In honor of Martin Luther King, Junior day, I wanted to share my son’s 4th grade Civil Rights Movement project. His teacher created a really great timeline that I hope will be helpful as well.
Civil Rights Movement Books for 4th Grade and MLK Day
I am Jackie Robinson (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
I’m not sure if I would consider Jackie Robinson “ordinary.” He was, after all, the first UCLA student ever to letter in four sports in the same season! His family’s backstory of how they shared extra food with everyone in the neighborhood, regardless of color helps to give insight into how he had the inner strength to withstand the pressure as the first African American major league baseball player. This picture book uses cartoons as well as text to tell his story and skillfully draws the reader into his extraordinary life. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
National Geographic Readers: Rosa Parks (Readers Bios) by Kitson Jazynka
It’s easy to think that Rosa Parks did not give up her seat because she was tired. The only thing she was tired of, however, was giving in!
This is a very well done nonfiction Easy Reader that dispels commonly held beliefs about Rosa Park. It’s also full of interesting details that most kids would not know like Rosa Parks was part Native American. The photos and captions not only tell more facets of her story but help prepare kids for standardized tests. [nonfiction Easy Reader Level 2, ages 6 and up]
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
The truest thing we have in this country at this time is little children … if they think you’ve made a mistake, kids speak out. Fannie Lou Hamer
Malcolm X called Fannie Lou Hamer “the country’s number one freedom-fighting woman.” Born to sharecroppers in Mississippi, Fannie Lou worked alongside her family from dawn to dusk in the cotton fields and went on to become a hero of the Civil Rights Movement. [advanced picture book, ages 9 and up]
Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
PickyKidPix really liked this book when she read it in 5th grade. She says, “It’s about a girl who is very shy but finds her voice through her best friend. But her best friend is black and she lives in a segregated community and she has to find ways to see her friend but it’s very dangerous because they don’t support white people seeing black people.” [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis*
*E.B. Lewis has been accused of sexual misconduct.
The violence of the Civil Rights Movement is what made headlines and the images of what we remember today. This is a quieter story: the peaceful integration of Huntsville, Alabama. Their African-American citizens also fought for Civil Rights conducting sit-ins, boycotting stores, and using public parks designated for whites only.
This advanced picture book gives a perspective of how a few people can make difference to find alternatives to what the “norm” is. It shows that what seems impossible can be achieved with creativity, courage, and cooperation. [advanced picture book, ages 8 and up]
This is Your Time by Ruby Bridges
Written as a letter from civil rights activist and icon Ruby Bridges to the reader, This Is Your Time is both a recounting of Ruby’s experience as a child who had to be escorted to class by federal marshals when she was chosen to be one of the first black students to integrate into New Orleans’ all-white public school system and an appeal to generations to come to effect change.
This beautifully designed volume features photographs from the 1960s and from today, as well as stunning jacket art from The Problem We All Live With, the 1964 painting by Norman Rockwell depicting Ruby’s walk to school.
Ruby’s honest and impassioned words, imbued with love and grace, serve as a moving reminder that “what can inspire tomorrow often lies in our past.” This Is Your Time will electrify people of all ages as the struggle for liberty and justice for all continues and the powerful legacy of Ruby Bridges endures. [middle grade memoir, ages 11 and up]
The Story Of Ruby Bridges: Special Anniversary Edition by Robert Coles
I was thrilled to meet Ruby Bridges when she came to visit my kids’ elementary school. I drove her after her presentation to her hotel in Boston. It was then we discovered our connection to Dr. Robert Coles. His son was a classmate of mine in college. Small world! They had lost touch over the years, but I was able to track down Robert Coles, Jr. and connect them. Dr. Coles tells her story in a way that reveals the depths of courage she possessed as a young girl. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
This is Ruby’s own perspective and she’s quite modest. It’s a nice companion book to Dr. Robert Coles. During her presentation, Ruby told us about how she and other African American children were given much more difficult tests to prevent them from entering the previously segregated schools. Despite an unfair test, she scored high enough to qualify. [middle picture book autobiography, ages 8 and up]
As Fast as Words Could Fly by Pamela M. Tuck, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Pamela M. Tuck tells her father’s story of integration into a previously all-white high school. The typing contest was one way that could not be “fixed” against an African American contestant. Typing, in this context, is a political act of bravery. This book pairs well with Ruby Bridges so that students can see that the battle for Civil Rights was fought on many fronts. Many “ordinary” kids were able to help change history. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Mighty Justice (Young Readers’ Edition): The Untold Story of Civil Rights Trailblazer Dovey Johnson Roundtree by Katie McCabe
