Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Through Literature

Students can learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. through these literature selections.

By Andrea Ferrero

Martin Luther Literature

The words, vision and life of Martin Luther King Jr. have had a tremendous impact on history, culture, and society. He is a recognized figure across the globe, and the youngest man to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Each year, we take the third Monday of January to remember and honor his life and work. Exploring literature is a wonderful way to introduce and investigate his published works and biographies. There are also a wealth of titles focused on the relevant themes of nonviolent activism and the civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. Reading List

Sharing the titles below is a great way to introduce this topic in any classroom. I have found picture books to be strong tools to explore topics with all ages from kindergarten to high school.

  • Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport

This beautifully illustrated picture book is a wonderful way to explore the words and ideas of Martin Luther King Jr. Its appealing layout and use of Dr. King’s words bring the narrative to life for all ages.

The narrator of this evocative tale takes the reader through a dream, exploring the life of Martin Luther King Jr. The dream flows and moves throughout the years of King’s life ending with the timeless expression, “every good thing starts with a dream” (Ringgold, 1998).

  • I Have a Dream; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., introduction by Coretta Scott King

Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, I Have a Dream is magnificently illustrated in this book. It presents his words along with commentary giving context to the Civil Rights Movement.

  • Dear Dr. King: Letters from Today's Children to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Jan Colbert and Ann McMillan Harms   

The product of collaboration between a Memphis schoolteacher and parent this book is a compilation of letters from children aged 6-12 to Dr. King. The honest and insightful letters share student’s personal perspectives on relevant issues as well as pose questions.

  • Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, by Jean Marzollo

This student-friendly picture book is a great way to introduce Dr. King and his impact on the world to younger readers. 

Activities to Reflect and Extend on Readings 

Web Activities: Explore fun web games and tools that focus on MLK.

  • Time Warp Martin Luther King Jr. – This interactive timeline allows players to explore the events and quotes from MLK’s life. 
  • Research Tool- This research tool provides access to student -friendly archived articles, historical documents and biographical information. 

Letters to MLK: Give students the chance to pen their own letter to MLK. Letters could share personal experiences and reflections or questions. 

More Martin Luther King Jr. Lessons:

Contributions that Martin Luther King Jr. Made to Society

After watching a video version of the book, Martin's Big Words, the class launches into a reflective discussion using provided questions. In order to check for understanding a worksheet and answer key are attached. 

Reading Martin’s Big Words, A Reading Guide

This thorough reading guide walks through the process of introducing the book, and exploring extension activities. Students compare and contrast the characters from the book to their historical counterparts’ biographical information. After reviewing a timeline of the events depicted in the story, students create timelines of important events in their lives. 

Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Full of linked resources, this BrainPop lesson begins with a challenge quiz to test students' knowledge of Martin Luther King Jr. They retake the quiz after watching a  short animated movie about Dr. King's life and work. The lesson culminates in a creative writing assignment to honor a hero from their lives.