If we’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s that paying lip service to equality, simply quoting civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on his holiday, is not enough to set things right in this world. This year’s MLK Day most definitely cannot just be another day off for our children. It’s up to grownups to equip kids with information, aided by some excellent children’s books about Dr. King and his legacy, and have age-appropriate conversations about race and equality.
Many American kids learn about Martin Luther King Jr. the same way: a lesson on the “I have a dream” speech and a day off school. As with the upcoming Black History Month, it’s an event non-Black parents (especially white parents) sometimes even ignore. A common piece of advice for white parents wanting to do better? Racism and race — in America especially — need to be an ongoing topic of conversation with kids, not just something discussed once a year. And even if your family regularly discusses civil rights struggles, both past and present, MLK Day is still a great opportunity to honor King’s legacy through acts of service and education.
Books on civil rights and Dr. King can range from bland narratives about acceptance (you know, the ones that lazily imply that the fight for equal rights is somehow over) to truly powerful and evocative books that wrestle with the bigger questions. Many children’s book authors and illustrators have masterfully found ways to balance age-appropriateness with honesty; you just have to know where to look.
One source for parents looking for fantastic new books is Goodreads, the social networking site for book lovers. Here, readers can create lists of books they want to read as well as rate and review completed books. Finding out what teachers and parents have already enjoyed (and why) is a wonderful way to find engaging books around a topic. In honor of MLK Day, we asked Goodreads’ editors to share with us some of the best and most popular books on the site about Dr. King and civil rights.
None of these books offer simple, feel-good stories. Instead, they all are wonderful jumping-off points for parents and children to talk and learn together on MLK Day — and throughout the year.
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