Eight Books to Raise Children's Awareness of Civil Rights

The struggle for civil rights and racial equality in the U.S. during the 1950s and 60s is important for children to learn about. But milestones in The Civil Rights Movement often involved violence, so you’ll want to find age-appropriate books that tell the story. The best titles will also spark your child’s interest in learning more.

Here’s a list of eight titles in two age groups that shed light on important people and issues from the movement. Pick them up for read-aloud time or to recommend to independent readers.

AGES 5-8
  We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy

This book tells how a song with origins in slavery captured the yearning for freedom from oppression, and how it came to be associated with racial justice not just in the U.S., but also around the world. The back of the book features a timeline of key events in the song’s evolution.

  The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson

Hendricks was only nine in 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called on children to march against unjust laws. She was the youngest person to be arrested during the protest, and she spent a week in jail. Hendricks’ story can inspire children to believe their actions can make a difference.

  When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis

This book of poems highlights 17 people from around the world who sought to break race, class and sexual equality barriers. Included are well-known figures, such as Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, and lesser-known activists like Dennis James Banks, who cofounded the American Indian Movement. Biographies in the back add details to the lives of featured leaders.

  Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport

Using excerpts of words from Dr. King’s speeches, Rappaport paints a portrait of a little boy who was taught that he was “as good as anyone,” and who grew up to inspire a movement towards racial equality. A timeline at the back lists important dates in his life.

AGES 9-12
  Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges was the first black student to enroll at an all-white public school in New Orleans. Many people know her story from the picture book and television movie depicting it. Here, Ruby tells what happened from her own six-year-old perspective. Photographs and sidebars she light on the wider story of what happened around her.

  Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This memoir in free verse recounts Woodson’s childhood in the Deep South as well as Brooklyn, New York. Her words offer a glimpse into The Civil Rights Movement and the way prejudices lingered even after Jim Crow laws went away. Woodson gains the courage to find her own voice after seeing other Black women fight for change.

  Things Too Huge To Fix By Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught

A biracial girl in Oxford, Mississippi, uncovers the segregated history of the town she lives in, seeing vast differences between the past and present. She also solves a mystery about her grandmother and the riots that occurred when the first black student enrolled at Ole Miss.

  Loving Vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell

This documentary novel tells the story of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, who were forbidden to marry across racial lines or live as a married couple in Virginia during the 1950s. They sued the state and ultimately won when their case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Historical documents and quotes from officials underscore the larger struggle for civil rights taking place at the time.

Cindy Hudson
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