Early Childhood Teacher

My Five Favorite Books for Explaining The Civil Rights Era to Children


©2017 E. R. Smith All Rights Reserved

Today, Monday, January 16; marks our nations recognition of the slain civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  In our home and whenever I work with children I pull out my five best books for discussing the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s role in changing America’s oppressive history.

Martin’s Big Words By Doreen Rappaport  is a reflective story showcasing the South at a time where posted signs such as White Only helped to form the words Martin used when he spoke to America.  Artist Bryan Collier’s mixed medium work draws you in.  My personal favorite is of  a working man walking past rows of parked buses.  The quote, “When the history books are written, someone will say there lived black people who had the courage to stand up for their rights.”  This is telling of the need for unity to affect change.


My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris  reminds me of growing up as the big sister, and trying to make sense of the world. I remember our parents explaining some hard truths about our community to us at a young age as well. Artist Chris Soentpiet pronounced (soon-pete) has the gift for making paintings look like snapshots, vibrant, clear, current.


Happy Birthday Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo is a short biography of Dr. King’s life and times.  Artist Brian Pinkney’s work looks like engravings on a page that can almost move.  There is a Foreword for parents and teachers to help them to explain dying, shot, and death to young children.  I think children do better when discussing dramatic events like 9/11 with those they love and trust.


I Have A Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gives vision to this iconic speech.  Fifteen artists lend a hand to illustrate words we rarely hear, when bits of these thoughts are publicized on tv and radio.  My favorite pages are 12-13, and the words “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir…”  Below is my favorite painting.


The Day Martin Luther King, Jr., Was Shot:  A Photo History of the Civil Rights Movement by Jim Haskins is geared for older students 4th-7th grade, but I have used it with kindergartens as a picture walk.  Then yearly as a continual reflection on a past not yet fully dealt with.  This book spans the subject of slavery in colonial times and works forward to the 1960’s to give a deeper insight into the history of black people in America.  It is an important informational text to have on hand at home.

The Day Martin Luther King Jr. Was Shot: A Photo History of the Civil Rights Movement: This book is a very good guide for elementary to middle school students. It’s photos show a vivid history of black Americans from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement.

Black history month is on the horizon.  Keep the reading going.  There is so much to know about the past, that would explain where we are today.


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