like to be his child.
King III shares that at home, his father was just “Dad,” but also shares that being the son of Dr. King was not always easy. Young Marty was often teased or bullied because of who his father was, but deep down inside he knew that his father was fighting to make a difference in the world.
This lovely picture book is great for kids ages 7 and up.
As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr. and and Abraham Joshua Herschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson
An African-American Baptist pastor and a Polish Rabbi may seem like unlikely friends, but Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Herschel had both experienced injustice and discrimination. This book tells the story of their friendship, and how they united to walk together in the 1965 civil rights march in Alabama.
The two men had many perceived differences, but they also faced bigotry in their own homelands. Dr. King faced racism in the American South, and Rabbi Herschel faced antisemitism in Europe during the Nazi regime. Both men had a desire to build a more equitable world, and they worked together to change America for the better.
I recommend sharing this compelling story with readers ages 6 and up
This volume from the Ordinary People Change the World series is one of my favorites. This book focuses not only on the life and experiences of Dr. King, but also on the character traits that helped him to be a world-changer. It teaches about how Dr. King did all things with love and kindness, and made progress through peaceful actions.
Told in the first person with bright illustrations, this book is an excellent choice for kids ages 4 and up.
The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting
I love this book, but I can’t get through it without sobbing. The story of Dr. King’s life is told starting with his death, following the cart that carried his casket as it made its way through the streets of Atlanta. A beautiful story that is also available as a DVD.
Though the book carries a message of grief, it also carries a message of hope. Dr. King may be gone, but his message will live on for generations to come.
I recommend sharing this story with kids ages 5 and up.
Anne Frank and Martin Luther King, Jr. were born in the same year. Though they had very different life experiences, they also shared many commonalities. Churnin’s book compares the two figures, and shows the varies ways their lives paralleled each other.
This gorgeous book shows how a message can endure even after a life is taken too soon. I recommend sharing it with kids ages 8 and up who are familiar with both Anne Frank and Dr. King.
My Dream of Martin Luther King by Faith Ringgold
I absolutely adore Faith Ringgold’s books, and this one is no exception. The narrator has a dream about Dr. King that illustrates his life and the impact he had on the world. It shows both the struggles Dr. King faced and the triumphs he experiences, starting with his childhood. A beautiful reminder that every good thing starts with a dream.
I recommend sharing this book with readers ages 6 and up.
“It’s terrible to be circling up there without a place to land.”
This book tracks the hours before Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King gathered at the Willard Hotel with advisors and friends to craft his message for the March on Washington. Each friend had their own ideas about what Dr. King should include in his speech, but ultimately he had to follow his own path.
This story creatively introduces readers to the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement who collaborated with and supported Dr. King in his work. It’s perfect for sharing with readers ages 5 and up.
I Have a Dream by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This unique book takes the words of Dr. King’s famous speech and pairs it with illustrations from 13 artists who have won the Coretta Scott King award. The end result is a breathtaking book that shows the true beauty of Dr. King’s dream.
I recommend reading this book with children ages 6 and up.
This work of historical fiction follows a young girl as she experiences the Sanitation Strike of 1968. Sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike after two black workers were killed by unsafe equipment. Dr. King was called in to help organize and lead the protests.
Sadly, this was also where Dr. King was assassinated, the day after giving his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. Through the eyes of the young narrator, we see both the excitement at having Dr. King in Memphis, and the heartbreak that was felt with his passing.
I recommend sharing this book with children ages 7 and up.
Written by Dr. King’s niece, this book explores the guiding principles that Dr. King lived by. Concepts like “love your enemies” and “fight the problem, not the person,” are highlighted, with specific examples from Dr. King’s life.
Another key message of the book is “the universe honors love,” which really resonates with me. I also love the bold and dynamic illustrations. This is a fantastic book for sharing with kids ages 5 and up, but there’s something for adults here as well.
We all know that Dr. King’s work was important, but how can we follow his example? This book gives young children practical ideas for putting Dr. King’s message into practice.
The story follows both the life of Dr. King and a class of children as they learn about him. The students are encouraged to “Stamp out hatred. Beat the drum for justice. Put your foot down and walk tall,” alongside examples of these things from Dr. King’s own life.
This gorgeous book is an excellent choice for kids ages 4 and up.
Middle Grade and Young Adult Books About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The visually appealing Who HQ series is a great choice for reluctant readers, and this volume on the life of Dr. King is a powerful one.
This book gives an overview of Dr. King’s life, from his childhood to his passing. It also explains things like Jim Crow laws and the segregation-steeped history of Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. King helped organize the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott at only 25 years old. It finishes with a timeline of Dr. King’s life and achievements.
This engaging biography is great for readers ages 8 and up.
This book of poetry follows the last months of Dr. King’s life, and makes a powerful statement about the significance of his work. This beautiful tribute to Dr. King through verse truly honors the legacy he left behind.
Accompanied by gorgeous illustrations, this impactful collection of poems also includes a guide for turning the text into a classroom play. I recommend sharing this book with readers ages 9 and up.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy first met, they were not kindred spirits. It took time and collaboration for them to become true allies, working together for justice.
We often connect the two men because they both died tragically, but there is also much to learn from their lives as well. When we examine the way these two men from different backgrounds worked together toward a common goal, we can learn much about humility, teamwork, and unity.
This book is great for kids 10 and up, but adults can learn a lot from this volume as well.
A Time to Break Silence: The Essential Works of Martin Luther King, Jr., for Students by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This book is a collection of speeches and writings specifically tailored to students and young adults. It features some of Dr. King’s most well-known works, but also highlights some of his lesser-known messages, such as “The Sword That Heals,” one of my favorites.
This book would make a great gift for new high schoolers or graduates, and is probably a good thing for adults to have on their shelves as well.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Justyce McAllister was only trying to help a friend, but somehow that led to being handcuffed with a cop yelling in his face. His only crime? Being a black boy wearing a hoodie.
Justyce begins journaling to work through his frustrations about the racism he encounters. In his journal, he writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He wants to put Dr. King’s methods into practice, but he also wonders if there’s any point to pursuing nonviolence in a world that seems to want him dead.
How can we expect young black men to function in a world where everyday activities could get them killed? How do we practice nonviolent protest in an increasingly violent society? This book addresses those tough questions and many more.
I recommend this book for kids ages 12 and up, and I recommend parents read alongside their kids as well. So many good discussions can come out of sharing this story.