Civil Rights Movement through Art and Books for Kids

Civil Rights Movement through Art and Books for Kids

Today, I wanted to look at the Civil Rights Movement told through art and children’s books. Both are powerful communication tools both to educate and as a means to connect with emotionally with what happened.

Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter & Shane W. Evans

How many bubbles are in a bar of soap? Name all sixty-six judges in the state of Alabama.

These “tests” were forced on African Americans to prevent them from voting prior to the Voting Rights Act.

Lillian Allen inspired this picture book. In 2008, at age one hundred, she campaigned for Barack Obama and cast her vote for him as well. Her efforts to bring in voters for him on a hilly neighborhood is also serves to portray the symbolic struggle for voting rights that African American had to overcome: slavery, poll tax, ridiculous and impossible trivia tests, angry mobs, KKK threats, and police violence. [advanced picture book, ages 5 and up]

This book is in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. In 2014, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1065, allowing states to create “voter ID laws” which require all citizens to present a state-issued ID when voting, even though this is a financial obstacle for the poor and elderly to obtain.

The right to vote still needs protection today!

For example, this powerful painting depicts the murders committed by KKK, still not labeled as a terrorist organization today!

National Gallery of Canada

Civil Rights Movement Art

Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood

Augusta Scattergood tackles a little known subject: that Asian Americans were also subject to Jim Crow laws in the South. In this chapter book, she gently weaves together a story of Azalea, a rising fifth grader sent to live her grandmother in Arkansas that she’s never met before. Grandma Clark is a woman with a towering presence; she encourages Azalea to make friends with Billy Wong who is also new to their small town. He’s living with his Great Uncle and Aunt so that he can attend a previously all white school and works in their small grocery store. There’s also the bully, Willis, and Scattergood shows us that things are not black and white; behind his prejudice are family responsibilities heavy for a young boy to bear. Grandma Clark’s plan for a more tolerant community is simple; she utilizes Garden Helpers to help out while she’s recuperating, thus forcing everyone to work together. Azalea discovers that she’s more similar to her grandmother than she realized, and their relationship, like hers with Billy Wong, strengthens from the adversity of facing racism around them. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]


Gordon Parks: An African American Photographer Who Used His Lens to Expose Racism

My favorite children’s book on a photographer who used his lens to capture the separation of races which makes a powerful statement is the little known Gordon Parks.

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

Weatherford is an outstanding voice in children’s literature and here she tells the story of Gordon Parks who overcame racism himself, and used his self-taught photography skills to capture a segregated America. [picture book, ages 5 and up]

I have a post about Gordon Parks and here are some of his photographs that he took for a Life Magazine article that never ran.

Gordon Parks: Black History Month

segregation in the south
segregation in the south

Gordon Parks

Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Shadra Strickland

In lyrical, spare free verse, this chapter book tells the story of two teenagers who fell in love, got married, breaking the law, and changed the law. Their landmark case made mixed-race marriage legal. 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark case Loving vs. Virginia, which fought against discrimination, racism, and segregation and WON! [free verse chapter book, ages 14 and up]


Notable White Activists Who Are Little Known But Made a Big Impact

Next, let’s move to another photographer, Danny Lyon, who captures the Civil Rights Movement in progress. In this photo a high school student, Taylor Washington, is arrested for protesting.

From Rhode Island School of Design Museum

Civil Rights photography by Danny Lyon

Civil Rights photography by Danny Lyon

There are no children’s books about Danny Lyon (yet). He was a photographer for Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC),and present at almost all of the major historical events during the Civil Rights Movement. Lyon was born in 1942 in Brooklyn, New York and is the son of Russian-Jewish mother Rebecca Henkin and German-Jewish father Dr. Ernst Fredrick Lyon.

Joan Tumpauer Mulholland is another white activist who fought for civil rights but is largely unknown. The blue book is a picture book of her life story; the ochre cover book is an advance picture book that tells the same story.

