How to Talk to Your Kids About Martin Luther King Jr.

Share these poignant books to open conversations about the life and legacy of Dr. King.

Feb 06, 2024



How to Talk to Your Kids About Martin Luther King Jr.

Feb 06, 2024

You can grow your child’s understanding of the world around them by talking to your children about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Conversations about Dr. King, as well as the civil rights movement as a whole, can start at a young age.  Dr. King’s life, work, and legacy, along those of his wife, Coretta Scott King and their children and grandchildren, ripple through our lives today. 

These conversations aren’t always easy.  

“The questions his actions, and especially his death, elicit can be tricky to navigate,” says author and editor Denene Millner. “How, after all, do you explain to a child who is constantly told to follow the rules that Dr. King was right when he chose to break federal law and encouraged others to do the same? And what words can you draw upon to help young minds wrap themselves around the kind of hate it took to kill Dr. King, who simply wanted our country to treat all of its citizens equally?”

Plus, speaking about about complex topics like race and discrimination with your children can be challenging, and Dr. King's story can feel part of the past. 

“Dr. King is almost a fictional historical character to many young people,” says Tarana Burke, the former associate director of the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama, and the director of Just BE, Inc., a nonprofit that benefits teen girls. “They don't get that they are (in many cases) one generation away from him and that they are directly affected by some of the gains he and others like him fought to achieve.”

Reading books about Dr. King, and speaking frankly about the discrimination he faced and worked to dismantle, can make it easier to talk about these tough topics together. 

And there’s also a personal side to consider. Dr. King wasn’t only a civil rights leader and activist — he was also a reverend, a father, a son, a brother, and a friend who touched many lives. Help your child get to know Dr. King as a leader and multifaceted person through books written by historians, admirers, and those who knew him best. 

Use Books to Open Conversations 

For example, We Dream a World is a beautiful ode to Dr. King and his wife, fellow civil rights leader, activist, and author Coretta Scott King, written by their granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King. This stirring tribute for kids in Pre-K-3 takes inspiration from the poetry of Langston Hughes and gives young readers the courage to dream of a better future for all, and the inspiration to carry their ancestors’ legacy while forging their own path. 

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King, a picture book for kids in grades 1-3, uses Dr. King’s words from his speeches to paint a picture of the man he was. Using his own quotes and eye-catching illustrations, this title tells his life story in a way kids can relate to and understand. 

In Martin Rising, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney celebrate Dr. King’s life by weaving a rich tapestry of the last few months of King’s life through lyrical poetry and exquisite illustrations. 

Perfect for children in grades 4-7, Martin Rising will inspire kids to make the world a better place every day, and to be courageous in standing up for themselves and for others.

Shop these books and more about the life and legacy of  Martin Luther King Jr. below. You can find all books and activities at The Scholastic Store

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