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March on Washington anniversary reading

Today marks the fifty-fourth anniversary of the March on Washington and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. To celebrate, we’ve pulled together inspiring fiction and nonfiction books about the march, the speech, the great man himself, and some of his fellow civil rights heroes.

The following books were recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide at the time of their publication; reviews are reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online. For more, see these related booklists: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Coretta Scott King, Civil Rights Movement, Freedom Summer, and Making a Difference.

Picture books

Bunting, Eve  The Cart That Carried Martin
32 pp.     Charlesbridge     2013
Trade ISBN 978-1-58089-387-9

Illustrated by Don Tate. At his funeral, Martin Luther King Jr.’s casket was carried in a borrowed wooden farm cart pulled by two mules. It’s a humble image, but the throngs of people lining the streets to pay their respects reflect Dr. King’s great work and legacy. Bunting’s simple, poetic prose follows the cart’s slow, sad procession; Tate’s somber, handsome gouache illustrations are a perfect accompaniment.

We MarchEvans, Shane W.  We March
32 pp.     Roaring Brook/Porter     2012
Trade ISBN 978-1-59643-539-1

A mother and father rouse their children from bed, pray at their local church, board a bus, march on the Mall, and listen to Dr. King speak at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. Small touches clearly anchor the story within the experiences of a child, while quietly dramatic full-bleed, double-page illustrations bring context to the minimalist text.

Farris, Christine King  March On!: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World
32 pp.     Scholastic     2008
Trade ISBN 978-0-545-03537-8

Illustrated by London Ladd. In this picture book biography, Dr. King’s sister recounts events leading up to the day when her brother led the march on Washington, then describes that day in detail. Family pride is evident throughout the fluid narrative. Ladd’s rich-hued paintings display the drama of the historic events. An author’s note tells more about the civil rights movement.

Farris, Christine King  My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
40 pp.     Simon     2003
Trade ISBN 0-689-84387-9

Illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. Of the many stories about Dr. King, none is as personal and revealing as this memoir-tribute by his older sister. Starting with early family reminiscences, King Farris captures the drama of a life that would lead to the “I Have a Dream” speech. The brilliance of the realistic illustrations, the placement of the precise text, and the oversize format make this a dramatic contribution. With a poetic tribute by Mildred D. Johnson, an afterword, and an illustrator’s note.

King, Martin Luther, Jr.  I Have a Dream
32 pp.     Random/Schwartz & Wade     2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-375-85887-1
Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-95887-8

Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. In superlative oil paintings, Nelson brings to life this famous speech. He begins with Dr. King at the Lincoln Memorial addressing the crowd; literal illustrations of his words (e.g., his “four little children”) follow. Visually, this is a stunning accomplishment that embodies the thrilling inspiration of Dr. King’s words. The complete text of the speech is appended; accompanying CD included.

Levinson, Cynthia  The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist
40 pp.     Atheneum    2017
Trade ISBN 978-1-4814-0070-1
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-0071-8

Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton. Levinson tells the true story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, the youngest participant in the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. The well-paced text captures a child’s voice and presents time and place realistically. Brightly colored digital collages clearly depict both the hopeful spirit and the rawer emotions of one community involved in the civil rights struggle. An author’s note provides additional background. Timeline. Bib.

Meltzer, Brad  I Am Martin Luther King, Jr.
40 pp.     Dial     2016
Trade ISBN 978-0-525-42852-7

Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. Ordinary People Change the World series. From childhood anecdotes through the March on Washington, the scope of King’s struggles and accomplishments is conveyed. There’s some gentle moralizing (“it’s better to have more love in your life than more hate”), but it’s well delivered via this biography series’ child-friendly setup: a chatty first-person narrative and cartoon art with occasional comics-style frames. Photos are appended. Reading list, timeline. Bib.

Michelson, Richard  As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom
40 pp.     Knopf     2008
Trade ISBN 978-0-375-83335-9
Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-93335-6

Illustrated by Raul Colón. Abraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi born in Eastern Europe, becomes a stalwart friend to Martin Luther King Jr. as the Baptist preacher urges America toward new standards of equality and freedom. In this story, readers first meet King as a young boy, then Heschel; their shared story later unfolds. The swirling, textured colored-pencil and watercolor illustrations.

