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Top Picks to Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & the Movement of Which He Was Part

This year, I've taken January as a reflective month -- a time to plan, read, discuss, and think deeply about Reading Is Resistance as a practice. I've been trying to hibernate a bit and slow down. But a recent inundation of emails from teacher and parenting friends wondering what they should do about the upcoming Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday nudged me into temporary activation. My house and classroom are locations where Black history, Black present, and Black futures are all often discussed, celebrated, read about. It's something my partner and I have built into our lives in an organic but intentional way. I hold the belief that honoring Dr. King and movements for Black Lives (among other liberatory movements) should be discussed, read about, and participated in daily.

The way I have experienced this particular holiday as a teacher is with some duality: a holiday like that dedicated to Dr. King's birthday can be a beautiful celebration of long-term commitment and community togetherness OR it can be given lip service, but not real service. This holiday is about more than one man; it is rooted in big important life practices like anti-racism, liberation, collective action, and more.

The other thing that I have awareness of is the tendency in the U.S. to get really excited about uplifting exceptional individuals and to ignore collective movements. In the case of Dr. King, we can see this in the way his story is sometimes told. When Dr. King is talked about as a sole exceptional leader (as exceptional as he actually was), we lose sight of the way real change happens -- over time, often slowly, with lots of people playing many different roles. This can create a narrative that does not serve us. It can create a belief that there is no place for us in the continued movement. And that is not so...

Because of all of this thinking, these book recommendations are linked to Dr. King but are good to read any time, any day, any moment. Here are my recommended reads for this year's MLK holiday and well beyond. The four picture books that I've chosen to highlight are books that I hope you'll read together in sequence.

BOOK 1: Be a King by Carole Boston Weatherford and James E. Ransome

This beautiful picture book is all about bringing history and the present together. Throughout this book, we see snapshots of historical moments followed by scenes of a present-day class of students learning to act on the values exemplified by Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Why do I like this book? It gives a lot of space for self-reflection; it calls us to action (rather than just admiration of Dr. King), and it gives lots of examples via pictures and words of folx working together.

I'm actually creating a Reading Guide on this book right now, but I got so deep into it that it might not be out until later in the week!


BOOK 2: The Rabbi and the Reverend:Joachim Prinz, Martin Luther King Jr., and Their Fight against Silence

This history book popped up in a book list about cross cultural solidarity, and I knew that I needed it. There are very few books that highlight the way folx work across different identity groups for collective liberation, but this is one! This book follows both leaders (Rabbi Prinz and Reverend King) from their childhoods through their marching and speaking side by side at the March on Washington. What I really appreciate about this book is that it showcases the roots of both activists' values and actions and also shows the importance of being in community as we fight for what's right.


BOOK 3: Breonna Marches Through Time by Daveena Kenny, Shatyia Givens, Jocktavious Montford, Geralyn Hooks, and Anthony White

Shout Mouse Press is one of my favorite publishers. They work to publish youth voices on topics that impact them in community. And this is the book that hooked me on their books: Breonna Marches Through Time. It’s the summer of 2020 and Breonna, an 8-year-old Black girl living in Washington DC, is not having her usual summer full of community fun and ice cream. Instead, her family is sticking close to home as they watch tensions and protests between protestors for Black Lives and police.

What else makes her summer a little bit unusual? Breonna finds that she can time travel, first visiting the 1955 sit-ins led by teacher Clara Luper and her 8-year-old-daughter Marilyn Luper Hildreth and then visiting a possible future of what may happen without current and past Black rights movements. Both time travel experiences inspire Breonna to take a leadership role in the movement for Black Lives happening now.

Time travel fiction gives the characters and the reader an opportunity to imagine their own timeline anew, to get direct inspiration from the past, and to be forewarned by possible futures. This book is no exception. Breonna is able to connect back to a legacy of young Black leaders in the movement for racial justice and to activate her own voice in a new way by seeing her own family as an integral part of the movement in the present and future. Activating young readers’ imaginations around seeing themselves in history and understanding their connectivity is a powerful step in raising young revolutionaries.

BOOK 4: Someday Is Now by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovichand Jade Johnson

Once I read Breonna Marches Through Time, I was curious to learn more about Marilyn Luper and her mom Clara Luper, and I found this book gem. Someday Is Now is about Clara Luper, an educator/activist who, with her students and other community members, initiated the Oklahoma City Sit-In protests in 1958. She and her students sat in at the counter of Katz Drug Store in protest of segregationist laws. Digging back into history to learn more about this amazing teacher, her daughter, and the students who fought side by side is such a good example of what it has to look like to make change -- we gather our students, our teachers, our bus drivers, our neighbors -- and we do this together.


For older kiddos, here are a few recommendations to dive into after the picture books:

  • Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round: My Story of the Making of Martin Luther King Day by Kathlyn J. Kirkwood and Steffi Walthall

  • The March graphic novel series by John Lewis, Nate Powell, and Andrew Aydin

  • Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

  • A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

Order from our Bookshop HERE.


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