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Born in 1914, Roundtree had a varied and important career made all the more impressive by the difficulties she faced at every turn. Thanks to her grandmother, who had suffered greatly from racism and believed that education was the key to success, she managed to not only go to college at Spelman, but also law school at Howard University, and even studied theology while she was practicing law! Because she had to work to pay her way through most of her schooling, it is amazing that she was able to keep up with the demands of her classes while also being actively involved with the Civil Rights movement. She was handpicked to serve as a recruiter for the WAAC by Mary McLeod Bethune She was very fortunate to have some amazing mentors, from Bethune to a college professor who supported her and made sure she had funds for school, to several helpful people in the legal profession. During the 1950s and 60s, she was involved in a number of legal battles, many of them concerning transportation. I had no idea that there were so many fights about this, many of them well before Rosa Parks. During the 1970s and 80s, she shifted her focus to the rights of children. She practiced law into her 80s, and passed away in 2018 at the age of 104.” [middle grade biography, ages 10 and up]
Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood
The Freedom Riders are gently introduced in this civil rights story set in Mississippi around the closure of a segregated public swimming pool in 1964. This coming-of-age story for a white girl helps to illustrate the different points of view of those in the South and I love how the local public library becomes the touchpoint for integration. [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
10 Miles Past Normal byFrances O’Roark Dowell
This young adult novel obliquely nods to an older couple in the book who were Freedom Riders in their youth. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
John Lewis tells his own story in a three-part graphic novel book series, of which two are out. Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall. [graphic novel, ages 12 and up]
John Lewis is an American civil rights leader and politician best known for his chairmanship of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and for leading the march that was halted by police violence on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, a landmark event in the history of the civil rights movement that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Britannica
March: Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
After the success of the Nashville sit-in campaign, John Lewis is more committed than ever to changing the world through nonviolence — but as he and his fellow Freedom Riders board a bus into the vicious heart of the deep south, they will be tested like never before. Faced with beatings, police brutality, imprisonment, arson, and even murder, the movement’s young activists place their lives on the line while internal conflicts threaten to tear them apart.
But their courage will attract the notice of powerful allies, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy… and once Lewis is elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, this 23-year-old will be thrust into the national spotlight, becoming one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement and a central figure in the landmark 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. [graphic novel, ages 12 and up]
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier
This is the perfect book for very young readers to learn why we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
A wonderful middle-grade novel narrated by Kenny, 9, about his middle-class black family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. When Kenny’s 13-year-old brother, Byron, gets to be too much trouble, they head South to Birmingham to visit Grandma, the one person who can shape him up. And they happen to be in Birmingham when Grandma’s church is blown up. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Here’s a video of this timeline along with some Civil Rights books for kids with Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous speech in the background:
I’m really proud of my son’s story he wrote for his Civil Rights Unit. He might not like that I put it up here but I am typing it up, typos and all:
– August 28, 1963
As we stopped at the Lincoln Memorial everyone grew silent. I could feel the sweat on my hair slowly running down my neck. The Reflecting Pool was shimmering like gold. As I looked around, there were signs reminding me what we were fighting for. My dad lifted me up and placed me on his shoulders. As everyone got settled famous Civil Rights leaders started to speak. Voices booming onto the sea of marchers people were cheering, clapping, hollering, and I was too. I couldn’t make out who was speaking, but then a man shining like the sun spoke a speech full of hope and equality. “I have a dream that my four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. ” The crowd exploded with excitement full of thunderclaps and screams of freedom. We’re so close you could taste integration, and I smiled for what felt like forever. His words brightened the sky, making the air once polluted with discrimination now cleansed with equality. My family roared like lions as we fought for our rights. And showed everyone the right path to walk.
p.s. Related posts:
Civil Rights Movement Book Lists for Kids
Civil Rights Movement Art #BlackLivesMatter
Civil Rights for Kids Picture Book of the Day
Civil Rights Movement through Art and Books for Kids
Civil Rights Movement Book Giveaways! #BlackLivesMatter
Heroes of Black History: Rosa Parks #BlackHistoryMonth
Best Children’s Books on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Civil Rights Movement Books for 4th Grade and MLK Day
Top 10: Best Children’s Books On Civil Rights Movement
Human Rights Books for Kids Linky #DiverseKidLit
5th Grade Chapter Books to Make Social Studies Exciting
HARLEM: Found Ways & Harlem Children’s Books
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6 thoughts on “Civil Rights Movement Books for 4th Grade and MLK Day”
thank you for this list! we live in memphis and go to the mlk and civil rights museum every year on mlk day. we will read a few of these before we go to give it more context.
Wow, that sounds like a great museum! I’d love to see it some day!
Thanks for some new suggestions! I love ONE MILLION MEN AND ME by Kelly Starling.
And thank you for your great suggestion which is new to me!
I love the timeline! Great book suggestions, too!
Thanks MaryAnne! My son’s 5th grade teacher made it and I loved it too. It helps me to have a visual!