Pinkney, Andrea Davis  Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation
40 pp.     Greenwillow/Amistad     2008
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-082118-0

Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. A guitar-playing hound sings of the Montgomery bus boycott. With creativity, heart, and style, the Pinkneys capture the feel of the time, culminating in the landmark Supreme Court decision. Brian Pinkney’s illustrations, in deep blue and rich gold, eloquently express emotions. He sweeps colored inks onto clay board along with freely applied black swirls, touched lightly with his familiar scratchboard technique. Reading list.

Pinkney, Andrea Davis  Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song
40 pp.     Little     2013
Trade ISBN 978-0-316-07013-3

Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. “Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahalia Jackson combined their respective vocal gifts to form an unshakeable ribbon of faith.” A visual representation of that faith, a series of banners with directions (e.g., “This way to freedom”) create a frame for each illustration, while words from both King and singer Jackson provide context for the uplifting text. Author and illustrator notes and discography are appended. Timeline. Reading list.

Pinkney, Andrea Davis  Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down
40 pp.     Little     2010
Trade ISBN 978-0-316-07016-4

Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. A colorful narrative full of food references (“At first, they were treated like the hole in a doughnut”) recounts the 1960 sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Watercolor and ink illustrations swirl with energy, capturing both the seriousness and exuberance of the student protesters. Sprinkled throughout are quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., formatted in extra-large typefaces. Reading list, timeline, websites.

Ramsey, Calvin Alexander and Stroud, Bettye  Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend
32 pp.     Candlewick     2011
Trade ISBN 978-0-7636-4058-3

Illustrated by John Holyfield. Alex asks Miz Pettway why a mule, Belle, is allowed to eat collards from her garden. Turns out Belle is a civil rights hero who helped transport African Americans to vote; she also pulled the wagon holding Dr. King’s coffin through the streets of Atlanta. Soft acrylics, textured to look antiqued, are effective in illustrating this little-known true story of the civil rights movement.

Rappaport, Doreen  Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
40 pp.     Hyperion/Jump     2001
Trade ISBN 0-7868-0714-8
Library binding ISBN 0-7868-2591-X

Illustrated by Bryan Collier. The text is a mix of finely honed biographical narrative and appropriate quotes from King himself, emphasizing the concept that from his youth Martin had sought to inspire others with his words. The essential events of King’s life are presented in a straightforward yet moving style. The facts are extended by breathtaking collage illustrations. A chronology and informative notes from author and illustrator are included. Bib.

Ringgold, Faith  My Dream of Martin Luther King
32 pp.     Crown     1995
Trade ISBN 0-517-59976-7
Paperback ISBN 0-517-59977-5

Using a sequence of multilayered dreams, Ringgold presents a personal picture-book biography of the civil rights leader that blends known details from his life with imagined incidents from his childhood. King’s nonviolent efforts to end segregation come through clearly, and the book’s message becomes more powerful and accessible with repeated readings. A chronology is included. Bib.

Shange, Ntozake  Coretta Scott
32 pp.     HarperCollins/Amistad/Tegen     2009
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-125364-5
Library binding ISBN 978-0-06-125365-2

Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Shange’s spare, poetic text sketches the life of Coretta Scott King. The story begins with her childhood, when she had to walk five miles each way to school, then moves to her leadership role as partner to Martin Luther King Jr. in life and within the civil rights movement. Nelson’s gorgeous oil paintings capture the essence of the woman and her times.

Watkins, Angela Farris  Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Guiding Beliefs
32 pp.     Simon     2015
Trade ISBN 978-1-4169-8693-5

Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. Colorful mixed-media art illustrates Martin Luther King Jr.’s six guiding beliefs, focusing on peace-filled love over violence. Watkins, King’s niece, cites specific examples of victorious actions, including the desegregation of Montgomery, Alabama, buses and his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” explaining with “love and respect” the importance of the fight for equality. The foundation of King’s philosophy will resonate with all ages.

 

Intermediate

Bray, Rosemary L. and Zeldis, Malcah  Martin Luther King
48 pp.     Greenwillow     1995
Trade ISBN 0-688-13131-X
Paperback ISBN 0-688-13132-8

The brief, handsomely produced biography brings a significant era in American history to life for a new generation. The text is focused and sharp, filled with detail yet not overburdened with author commentary. Verbal descriptions are given visual power by the folk-art-style illustrations on the facing pages, pictures that add a larger-than-life quality suited to King’s impact on the twentieth century. Chronology appended.

Davis, Ossie  Just like Martin
217 pp.     Simon     1992
Trade ISBN 0-671-73202-1

Fourteen-year-old Isaac Stone greatly admires Martin Luther King, Jr., and is anxious to participate in the 1963 march on Washington with a group from his church, but his father feels differently and will not permit the boy to go. The novel, which delineates the difficulty of maintaining a nonviolent stance in the midst of violence, is an authentic voice of a troubled time in the history of America.

