Books that Teach My Young Daughters About Civil Rights

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On Monday, January 21st, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  On this national holiday, we remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not only for being a civil rights activist and for his “I have a Dream” speech, but we will also pay respect to his work as a minister and his message of friendship and love.

This day holds an extra special place in our family because my husband’s grandfather knew Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Because of this special acquaintance, we have stories and pictures handed down from family members of memories between the two men.

Raising biracial children with my African-American husband, civil rights issues are a common and important part of our family dialogue and daily life. And while these issues can seem well above my daughters’ current age levels, as children growing up in today’s world, they will certainly be exposed to injustice and inequality early on in their lives. Of course, I want my husband and me to be their first teachers and the ones who they turn to with all of their questions surrounding race, skin color, inequality, etc. I also want them to have a strong foundation of the history of civil rights work in this country. But as a mom, I have found that explaining big, important, complicated issues with my young daughters can be daunting. 

So how do you teach young children without confusing, scaring, or overwhelming them? 

One of my favorite ways is through stories. Both family memories, like the ones my husband’s family has handed down of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and with children’s story books. I’ve purposefully selected a library of story books for my daughters that deal with ideas of race, skin color, inequality, and civil rights. Some address these issues head-on, others more indirectly. This works well because it presents information in a way that is easily understood and retained. At their young ages, it is more appropriate to present the lessons through books and let them absorb the words and pictures. Service projects and community events are also important, but they are not something we can engage in every day. I love that these stories and the conversations they start are part of our daily life.

Some of our current favorites are:

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

What Was the March on Washington? by Kathleen Krull

 Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World by Vashti Harrison

The Rebel Girls Series byElena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo

I hope that you, too, take some time to honor and remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy on his special day. Anything that you do to celebrate the incredible civil rights activists who led the way and those who continue to lead our country towards the dream that Dr. King envisioned would be time well spent!


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As you check these books off your list, have your child color it in on this fun coloring sheet.

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1 COMMENT

  1. This is a thoughtful, meaningful perspective. It is often said that the appropriate MLK observance is to have a day on rather than take a day off. Stephanie clearly is on it. We derive confidence beyond words from knowing that our granddaughters are being so intelligently guided through their lives.

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