KidLit: Celebrating Diversity and Social Justice on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Alli Brydon, a children’s book editor and writer based in the New York City—and a friend from the time we both worked at the same publishing house there—has generously agreed to be a guest contributor and help us expand our childrens’-book libraries. I hope you will enjoy her company as much as I do. 

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and what better way to begin to learn about the struggles and shining achievements of African Americans than through children’s books. There is a huge push for diversity in children’s literature right now, through much-needed movements like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #pocinpub (please check them out!)—but this is only very recent. Reading books about Martin Luther King, Jr. with my kids reminds me of how far we still need to go.

With many of us looking for more diversity and social justice for our kids’ book collections, these amazing titles will set you off on the right path. I hope you’ll seek out these books and make them perennials in your libraries…

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King. Just published at the “rising” of the new year, a book of verse by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney. The Pinkneys are children’s book royalty, they are outstanding, and they never ever disappoint! (For ages 9 – 12)

I Have a Dream, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kadir Nelson. This illustrated edition of Dr. King’s most famous speech is absolutely jaw-dropping, with award-winning artist Kadir Nelson’s realistic-style paintings. It also comes with a CD of the speech! (For ages 5+)

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison. This remarkable debut came out late last year, and shines a light on the stories of 40 amazing Black American female scientists, artists, writers, politicians, and more. (For ages 6 – 8)

I am Martin Luther King, Jr. (Ordinary People Change the World). An important entry in a great biography series, which also features notable figures Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson. A great one for graphic novel and comic lovers by Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos. (For ages 5 – 8)

Martin’s Dream (Ready-to-Read), by Jane Kurtz and Amy June Bates. MLK’s story is conveyed in a very accessible way in this level 1 beginning reader, and is told in a lyrical, rhyming fashion so it’s also satisfying to read out loud. (For ages 4 – 6)

You Should Meet… Misty Copeland, Mae Jemison, Katherine Johnson, Jesse Owens, by various authors. This same early reader series as above (Ready-to-Read) has recently branched out with this mini-series of wonderful biographies about trailblazing African Americans in recent history. For more advanced readers, as they are all level 3s. (For ages 6 – 8)

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race. For fans of the film, based on the #1 New York Times bestseller, there is a Hidden Figures picture book (cool!), by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman, out tomorrow! (For ages 4 – 8)

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream and You. Just published a couple of weeks ago by one of my favorite authors, Carole Boston Weatherford, with gorgeous illustrations by James E. Ransome. An award-winning team brings the spirit of social activism to young readers and empowers them to continue the fight. The best kind of biography, and one that Dr. King would likely have encouraged. (For ages 4 – 8)

Do you have any favorites to add?

Alli Brydon is a children’s book editor and writer based in the New York City area. With nearly 15 years of experience developing, editing, and selling children’s books with US publishing houses, she has spent a large part of her career nurturing writers and illustrators to reach their potential. Having worked both as an acquiring editor and as an agent for children’s book author/illustrators, Alli has a unique blend of skills and an insider’s view of the industry. If you love reading kidlit and/or are curious about writing your own, please drop in at to learn more, sign up to receive her blog posts by email, or just say “hi!”

[Lead image from Be A King, illustration by James E. Ransome; all other cover images from their respective links]

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