6 Great Books for Kids About Martin Luther King Jr. -- Easy Readers on up

Here's our list of recommended books on Martin Luther King, Jr. We've derived this list from a longer list of 'contenders' after examining reviews and comments at professional journals, GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Amazon.com.

After reading these books ourselves, we winnowed down our original list to these 6 books which we feel should be easy to locate, and which are suited to a wide range of age groups. These books can be used as practice readers, or read aloud and shared.

bookcover of McNamara's Martin Luther King Jr. DayMartin Luther King Jr. Day (Ready-to-Read. Level 1)
by Margaret McNamara

GoodReads Rating: 4.67 stars — 3 ratings

This is a cute book for younger children that presents Dr. King as a man with a dream and a man to emulate.

In the story a class of first graders visits a museum where they see a statue of the civil right's leader. They learn that Dr. King had a vision for how the world could be made a better place. And when the children get back to class their teacher asks them what their dreams are. The children draw pictures of things like 'no fighting' on the playground, and universal good health. Here's a sample page. (If you click on the image, most browsers will make it large enough to read.)

Goodbooksforkids exclusive excerpt from McNamara's Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Very upbeat. Very focused on the future and what children might accomplish themselves.

Reading Information:
Word Count: 248
Page Count: 32
Accelerated Reading level: 2.2 / points: 0.5
AR quiz: 120171
Lexile: 600L
  • Publisher: Simon Spotlight (December 2007)
  • ISBN-10: 1416934944
  • sample pages available
This book is eligible for Amazon's 4-for-3 promotion.

bookcover of Mara's Martin Luther King, Jr.Martin Luther King Jr.
by Wil Mara

GoodReads Rating: 4.20 stars — 5 ratings
When we think of heroes,
we think of Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr.

So begins this useful little book that sums up Dr. King's fight to "make life better for all Americans." With some pretty good photographs from that era--frequently black and white-- children are quickly led through the Civil Rights moment of the 60's.

Goodbooksforkids exclusive excerpt from Wil Mara's Martin Luther King Jr.
Teaching Note: There is one teacher who posted at Amazon that she used this book with 6th graders. She gives her students 10 minutes with the book; during which they practice their skills in identifying the author's purpose and the main concepts. Though she is using this simple book to build confidence in her students that are strugging, this seems like an idea that would work for younger children as well.

Reading Information:
Word Count: 357
Page Count: 32
Accelerated Reading level:  3.1 / points: 0.5
AR quiz: 86464
Lexile: 430L
  • Publisher: Children's Press (2003)
  • ISBN-10: 0516273337
  • sample pages available
This book is eligible for Amazon's 4-for-3 promotion.

bookcover of Mara's Martin Luther King, Jr.Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier

AWARDS and Recognition!

* National Council of Teachers of English, Orbis Pictus Honor Book
* Caldecott Honor Book
* Coretta Scott King Honor Book
* ALA Notable Children's Book
* New York Public Library 100 Best Books
* Child Magazine, Best Children’s Book Award
* New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Best Illustrated Books of the Year
* Blue Ribbon list, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
* Children's Choice, Children's Book Council in conjunction with the IRA

GoodReads Rating: 4.4 stars —  2,663 ratings

This is a beautiful book. Both the images and text are quite striking, and they do a good job of not only relating events but explaining why King fought to change 'the system' in terms that children can readily understand. The first image, for example, shows a young boy pointing at a "white only" sign. The accompanying text tells us that he saw those signs everywhere when he was a child in the south.

Goodbooksforkids exclusive excerpt from Martin's BIG Words #2Goodbooksforkids exclusive excerpt from Martin's BIG Words #1
This is an easy book to recommend. It emphasizes Martin's determination to use peaceful means to attain victory and the visual presentation is likely to hook children and keep them reading.
(sample text)
He studied the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.
He learned how the Indian nation won freedom
without ever firing a gun.
Martin said "love,"
when others said "hate".

"Hate cannot
drive out hate.
Only love
can do that."

Reading Information
Word Count: 552
Page Count: 40
Accelerated Reading level: 3.4 / points: 0.5
AR quiz: 57412
Lexile: AD410L
  • Publisher: Hyperion Book (December 2007)
  • ISBN-10: 1423106350
  • sample pages available
This book is eligible for Amazon's 4-for-3 promotion.

bookcover of Adler's A Picture Book of Martin Luther King
A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Picture Book Biography)
by David A. Adler and Robert Casilla (Illus.)

GoodReads Rating: 3.89 stars — 57 ratings

This is a nice book, but not my favorite. It covers Dr. King's life as well as the injustice that drove the Civil Right's Movement.

