Beyond “I Have A Dream”: Talking to Kids about MLK, Jr.

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READING TIME: 5 min.

Often when teaching about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is easy to simply discuss his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” However, I want to challenge you this month to dig a bit deeper. If you teach the topics and issues surrounding the life and legacy of MLK, you will definitely shape how children interact with each other for the better.

As teachers and parents, we have a duty to teach the importance of respect for all mankind. We must teach our children to know their identity and respect others despite differences.

Remember, being a world changer starts with character—integrity, honesty, courage, loyalty, and fortitude. To help us out with this, I have put together a list of resources and books. Picture books are not just for elementary school!

kids books about MLK from the library

Teaching World Perspective with Picture Books

We March by Shane W. Evans

On August 28, 1963, 250,000 people gathered at the nation’s capital to stand with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The March on Washington was for jobs and freedom. It was on this day that MLK, Jr., gave the historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Shane W. Evans uses this event to write about how everyday people participated in the march.

Teaching Activities

  • Use story maps to discuss the elements of the story.
  • Use the illustrations to make inferences about character traits and emotion.
  • This book is perfect for early readers. They can read along with you or repeat the sentence after you read it.
child happily reading we march, kids books about MLK
This book is my 2-year-old’s favorite. She loves to stomp around and yell…”We march!”

I am Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer

As a child, MLK, Jr., could see how unfair African Americans were treated. He was inspired to change that. This story is relatable and a perfect read-a-loud for all ages.

This series of books inspired the PBS kids show Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum, an animated series about historical figures and how they came to be world changers. I love how each story starts with a way for children to relate to the individual.

Teaching Activities

  • Discuss what makes a hero.
  • Make a timeline of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, life.
  • Compare and contrast: In what ways are you and Martin similar?
  • Define true friendship.
  • Writing prompt idea: Who are you and what do you stand for?

Let The Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

“Courage walked by my side and kept me going.” I had to share that line from the book. Could you imagine our children taking on the dangers of a march for freedom? Knowing that they could possibly be attacked by dogs, sprayed with a water hose, or worse…beaten.

Something very impactful happens when a child can see themselves in a story. I believe the courage it takes to stand up for all mankind is not reserved for adults only.

Teaching Activities

  • Figurative language
  • Discuss Jim Crow from a child’s perspective. Think about your everyday life, how would the Jim Crow Laws affect you today? 
  • This is a great book to use to introduce John F. Kennedy’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Compare and contrast Ruby Bridges and the children from the story.
child reading the green book, how to teach kids about mlk
Reading Ruth and The Green Book before bedtime. Snuggle your teddy bear close with this one.

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey

Try traveling without a GPS or your smart phone and you probably won’t make it far. Ruth and her family want to take a trip from Chicago to Alabama. It doesn’t sound like a bad trip, right? That is, as long as you can stop anywhere for gas and/or a hotel. Sadly, Black travelers could not easily stop at many places. That’s where the Green Book comes in

Although this is a fictional story, the role of the Green Book is historical fact. Using this book, Ruth and her family are able to travel safely to Alabama.

Teaching Activities

  • Compare and contrast the differences between Chicago and Alabama in the 1950’s.
  • Discuss feeling unwanted, allowing readers to relate to the narrator.
  • Discuss kindness and maybe even write out a list of kind things to help those around you.

This book will be extra special if you have a brown teddy bear to snuggle with.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan

The illustrations in this book are very impactful. Tensions are high by 1968 and America is at its tipping point. The story starts with Lorraine and her family fighting for equal rights and safer working conditions. By the end of the book, change is on the horizon, but the death of MLK, Jr., will forever change those in the fight.

Recommended for your more mature reader/audience. However, if you are reading it with young children, give them time with each section to discuss the titles and language. You could make a timeline or foldable to help them connect to the events as they unfold.

Teaching Activities

  • Figurative language
  • First person point of view
  • What was the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968?
  • Teaching Books has a ton of resources for this book!

Listen to the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK library books, kids books about MLK
Librarians are magical! Check out your local library for more great titles. The list is truly endless.

BONUS LIST

Here are a few more awesome titles. I am sure you can find these at your local library; however, I have provided Amazon links as well:

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

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris

Martin Luther King Jr. by Josh Gregory

Skin Again by bell hooks

My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris

Martin and Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brain Pinkney

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