13 Books about MLK and the Selma Marches

Earlier this month, Paramount Pictures released Selma, a major motion picture about the 1965 civil rights marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The release of the film, followed by the annual celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on Monday, January 19th, 2015 and Black History Month in February will leave many children and young adults wanting to know more about King’s life and the Selma marches that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Although there are many, many books available on these topics, the following are among the most highly regarded.

book jacketMartin’s Big Words: The Life Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rappaport, Doreen

Yes, there have been a million biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr., but there’s something special about Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier’s Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  […] It deservedly won both Coretta Scott King and Newbery honor awards. The uniqueness of this book is apparent before you ever open it; the cover bears only a large, smiling, monochromatic illustration of Martin Luther King. The title, author and illustrator are on the back. Opening to the end flaps, one sees the thoughtfulness, artistry and intriguing contrast of brightness and monochromes in Collier’s stained glass window collage. His illustrations continue to compel readers through the book. The text begins with notes by author and illustrator. Rappaport notes that she was inspired by King’s words, which were simple and direct, yet profound and poetic. Collier explains his use of stained glass as metaphors that blaze out at you like beams of light. The multicolors symbolize multi races…and allow you to look past where you are. The book’s combination of text, layout and illustrations have a powerful emotional impact. Rappaport’s spare style and prosaic words serve as a background to highlight King’s quotations. These appear on every page, emphasized with color and size. Quotations like, “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that,” could be read alone to show King’s life, message and legacy. Rappaport’s rhythmic, simplistic statements seem inspired by King’s rousing sermons and are a tribute to both the man and his vision. 2001, Hyperion, $15.99. Ages 5 up. Reviewer: Susie Wilde (Children’s Literature). ISBN(s): 078682591X, 0786807148, 0786807148, 9780786825912,

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

book jacketMarching for Freedom : Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary

Partridge, Elizabeth

In 1965, Selma, Alabama, became the focal point of the struggle to gain voting rights for African Americans. Elizabeth Partridge examines what took place there during the first few months of that landmark year in this enthralling volume that focuses on the experience of children and teens. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, citizens of Selma young and old walked out of churches, homes, and schools and took to the streets, the roads, and the highways. Partridge captures the injustice of the times and the inspiration and dedication of these fighters for human rights, integrating the stories of five young people into an account of history that culminates with the five-day march from Selma to Montgomery in March of that year. Less than five months later, the Voting Rights Act became law. Extensive research and interviews inform a narrative that has an irresistible sense of immediacy, while well-integrated black-and-white photographs further enhance the sense of being there. CCBC Category: Historical People, Places, and Events. 2009, Viking, 72 pages, $19.99. Age 11 and older. Reviewer: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices). ISBN(s): 9780670011896, 0670011894.

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

book jacketBecause They Marched : The People’s Campaign For Voting Rights That Changed America

Freedman, Russell

As with his other works, Freedman has given us a masterful look at an important event in American history: the 1965 march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The events that led to the historic event as well as the march itself are chronicled in eight chapters. The first highlights the day Selma’s black schoolteachers walked to the Selma courthouse to show how difficult it would be for any of them to register to vote. The second chapter provides a historical take on how black citizens were pushed to the point where they had to march while the third highlights the place of Selma’s students in influencing their parents and other adults to push harder for voting rights. Chapters four and five focus on those marching and what happened during the march, followed by a sixth chapter that discusses the immediate aftermath of the march and the national outcry to the treatment of the marchers. The final chapters conclude the main story with the march on Montgomery and the eventual signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Johnson. The book also houses an excellent resource and further reading section and the black and white photos chosen certainly help make visual the marches and marchers. This is an absolutely excellent resource for teachers and librarians looking for a great ancillary text for a unit around civil rights in the United States. 2014, Holiday House, $20.00. Ages 11 up. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature). ISBN(s): 9780823429219, 0823429210.

