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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Five Books for Middle Grade Classrooms



Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is often part of any teacher's January classroom studies. We look forward to a long weekend and plan to show a movie or read aloud a book the Friday before that explains why we have the day off. Is that enough? Are we really honoring a civil rights icon by giving him 30 to 45 minutes a year? I don't think we are. 

The Challenge

Dr. King's legacy is too big to fit into a 45-minute time slot. If we want our students to really understand the weight of his work, we need to devote more time to teach them about it. For me, that means teaching across content areas. It looks like close reading about Dr. King's life during Reader's Workshop. It sounds like students discussing civil rights and peaceful protests during Social Studies. Maybe students are writing word problems using a timeline of his life's events. Maybe you find a reader's theater about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and perform for your grade level. These lessons are all-encompassing because we want to stress the importance of his legacy. 

Is it time-consuming for the teacher? Absolutely. But the IMPACT of lessons like these outweighs any frustration we might feel because we spend a little longer teaching our students about his life. 

  

The Books

By the time students arrive in my classroom, they've read Martin's Big Words and seen Our Friend Martin about 1,000,000 times. They are usually aware that Dr. King delivered an important speech. They know he worked to make sure people had equal rights. My job as their 5th-grade teacher was to build on what they knew and apply it to the world they live in. I was not always good at this. I still have a lot to learn. BUT - When we know better, we do better. 

I started by bringing in new books and new lessons. We had conversations about social justice issues, including whether or not our schools are truly segregated. I let them draw their own conclusions, but the most important piece for me was letting them read, teach, and explore. 

Today I'm sharing the titles we loved the most. I hope you'll find something here to use in your own classroom! (Full disclosure: There are affiliate links below to the titles I love. This means I get a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

1. I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kadir Nelson


I love anything Kadir Nelson illustrates. When I saw that he had illustrated Dr. King's speech, it was a no-brainer to add this to my classroom library. 

2. Love Will See You Through by Anna Farris Watkins


This title comes from Martin's niece, Anna. She draws from her own experiences with her "Uncle ML" to teach students his six guiding principles of integrity and nonviolence.


I've found that I really love the books by Dr. King's family members the most. My class really loved this title. I think it made him more relatable, as it detailed his actions and emotions throughout the day of the March on Washington.



I created a Social Studies Pop-Up to go along with it. It helped me teach across content areas for the week leading up to MLK Day. I came back to it later in the year when we looked specifically at Dr. King and his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement

4. Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? by Bonnie Bader


Do your kids love this series as much as mine? Last year we called them the "big head books" 😂 and now that's all I can call them. What I love about the "big head books" is how accessible they are for a variety of readers. There is just enough visual support to keep students motivated, without making them feel like they are reading a book meant for a younger audience.

5. Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford


The author draws lots of parallels between Dr. King's life and the world our students know. It is beautifully written and the perfect read aloud to celebrate his legacy. I'm adding it to my "to-do" list for future Social Studies Pop-Ups for sure!

If I've missed a title you think I should know about, make sure to leave it in the comments. Pin this post as well so you'll have it for many Januarys to come!


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