The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is as powerful as ever in today’s tense social and political climate.

He remains among the most revered figures in American history, and for the past 25 years on the third Monday in January, we have been called to celebrate the MLK Day of Service as a day on rather than a day off.

Use the following books to help encourage children in elementary and middle school to stand up for what is right this month and beyond.


“Martin Rising: Requiem for a King” (Scholastic, 2018), by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

The breathtaking art and poetry in this book help flesh out MLK as a person and as a revolutionary, focusing on the last months of his life, the Memphis Sanitation Strike and colorful input from Henny Penny who acts as an all-knowing metaphor for the future.

The poems work together to create an ethereal, spiritual account of a pivotal time in American history and the vibrant illustrations tie everything together in a way that allows readers to trek through the heftiness of the time without feeling overwhelmed. Timelines, author and illustrator reflections and historical notes in the back of the book help add context and clarity to the events covered in the book. Martin Rising is a masterfully illustrated book of poems that can inform and inspire in equal turns — don’t miss it.

For more exploration of the Civil Rights movement, try “Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968,” by Alice Faye Duncan and R. Gregory Christie; and “Brown Girl Dreaming,” by Jacqueline Woodson.


“A Good Kind of Trouble” (Balzer + Bray, 2019), by Lisa Moore Ramee

Middle school is full of unexpected challenges and opportunities to get into trouble — and there is nothing Shay hates more than trouble.

Not only does she have to suddenly worry about her group of friends falling apart and an influx of boy drama, Shay also has more serious concerns. Like, why do some people think she isn’t “black enough” just because her friends aren’t black? Why does she feel so nervous all the time? And why doesn’t everyone understand that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t mean that nobody else’s lives matter, too?

Set against the backdrop of an upsetting news cycle about an unarmed black man getting shot and the subsequent trial, Shay’s story is about the growing up and learning when it’s OK to get into a little bit of trouble.

For more books about standing up for what you believe in, try “The First Rule of Punk,” by Celia C. Perez; and “Front Desk,” by Kelly Yang.


“My Brigadista Year” (Candlewick Press, 2017), by Katherine Paterson

It’s 1961, and Cuba is facing a literacy crisis. When 13-year-old Lora hears that Fidel Castro is forming an army of volunteers to help improve the crisis, she decides to turn her life upside down and join.

Her parents don’t support her decision, especially because it means that Lora must leave home for an entire year. Despite her parents’ disapproval, Lora is determined to help her country. She gets trained to teach grown-ups how to read and write, then gets placed to live with a family on their farm.

Though the year is full of challenges, danger and change, Lora enjoys teaching and getting to know new people. She ends her year knowing that she did everything she could to help make a difference. Though Lora’s story is fictional, it is based on true events in history and proves to readers that you can never be too young to volunteer to help improve the world around you.

For more stories about kids volunteering, check out “A Kind of Paradise,” by Amy Rebecca Tan; and “Lety Out Loud,” by Angela Cervantes.

Celebrate this MLK Day of Service by talking to the children in your life about ways they can help spread positivity, and remember that we all have the power to help change the world.

Stop in to your local library to check out these and other great materials and services for all ages.

Keimig works in the youth services department of the Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque. Email her at