(Additional reviews and award info available on CLCD.)

book jacketI Have A Dream

King, Martin Luther

Excerpts from Dr. King’s 1963 landmark speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom are movingly illustrated here by Kadir Nelson. The interpretation is literal (King’s “four little children” are readily identifiable); the scale is often monumental (the hope of being “able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together” is represented by a pair of larger than life black and white grasped hands); and the compositions are riveting (the force of the single phrase “From every mountain, let freedom ring” is underscored by the double-page spread close-up of King’s impassioned delivery). End matter presents the speech in its entirety for older readers, but paring the text down to its most notable lines makes this title accessible to youngsters who are just beginning to comprehend the civil rights leader’s stature. Follow Christine King Farris’s March On! with this tribute to her brother’s oration for a powerful Black History Month presentation. A CD with a recording of King giving the speech is included. Review Code: R — Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2012, Schwartz & Wade, 34p., $21.99 and $18.99. Ages 6-10 yrs. Reviewer: Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books). ISBN(s): 9780375858871, 9780375958878, 0375858873

(Additional reviews and award info available on CLCD.)

book jacketMarch On! : The Day My Brother Martin Changed The World

Farris, Christine King

The sister of Martin Luther King, Jr. brings to life the famous March on Washington in August, 1963, when her brother gave his famous “I have a dream ” speech. In simple, straightforward language she notes King’s long night of preparation before the big day. He and the leaders first met with members of Congress at the Capitol. The marchers gathered at the Washington Monument to walk to the Lincoln Memorial, where King and the others met them. All ages, races, religions were part of the enormous crowd. Mahalia Jackson warmed them up with her “magnificent alto.” Then King gave his speech. He electrified the crowd. This speech has and will continue to live in history. Farris discusses her brother and his work with great respect, almost worship. Ladd follows the text in its emphasis on the efforts of specific individuals, creating a series of painted portraits of these figures. He begins with the family when Martin was a youngster. Those that follow show people in action, meeting to plan strategies, marching, singing, and so forth. Then there are the crowds at the March, carrying signs, listening, and looking out of bus windows. Important words are printed in upper case, colorful letters. The author has added some factual information. The CD packaged with the book has the text read aloud with musical introduction and both with and without page-turning signals. There is also an interview with Farris. 2008, Weston Woods/Scholastic Press, $17.99. Ages 6 to 9. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature). ISBN(s): 9780545035378, 0545035376.

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

book jacketM.L.K. : Journey Of A King

Bolden, Tonya

Tonya Bolden’s meticulous and personal biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., offers young readers compelling insight into the man’s life and work. The author’s description of Reverend King’s uncertainty, fear, and self-doubt lends even greater importance to the difficult moral choices he made while illuminating his devotion to the principle of agape, a “love that has nothing to do with liking a person, a love worthy of people who do you no good and even do you wrong.” An honest account of topics such as King’s uninspired early academic career, the disagreement among the leaders of the civil rights movement regarding his role, and King’s decision to speak out against the war in Vietnam also lend depth and humanity to an iconic figure. Frequent photographs, some familiar and some new, and the judicious use of boxed text and color blocks combine in a visually appealing, inspiring volume. CCBC Category: Biography and Autobiography. 2007, Harry N. Abrams, 128 pages, $19.95. Ages 10-15. Reviewer: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices). ISBN(s): 9780810954762, 0810954761.

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

book jacketMy Brother Martin : A Sister Remembers Growing Up With The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Farris, Christine King

Christine King Farris, the big sister of Martin Luther King, knew him “before he dreamed the dream that would change the world” and she tells about her funny, curious, playful brother in My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers. MLK, a hero to so many, was M.L. to his big sis. He was a child who loved Tinkertoys, and stories. He liked to join his siblings in playing pranks, like tying a fur piece to a stick and dangling it “in the waning light of evening,” or loosening the legs on the piano bench so he wouldn’t have to practice. Christine tells of early prejudices the children faced and M.L.’s early promise to Mother Dear, “One day I’m going to turn this world upside down.” Farris’ book ends with the grown up man and we have a real sense of why small M.L. grew into the man who fulfilled his childhood promise. The way she remembers him is not serious, but funny, curious, playful. But she offers this example of a real boy, who started on a path to contribute to the world early on. Her hope is that young people “realize the potential that lies within each of them to do this and greater works.” 2002, Simon and Schuster, $17.95. Ages 5 up. Reviewer: Susie Wilde (Children’s Literature). ISBN(s): 0689843879, 9780689843877.

