“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Happy (Almost) Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! On January 18, 2021, our country will celebrate and recognize the life of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I know countless classrooms, homes, and libraries will be showcasing and learning more about the life and work of Dr. King.

Like many Americans, I have always been in awe of Dr. King’s activism. I still remember hearing his “I Have a Dream” speech for the first time and feeling a fire begin to roar in me. I wanted so badly to give a speech like that and change the hearts of my fellow peers in the name of social justice (maybe this is where my own activism spark began?). We should want that same moment for all our country’s students. 

MLK, Jr. Day is a beautiful day to continue our work around learning about true history and showcasing a range of diverse books. I have collected a list of diverse books to use on Martin Luther King, Jr Day with Elementary Students (check out our blog post here for a list for Middle and High School Students). The majority have been written by Black authors because of our collective value of uplifting BIPOC authors (the symbol * after the book title means the book has been written by a Black author). I hope you find one that is perfect for your classroom, library, or home! 

Elementary Book List

My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Martin Luther King III*

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 4-8 years

My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  is a picture book memoir written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s son, Martin Luther King III. It details the life of Dr. King from the perspective of his son and the rest of his family. It would be a great book to explore Dr. King’s life beyond just his important civil rights work. 

I Have a Dream, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.*

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 4-8 years

This picture book is an illustrated version of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” Speech. It is complete with beautiful and vivid illustrations by Kadir Nelson who also illustrated Kwame Alexander’s famous picture book, The Undefeated. Most copies of I Have a Dream should come with a CD that has an audio copy of the speech. You can also use it to help students truly visualize Dr. King’s important speech. 

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You, by Carole Boston Weatherford*

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 4-8 years

This is by far one of my favorite books on the list. Carole Boston Weatherford wrote Be a King, which is a picture book all about how readers can “Be a King” by living out and acting on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream. The main characters are all students so readers can really see themselves in this book. This picture book would be great to read to push children to think beyond learning about Dr. King and more about how they are going to take action on his tenets. 

My Uncle Martin’s Words for America: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Niece Tells How He Made a Difference, by Angela Farris Watkins*

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 5-9 years

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s niece, Angela Farris Watkins, wrote this book about how her uncle fought for African American’s civil rights. In the beginning, the book provides more context of the Civil Rights Era. Then, it expands to Dr. King’s work and activism. It is a longer picture book, but, if you are reading it to a younger audience, you can break it up into sections. 

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, by Doreen Rappaport

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 6-8 years

This is a picture book that I have read many times to introduce my students to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a comprehensive biography about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The author uses quotes from Dr King’s speeches to string together the facts about his life. 

The Story of Martin Luther King Jr.: A Biography Book for New Readers, by Christine Platt*

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 6-9 years

I think The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. is an absolutely beautiful early chapter book! Christine Platt does a brilliant job detailing Dr King’s life from when he was a child to his experiences as a Civil Rights Activist. The book includes eight chapters about his life, a glossary with key terms, and many text features (including a great visual timeline). Also, the author, Christine Platt, is an advocate for social justice – learn more about her at https://www.christineaplatt.com

Trailblazers: Martin Luther King, Jr.: Fighting for Civil Rights, by Christine Platt*

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 8-12 years

Another beautiful chapter book by Christine Platt about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This chapter book is geared more towards older elementary students because of the text’s few visuals, bigger vocabulary words, and length. It shares the true story of Dr. King and his fight for Civil Rights as a trailblazer. Again, the author, Christine Platt, is an advocate for social justice – learn more about her at https://www.christineaplatt.com

One thought on “Martin Luther King, Jr Day: A Colorful Pages Book List for Elementary Students

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