Books can be a wonderful way to honor our common humanity and celebrate the differences that make our communities vibrant. This week, we pause to reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and observe the Day of Racial Healing, observed every year on the Tuesday following Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Whether you’re looking to introduce a young reader to the March on Washington or you want to better understand racial divisions in America, Bucks County Free Library has plenty of options.
You can download even more books on the Racial Justice shelf in cloudLibrary.
Books for Teens and Adults
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
This bestselling book examines the invisible system that shapes American lives today. Through deeply researched narratives and stories about real people, Isabel Wilkerson traces the rigid hierarchy that goes beyond race, class, and other factors.
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
An expert on housing policy explains how laws and policies passed by local, state, and federal governments established the discriminatory housing issues we face today. From explicit racial zoning in the 1920s to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, this extensively researched book chronicles decades of American history and helps illuminate today’s housing landscape.
Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor, and the Battle over Civil Rights by Steven Levingston
This book follows the rise of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Though they came from different backgrounds, both men had a profound impact on civil rights in the early 1960s – and on each other. Kennedy’s reluctance to champion civil rights spurred King’s work, and King ultimately helped Kennedy see the need for a moral commitment to racial equality.
Nine Days: The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Win the 1960 Election by Stephen Kendrick
Barack Obama called this book “a story of overlooked heroes and the power each of us has to create change.” Just weeks before the 1960 presidential election, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested during a sit-in in Atlanta. This book tells the story of how the two Presidential candidates (John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon) raced to decide whether and how to respond. In a move that helped send Kennedy to the White House, three of his staffers worked to free King from jail and may have saved his life in the process.
A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis
An incisive dissection of the parts of civil rights history that have been overused, watered down, or turned into myth. Award-winning historian Jeanne Theoharis discusses how the civil rights movement was actually opposed by a majority of Americans, and progress on civil rights was by no means inevitable. Instead, a wide range of people, especially women and young people, organized and stood together in the face of uncertainty.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
This book – adapted from the adult version called Stamped from the Beginning – helps young people understand the history of racist ideas in America and the hope of an antiracist future. The book is more relatable and paced for readers of young adult books.
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather C. McGhee
Economy expert Heather McGhee chronicles how economic crises – from the 2008 financial crisis to student debt – have common roots in racism. People of every race and walk of life are affected, reducing everyone’s access to good schools and parks, workplace protections, living wages, affordable healthcare and more.
The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. by Peniel E. Joseph
This dual biography challenges the typical “sword and shield” dynamic between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. While King’s nonviolent action tends to be remembered and championed as a key to democracy, the militant branches of the civil rights movement are usually vilified or entirely forgotten. This book takes a nuanced look at the methods used by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and explores how they challenged and inspired each other.
Books for Kids
Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
Reading age: 1-3 years
Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist, shares nine easy steps parents can take to help uproot racism in our society and our families.
Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller
Reading age: 4-7
Aria loves that her hair “grows up toward the sun like a flower.” But people keep trying to touch her hair, without even asking for permission. She resolves to set limits and speak up for herself, which helps her feel respected and in control of herself and her body.
Dream March: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Reading age: 5-8
This inspiring book is a great way to introduce your elementary student to Martin Luther King Jr. The narrative takes place during the March on Washington in the summer of 1963 and helps children understand King as a leader and the March on Washington.
Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Reading age: 6-10
Frustrated by a day full of teachers and classmates mispronouncing her beautiful name, a little girl tells her mother she never wants to come back to school. In response, the girl’s mother teaches her about the musicality of African, Asian, Black American, Latinx and Middle Eastern names on their walk home.
A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein
Reading age: 7-10
When asked if he struggled to begin speeches, Martin Luther King Jr. replied that he had no trouble beginning. Endings, though, were much harder. “It’s terrible to be circling up there without a place to land,” he said. The night before delivering his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, King and his writers were unsure how to end the speech. This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of how King finally found his place to land.
Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Reading age: 9-12
This collection of lyrical “docu-poems” chronicles the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr. The poems – written by Andrea Davis Pinkney – are accompanied by atmospheric, gentle paintings by her husband, Brian Pinkney.
What is the Civil Rights Movement? by Sherri L. Smith
Reading age: 9-12
For a broader understanding of Martin Luther King Jr.’s impact, try this title from the popular “What Was?” series. The book explores various events from the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, using the words and stories of people who led the charge.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Reading age: 10-13
Six children with different family struggles are sent to their school’s art room for a weekly conversation. This middle-grade novel touches on many aspects of injustices that people of color face and lends itself to adults talking to young readers about racism.