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Books for Martin Luther King Day 2018

Perhaps now more than ever, Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides an opportunity to reflect not only on the life of the great civil rights leader, but also on how far we’ve come — and how very far we still have to go.

Below is an updated list of recommended books about Dr. King’s life and legacy (all reviewed and recommended at the time of their publication by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide). For more books on the civil rights movement, click here; also visit our Making a Difference and Talking About Race landing pages. Watch Roger’s video Talks with Roger interview with Andrea Davis Pinkney about the forthcoming Martin Rising: Requiem for a King, illustrated by Brian Pinkney and reviewed in an upcoming issue of the Magazine.


my brother martinOf the many stories about Dr. King, none is as personal and revealing as My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a memoir-tribute by his older sister Christine King Farris. 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 Chris Soentpiet’s realistic illustrations, the placement of the precise text, and the oversize format make this a dramatic contribution. A poetic tribute by Mildred D. Johnson, an afterword, and an illustrator’s note are included. (Simon & Schuster, 2003)

watkins_love will see you throughIn Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Guiding Beliefs, Angela Farris Watkins, King’s niece, explores his six guiding principles. Watkins cites specific examples of victorious actions, including the desegregation of Alabama buses and his famous “Letters from the Birmingham Jail,” explaining with “love and respect” the importance of the fight for equality.The foundation of King’s philosophy, illustrated with colorful mixed-media art by Sally Wern Comport, will resonate with all ages. (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

My Uncle Martin's Words for AmericaWatkins shares her own memories of Dr. King and provides background on the civil rights movement in My Uncle Martin’s Words for America. Her text incorporates King’s own words and explains them in context (“Uncle Martin said, ‘Let justice roll down like waters.’ He meant that everyone should be treated fairly”). Eric Velasquez’s illustrations include close-up portraits and crowd scenes, all conveying the movement’s scope. (Abrams, 2011)

martin's big wordsThe text of Doreen Rappaport’s Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 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 Bryan Collier‘s breathtaking collage illustrations. A chronology and informative notes from author and illustrator are appended. (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 2001)

michelson_as good as anybodyAbraham 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 As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson, readers first meet King as a young boy, then Heschel; their shared story later unfolds. Raul Colón portrays the two leaders in swirling, textured colored-pencil and watercolor illustrations. (Knopf, 2003)

pinkney_martin & mahaliaAndrea Davis Pinkney‘s Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song relates the way “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 of Brian Pinkney‘s illustrations, while words from both King and singer Jackson provide context for the uplifting text. Notes from the author and illustrator and a discography are appended. (Little, Brown, 2013)

carson_what was your dream, dr. kingMary Kay Carson’s What Was Your Dream, Dr. King?: And Other Questions About Martin Luther King Jr. [Good Question! series] uses a question-and-answer format to relate the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to the civil rights movement. Brief but sufficient explanations are given to questions related to segregation, nonviolent protests, the March on Washington, the importance of Dr. King’s philosophy, his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, and his assassination. Illustrations by Jim Madsen accompany the insightful text. (Sterling, 2013)

bunting_cart that carried martinAt 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 reflects Dr. King’s great work and legacy. Eve Bunting’s simple, poetic prose in The Cart that Carried Martin follows the cart’s slow, sad procession; Don Tate’s somber, handsome gouache illustrations are a perfect accompaniment. (Charlesbridge 2013)

From childhood anecdotes through the March on Washington, the scope of King’s struggles and accomplishments is conveyed in Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series entry I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. 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 by Christopher Eliopoulos with occasional comics-style frames. Photos are appended. Reading list, timeline. Bib. (Dial, 2016)

Martin’s Dream Day by Kitty Kelley pulls back the curtain on the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, using iconic documentary images by photojournalist Stanley Tretick to show MLK, other civil rights leaders, and ordinary citizens on the historic day from a new, you-are-there angle. Candids, panoramas, negatives, and portraits are among the photo types that help tell the story alongside the well-written text. Websites. (Atheneum, 2017)

mcnamara_martin luther king jr. dayWhile learning about Martin Luther King Jr., Mrs. Connor’s first graders illustrate their own dreams to make the world a better place: no more fighting, a clean planet, everyone having fun. Margaret McNamara’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day [Ready-to-Read: Robin Hill School series] is a simple and age-appropriate introduction to Martin Luther King Jr. Day for beginning readers (though no substantial details about MLK are provided). Mike Gordon’s warm cartoons show the kids’ great aspirations. (Simon/Aladdin, 2007)




i have a dreamKadir Nelson brings to life Dr. King’s famous speech in the superlative oil paintings of I Have a Dream. 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 and an accompanying CD allows readers to hear the speech themselves. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2012)



I See the Promised LandArthur Flowers’s I See the Promised Land: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. uses an innovative design to blend African griot storytelling and folk art from India to create a bold graphic homage to Dr. King for young adults. Manu Chitrakar’s illustrations, drawn in the style of Patua scroll painters (a combination of sequential and performance art), recast the story with a distinctively Indian flair. There is a creative symbiosis between the seemingly disparate elements, which reminds us that the civil rights movement is but one chapter in the story of global human rights. (Groundwood, 2013)

Black seventeen-year-old Justyce, the protagonist of Nic Stone’s YA debut Dear Martin, experiences police violence and his prep school classmates assume his Yale acceptance is because of affirmative action, yet his neighbors call him a “race-traitor.” Justyce’s letters to Martin Luther King Jr., alternating with the main narrative, are an effective device: what would Dr. King think about recent headlines that inspired the novel? Stone avoids easy resolutions and lets hope reside in unexpected places. (Crown, 2017)


lewis_voices from the march on washingtonIn Voices from the March on Washington, poets J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon 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. (Boyds Mills/Wordsong, 2014)

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