She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland by Loki Mulholland, artwork by Charlotta Janssen


African American Civil Rights Heroes: Women and Children

The fight for Civil Rights put women and children on the battlefield, as the right to a quality education was something that had to be fought for by African Americans. Women also played a big role in the Civil Rights Movement, and their story is now just being told.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes

This award winning picture book brought Fannie Lou Hamer out of obscurity and gives recognition for the role she played as a significant voice of the Civil Rights Movement. [picture book, ages 9 and up]

Ruby Bridges and Picture Book As Fast as Words Could Fly

Meeting Ruby Bridges at our elementary school event was a thrill for me and my children and further reinforced how important it is for kids to learn about the Civil Rights Movement. Both Ruby Bridges and Mason Steele show how kids were on the battlefield themselves in a right for justice.

As Fast of Words Could Fly by Pamela M. Tuck, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Ruby Bridges and Picture Book As Fast as Words Could Fly


Civil Rights Movement Icons

Martin Luther King, Junior, Malcolm X are the icons of the Civil Rights Movement. I would add John Lewis too.

Some of my favorite books on these icons include:

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

I’d use this book for MLK Jr. Day for preschool and kindergarten. [picture book, ages 2 and up]

March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell

We, as readers, are so fortunate to have John Lewis himself telling his story of the Civil Rights Movement in a graphic novel format. [graphic novel trilogy, ages 9 and up]

(the trilogy)

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

Malcolm X’s coming of age story is told by his daughter in this young adult book, with help from Kekla Magoon. He spent his formative years in Roxbury, outside of Boston, which is near me. [young adult, ages 14 and up]

From My High School Civil Rights Movement Art and Books for Kids

This is a wall mural at my high school by Maria F. Romero-Creel, class of 2012, of Martin Luther King, Junior and Malcolm X.

From Boston Museum of Fine Art

Martin Luther King Junior art at Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Martin Luther King Junior art at Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Civil Rights Movement Books for 4th Grade

Civil Rights Movement Books for 4th Grade and MLK Day

Top 10: Best Children’s Books On Civil Rights Movement

This list covers picture books, chapter books and young adult.

Top 10: Best Children’s Books On Civil Rights Movement

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr with Three Books 

If you just want a snapshot of the Civil Rights Movement for young children, try these three books: two picture books and a chapter book.

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. with 3 Children’s Books

Slavery: The Backdrop to the Civil Rights Movement

I have a series of posts that cover other topics that relate to the Civil Rights Movement.

5th Grade Slavery Unit Books

5th Grade Slavery Unit

Top 10: Best African-American Picture Books (ages 4-12)

If you read these picture books in order, it gives an overview of the African-American experience historically starting from slavery to the present day.

Top 10: Best African-American Picture Books (ages 4-12)

Young Booker T. Washington: Fifty Cents and a Dream.

An advanced picture book that paints a portrait of Booker T. Washington as a determined young boy.

Picture Book of the Day: Booker T Washington


2010 Africana Awards for Best Children’s Literature


5th Grade Social Studies And How to Make It Interesting

I have a section in this post about the Civil Rights Movement.

Black History Month Books for Kids and Teens

Black History Month Books for Kids and Teens

As we look to the future, Robert Pruitt’s artwork (from the Rhode Island School of Design Museum) suggests other possibilities:

Robert Pruitt African American Political Art

Robert Pruitt African American Political Art

How about you? What Civil Rights Movement art and children’s books have moved you? Thanks for sharing!

To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

Civil Rights Movement through Art and Books for Kids

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Perfect timing for this post! As soon as we finish up our World War I study I was planning to cover the civil rights movement. I have a lot of books lined up and picked out already but there are quite a few new ones on your list so thank you! Pinned.
    Mother of 3 recently posted…Blueberry Boy BaitMy Profile

  2. Thank you, Mia, for the perfect MLK post and reminders of how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go. <3

  3. I also highly recommend Blood Brother, by Sandra & Rick Wallace, about white seminary student Jonathan Daniels. Lots of amazing photos and a powerful story of courage & conviction.

  4. Wonderful post, Mia! Lots of inspiring individuals we can look to as we continue to work on civil rights.
    maryanne recently posted…5 Simple Ways Children Can Make a DifferenceMy Profile

  5. What a thorough and comprehensive list of books for MLK day! Thank you. I’ve only recently discovered your blog.

  6. These look like good books in a topic we need to read more about.
    Erik Weibel recently posted…Perfect Picture Book Friday! I Am A Story by Dan YaccarinoMy Profile

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