I liked that there was a mention of other black leaders that contributed to our nation. Men and women like Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver and Harriet Tubman.

Goodbooksforkids exclusive excerpt from a Picture Martin Luther King Jr.
Reading Information:
Word Count: 756
Page Count: 30
Accelerated Reading level: 3.8 / points: 0.5
AR quiz: 19958
Lexile: AD680L
  • Publisher: Holiday House
  • ISBN-10: 0823408477
This book is eligible for Amazon's 4-for-3 promotion.

bookcover of As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King And Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Towards Freedom
As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King And Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Towards Freedom
by Richard Michelson
Raul Colon (Illustrator)

GoodReads Rating: 4.34 stars — 62 ratings

AWARDS and Recognition!
**Starred Review** BookList
**Starred Review** Kirkus

The warm, vibrant illustrations of Raul Colon beautifully convey the written message of this wonderful book; and after I read it throught the first time I could not wait to share it with my children.

The highlight for me, or perhaps I should say the aspect of the book that particularly stood out for me, was the different approach Richard Michelson took by including the history of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. For older children in particular I think it makes for a better grounding in historical events if they understand that Dr. King did not work alone. And this book clearly shows that there were men and women of other colors and faiths that knew not only intellectually, but from their own personal experience, that injustice for one, was injustice for all.

The book begins with an image of Martin as a young angry boy. We are told that "Martin was mad at everyone". And then we are told why.

Goodbooksforkids exclusive excerpt #1 from As Good as Anyone
It was hot in Georgia and Martin wanted to swim in
the pool, but the sign said WHITES ONLY.
Martin was thirsty, but the sign said WHITES ONLY.
Martin needed to pee. WHITES ONLY.

Goodbooksforkids exclusive excerpt #2 from As Good as Anyone
My children found this prose to be very moving. Because they are young, they don't understand Job Discrimination, but they do know what it is to need a drink or to use the bathroom. And not to be able to use the first water fountain or toilet they run across is shocking to them.

Shocking too were the experiences of Rabbi Abraham as a young boy in Warsaw, Poland. At the outbreak of the second World War in Europe, he experienced some terrible, violent times. And being Jewish, he too knew prejudice, not only in Europe but in America, and it wasn't difficult for my two children (currently 11 and 9) to make the connection between the two men and to understand that color isn't the only basis of racism and prejudice.

Highly recommend this book. The culmination of seeing these two men lock arms to do what was just, was wonderful. "This too is God's work," Abraham told Martin. "I feel like my legs are praying."

Reading Information:
Word Count: 1,570
Page Count: 40
Accelerated Reading level: 4.1 / points: 0.5
AR quiz: 122592
Lexile: 680L
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0375833358

bookcover of Happy Birthday Martin Luther King
Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King
(Scholastic Bookshelf)
by Jean Marzollo
J. Brian Pinkney (illus)

GoodReads Rating: 3.80 stars — 90 ratings

Jean Marzollo does a wonderful job in this book of making the reverand accessible and sympathetic. With Mr. Pinkney's help, she portrays young Martin as a regular kid, playing and studying, before she shows him growing up to serve his community and then the nation.

The artwork might be a little dull for very little children but the sentiment is beautiful and straightforward and my two test-subjects liked this book quite a bit.

The book begins with facts about Dr. King's birth. The author writes that "Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15th, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia." Then she adds, "His parents loved him very much."

Here is the text from a randomly chosen page.
Once there were laws in some places that said that African-Americans could use only certain restaurants and drinking fountains. Martin Luther King and many other people helped change these laws. Now all people can share the same restaurants and drinking fountains.

The book's strength, in my opinion, is in how it clearly explains exactly what it was that Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in the Civil Rights Movement opposed. There are pairs of pages that show and talk about the laws that said that only white people could sit in the front of the bus, and that black citizens, by law, had to give up their seats if a white person wanted to sit down.

Goodbooksforkids exclusive excerpt from Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King Jr.

Excellent book. I agree with Ms. Marzollo that adults might want to substitute that Dr. King died in 1968 for the words that he was 'shot and killed' if the latter might be deemed too upsetting for the audience. (If children can read this for themselves, this is probably not a problem.)
Reading Information:
Word Count: 593
Page Count: 32
Accelerated Reading level:  4.2 / points: 0.5
AR quiz: 7571
Lexile: 800L
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0439782244
  • sample pages available
Feliz Cumpleanos, Martin Luther King
ISBN-10: 059047507X

compiled by Pam T

For other books on important men and women in the Equal Rights movement, see our Index.