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

book jacketAs Good As Anybody : Martin Luther King Jr. And Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom

Michelson, Richard

What better time than now, when there is such a resurgence of hate in the world and in our own communities, to introduce young children to the childhood, lives, and missions of two exemplary men? This fictionalized joint biography is written in simple, graceful language and illustrated with sensitive pastel portraits. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a young boy, was angry at the treatment Blacks received at the hands of whites; luckily, he had a father who was a preacher and who saw beyond their immediate environs. It took the son to make his fathers dream come true. Incensed by the indignity suffered on a segregated bus by a proud black woman, Rosa Parks, King led a bus strike and continued to march throughout the country for equal rights. When the police blocked a march, he called for help. His pleas were heard by another wise man, also a minority member and a man of religion, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschels childhood was similar in many ways to Kings because his father was also a source of inspiration. It was as if the prophets of old were reborn and had responded to the calls of the righteous when King and Heschel marched together. Those of us who lived during those times were fortunate to have been witnesses to such nobility. An excellent introduction both in narrative and illustration. Category: Biography. 2008, Knopf, 40pp., $16.99. Ages 7 to 11. Reviewer: Marcia Weiss Posner (Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter). ISBN(s): 9780375833359, 9780375933356, 0375833358, 0375933352.

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)


Front CoverJohn Lewis In The Lead : A Story Of The Civil Rights Movement

Haskins, James

Having been portrayed for older readers in Ann Bausum’s Freedom Riders (BCCB 4/06), civil rights activist John Lewis here gets the biographical treatment for a younger audience. The text describes Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama and his early activism when, at fifteen, he deliberately tested the county library’s prohibition against black patrons; it goes on to describe his connection with Martin Luther King, Jr. and his participation in the Freedom Riders, the March on Washington, and the march from Selma to Montgomery. Though the chronicle starts somewhat slowly, it takes off soon enough with Lewis’ involvement with the cause. The fact that he was one of the youngest activists makes him both an appealing figure and somebody who experienced the movement in its full duration (he remains today prominent as a congressman from Georgia), and it’s clear that his commitment had costs (he’s repeatedly assaulted and beaten) that were unable to turn him from his goals. Andrews’ lanky, silent figures exude purpose, and he offers a few stunning compositions (the faceoff between the marchers and the state troopers in Selma is depicted in a dramatic aerial view) that vividly dramatize the history. This will be a compelling introduction for youngsters not yet ready for Bausum’s book, and its focus on a still-living activist may encourage kids to start looking around for movement participants in their own families and neighborhoods. A timeline (illustrated with photographs, both recent and historic) concludes the volume; though there are no source notes, a brief bibliography and an acknowledgment of help from Congressman Lewis’ office appear on the copyright page. Review Code: R — Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2006, Lee & Low, 32p., $17.95. Grades 3-5. Reviewer: Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books). ISBN(s) : 9781584302506, 158430250X, 0136612389841.

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

book jacketThe Cart That Carried Martin

Bunting, Eve

Bunting’s text begins with the titular cart, located outside “Cook’s Antiques and Stuff. Nobody wanted it.” Inspired by an article about the funeral wagon that carried the body of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. three and a half miles through Atlanta in 1968; this beautiful picture book is a blend of quiet text and evocative images. The mules pulling the cart add an understated poignancy, given the history of slavery and the gift of a mule and land to freed slaves upon emancipation. As the crowds build for the funeral, the full-page spreads begin to acquire the terrible, sad energy of the event to come. Stillness and reflection add nuance to the momentum of the narrative. In turn the storyline conveys the energy of the man at its heart, whose life was so prematurely cut short. Bunting’s text depicts moments of music and of “holy silence” before pointing us to the widow’s “grief hidden by her veil.” That spread contains an image that fades away on the edge of the verso page, as if the funeral itself were an event fading into time, yet resurrected here for us to meditate upon. The perspective from above focuses the eye on the simple cart offset to the right of the gutter, bringing text and image together in a perfect picture book moment. Don Tate’s pencil and gouache illustrations offer up another transcendent moment in the final spread, in which a single line of text is illustrated by the larger than life figure of Dr. King in familiar oratorical stance. In all, this book is a gift to young readers, providing a hopeful, reverent view of a tragic historical event. 2013, Charlesbridge, $16.95. Ages 6 to 9. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami (Children’s Literature). ISBN(s): 9781580893879, 1580893872, 9781580893879

(Additional reviews, award info, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

book jacketI’ve Seen The Promised Land : The Life Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Myers, Walter Dean