Haskins, James  The March on Washington
144 pp.     HarperCollins     1993
Trade ISBN 0-06-021289-6
Paperback ISBN 0-06-021290-X

Haskins provides a lucid, in-depth, and moving study of the 1963 March on Washington for jobs and freedom, illustrated with black-and-white photographs. Intriguing details about the logistics of organizing the march — such as transportation, food, and sanitary facilities for the more than 250,000 protesters — are also provided. Bib., ind.

Lewis, J. Patrick and Lyon, George Ella  Voices from the March on Washington
114 pp.     Boyds/Wordsong     2014
Trade ISBN 978-1-62091-785-5

Poets Lewis and Lyon here give voice to a cross-section of the 250,000 participants of the 1963 March on Washington: from first grader Ruby May Hollingsworth and Aki Kimura, a Japanese American sent to an internment camp during WWII, to Coretta Scott King. Many fine works on the civil rights movement are available; this adds the power of poetic imagination. Reading list, websites. Bib., ind.

Partridge, Elizabeth  Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary
72 pp.     Viking     2009
Trade ISBN 978-0-670-01189-6

Partridge writes about the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery from the viewpoint of children and teenagers who participated. Their recollections, culled largely from author interviews, perfectly balance and complement the information about the adults — Martin Luther King, George Wallace, Lyndon Johnson — that typically dominate historical accounts. The accompanying archival photographs have a moral impact as well as a visual one. Bib., ind.

 

Older

I See the Promised LandFlowers, Arthur  I See the Promised Land: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
156 pp.     Groundwood     2013
Trade ISBN 978-1-55498-328-5

Illustrated by Manu Chitrakar. This book uses an innovative design to blend African griot storytelling and folk art from India to create a bold graphic homage to Dr. King. The illustrations, drawn in the style of Patua scroll painters (a combination of sequential and performance art), recast the story with a distinctively Indian flair.

Freedman, Russell  Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America
83 pp.     Holiday     2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-8234-2921-9
Ebook ISBN 978-0-8234-3263-9

With characteristically clear prose sprinkled liberally with primary source quotes and carefully selected photographs, Freedman documents the historic 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march that sparked the passing of the Voting Rights Act, “the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement.” Freedman’s opening chapter is particularly effective because it focuses on the teachers’ march to the courthouse to register as a major trigger for the movement. Timeline. Bib., ind.

We've Got a JobLevinson, Cynthia  We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March
176 pp.     Peachtree     2012
Trade ISBN 978-1-56145-627-7

Levinson does a superb job demonstrating just how difficult it was for the leaders of the civil rights movement to create a movement at all. When adults didn’t take to the streets in great enough numbers, children volunteered. The narrative focuses on four young African Americans; clear and lively writing, well-chosen photos, and thorough documentation make this a fine chronicle of the era. Bib., ind.

Lewis, John and Aydin, Andrew  March: Book One
128 pp.     Top Shelf     2013
Trade ISBN 978-1-60309-300-2

Illustrated by Nate Powell. Congressman John Lewis — the last surviving member of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders — recounts his formative years in this first volume of a planned trilogy. The book opens on “Bloody Sunday” then fast-forwards to Barack Obama’s January 2009 inauguration. The volume is well designed and the story expertly paced. Powell re-creates the time period vividly through his emotion-filled black-and-white art. Don’t miss the second and (multiple award–winning) third volumes.

Lowery, Lynda Blackmon  Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March
127 pp.     Dial     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-8037-4123-2

Illustrated by PJ Loughran. As told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley. As a teenager, Lowery heard Dr. King speak out for black voting rights; was beaten on “Bloody Sunday”; and marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Lowery’s voice is consistently engaging and casual; period photos and boldly colored illustrations are integrated seamlessly into the design. An epilogue — “Why Voting Rights?” — explains the significance of the right to vote for African Americans.

Rubin, Susan Goldman  Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
120 pp.      Holiday      2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-8234-2920-2

With meticulous research and documentation, Rubin focuses broadly on Freedom Summer: the organizers, the volunteers, the voter registration drives, etc. She conducted many interviews, in person, by telephone, and by email, with people who were directly involved, and their firsthand accounts — along with copious archival black-and-white photographs — bring the events to life. Timeline, websites. Bib., ind.

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