As in all Walter Dean Myers’ books, his straightforward words compel the reader to attend. It is the violence of color and image in Jenkins’ illustrations that adds a powerful depth to those words. Myers chooses to tell about the Montgomery bus boycott, jail, the March on Washington, Malcolm X’s and John F. Kennedy’s assassinations, and the final protest march in Memphis that ended a few days later in Dr. King’s death. He writes not a biography as much as an exploration of whether Dr. King achieved his desires. Myers contrasts the violence against those who were struggling to obtain justice with Dr King’s belief in nonviolence as a means of bringing the demands of justice to reality. The reader is left with uncertainty as to which prevailed. Unfortunately, reducing these events to a few pages creates the same problems that brief treatments in history texts do; for example, he writes that the bus boycott was in response to Mrs. Parks’ arrest, creating a background for Dr. King’s participation, though the boycott had long been planned and was awaiting the right opportunity to be put into action. Myers’ and Jenkins’ invitation to share Dr. King’s vision of the promised land is certainly a book parents or teachers could share with children, but the readability and illustrations are more appropriate for older children. 2004, HarperCollins, $15.99. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Diane Carver Sekeres, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature). ISBN(s): 0060277033, 0060277041, 9780060277048, 9780060277031.

(Additional reviews, recognitions, and reading level info available on CLCD.)

book jacketMarching To The Mountaintop : How Poverty, Labor Fights, And Civil Rights Set The Stage For Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Hours

Bausum, Ann

In this riveting account of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, Bausum adroitly handles both the labor action itself born of institutionalized racial injustice within the public works system and the tragic deaths of two African-American workers in a faulty compactor and what would be the final civil rights action of Dr. King’s storied career. Bausum brings readers onboard with a gagworthy introduction to garbage in the 1960s, before plastic trash-can liners, before curbside pickup, before ready-to-eat scrap-free meals. She then turns to the African-American workers who accepted these lowest-rung, lowest-paid, dangerous sanitation jobs, and to the ploys to cut back their already minimal pay. With the stage set for the strike itself and the initially reluctant support of the union, the focus shifts to follow King’s involvement, as he hoped the national focus on labor injustice would draw attention to his broader plans for an attack on poverty itself as the next great civil rights issue. Bausum discusses with objectivity and compassion the way grassroots action in Memphis surged ahead of King’s organization, and how younger activist groups such as the Invaders, impatient with the nonviolent approach of the old guard, condoned (or at least empathized with) the rioting and looting into which peaceful marches devolved. Although the Sanitation Workers’ story would have a relatively happy ending, with union recognition, pay raises, and institutional reforms, the Memphis Campaign would end tragically with King’s assassination and the splintering of his organization among leaders with divergent strategies and agendas. Clearly organized and densely illustrated, this title includes features such as an introductory “cast of characters,” an annotated timeline of the strike, and a list of King’s campaigns from 1955 through 1968 to help untangle a complex set of intertwined events. A resource guide, bibliography, citations list, and index are also included. Review Code: R* — Recommended. A book of special distinction. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2012, National Geographic, 104p. illus. with photographs. Grades 6-9. Reviewer: Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books). ISBN(s): 9781426309397, 1426309392, 9781426309403, 1426309406.

(Additional reviews and award info available on CLCD.)

book jacketThe Story Of Martin Luther King Jr.

Moore, Johnny Ray

ISBN(s): 0824941446, 9780824941444

Editors Note: Although there are no reviews or awards listed in CLCD for this title, I felt it was important to include on this list, because it fulfills a specific need. As a parent, I understand the need to talk to son about racism and discrimination, but at the age of two, I am not yet ready to introduce him to the topics of murder, violence, and police brutality. In this simple board book, Moore describes the young “Martin” and the racial segregation he witnessed through three examples any child can relate to: not being able to go to the best school (i.e., the one with the best playground equipment), not being able to eat out at the restaurant they want to, and not being allowed to drink from the most convenient water fountain. Moore goes on to say that Martin dreamed of fixing this unfairness, grew up to be a great speaker and made his dream come true for all of us. The book omits the details of King’s assassination and the violence he faced during his lifetime, a treatment I would be critical of in a book intended for older children. However, in this case it serves an important need for those of us with very young children who are not ready to learn about the violence faced by those who fought for civil rights.

What did we miss? What books would you recommend for teaching children about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and the Selma marches? Let us know in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “13 Books about MLK and the Selma Marches”

    1. March: Book One is an excellent suggestion! John Lewis was one of the leaders of the Selma marches, and the book has a ton of awards and starred reviews. (I had it on my list originally; I only left it off because I wasn’t sure how much of it was specifically about Selma.) Thanks for recommending it!

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