Martin Luther King Day – let’s celebrate our freedom

Contributed by Lauren Carpenter

Books2All reporter

Fri 14 Jan 2022

Martin Luther King Day on 17 January each year commemorates the life of a man who changed America. It’s a day that celebrates inclusivity and diversity and reminds us that we are all created equal as human beings. Books2All is honoured to offer a choice of children’s books to mark the occasion.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was undoubtedly one of the most influential leaders and perhaps the most well-known African-American person of his time. He is renowned for his fight for civil rights in the United States and leading the 1963 march on Washington.

Books2All blog: Martin Luther King Day - let's celebrate our freedom
Dr Martin Luther King Jr. 1929-1968

As a Baptist minister, King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. He advocated for a non-violent end to racial segregation and was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights act of 1964 that banned discrimination in public accommodations, facilities and employment in the United States.

We all know King’s immortal I Have a Dream speech no matter our age. It has forever marked its place in our history books as a monumental moment in the fight for civil rights. But it is easy to forget why the speech was necessary and overlook the actions those who came before us had to take to get us here today.

Keep Martin Luther King’s dream alive in our classrooms

Ensuring our education system remains freely available to everyone is in keeping with Martin Luther King’s dream of equality. Children flourish in an environment that nurtures their talents, celebrates their differences and encourages them to achieve, regardless of their background.

Conversations with children about our uniqueness as individuals, that honour the richness of all cultures and remind us of our shared humanity come to life in a classroom in ways that would be hard to achieve otherwise. Talking to children about the events from the past that shaped our modern-day help them to understand the world and their place there alongside everyone else.

Books are the most valuable tool for developing a dialogue about freedom, liberty and shared humanity with children. Collaborative reading between pupils, teachers and parents allows the conversation to flow inside and outside the classroom. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best reading resources available.

I Have the Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres

Ages 7 to 9

Books2All blog: Martin Luther King Day - let's celebrate our freedom
I Have the Right to Be a Child published by Bloom (2011)

This excellent book simplifies the complex wording of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child so that children can understand. With simple text, and bright, vibrant illustrations, Alain Serres takes something that would ordinarily be remote from children and makes it accessible. He writes about what it means to be a child, with basic rights such as going to school, having access to food and water, breathing clean air and emphasises that these rights belong to every child.

Whether they are “black or white, small or big, rich or poor, born here or somewhere else”, I Have the Right to Be a Child conveys the fundamental message of acceptance. It also shows that early recognition of these rights is the first step in ensuring they are met. A great resource to introduce the topic of rights and legislation to children.

Every Child a Song by Nicola Davies

Ages 5 to 8

Books2All blog: Martin Luther King Day - let's celebrate our freedom
Every Child a Song published by Wren & Rook (2020)

Through a tender and thoughtful non-fiction piece, Nicola Davies introduces children to their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. A song is used as a metaphor for the start of a new life, and the book explores the essential things a song needs to thrive: love, compassion, a home and the chance to explore and learn.

The latter half of the book sensitively discusses what can happen when a song is not given these freedoms, touching on child labour and war. It emphasises the importance of playing our part to champion children’s rights and supporting those less fortunate than ourselves.

With stunning watercolour illustrations to complement the message, this book is a great resource to open up the discussion of rights and freedom with younger children.

Imagine by John Lennon and Jean Julien

Ages 4 to 8

Books2All blog: Martin Luther King Day - let's celebrate our freedom
Imagine published Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (2018)

Following the life of a pigeon, as she sets out on a quest to spread messages of hope and love, Imagine is based on John Lennon’s beautiful song of the same name. Published in partnership with human rights organisation, Amnesty International, this book brings Lennon’s key message of peace to the next generation. Beautifully illustrated, it is a special resource that will keep children engaged and parents reaching for the tissues.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Ages 3 to 7

Books2All blog: Martin Luther King Day - let's celebrate our freedom
All Are Welcome published by Bloomsbury (2019)

Following a group of children on their journey through school, All Are Welcome tackles the theme of acceptance head-on by setting the story in a diverse school. We need more books that show the beautiful reality of UK life, where children of all backgrounds learn together in many of our schools, but this lovely book is one to treasure. A child seeing a visual representation of themselves in fiction is truly powerful. The message is unequivocal: no matter who you are and where you come from, there is a space for you.

Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race by Megan Madison

Ages 2 to 5

Books2All blog: Martin Luther King Day - let's celebrate our freedom
Our Skin published by Rise X Penguin Workshop (2021)

It’s never too early to start talking with your children about race and the importance of equality; in fact, the sooner it happens the better. Research has shown that talking to young children about race can help promote a healthy attitude in later life. Developed by experts, this read-aloud book allows parents the opportunity to take these important moments with their children in a safe and body-positive way.

The evidence also shows that the way we respond to questions from our children in relation to race and gender can help increase their self-awareness and cope with injustice. Megan Madison’s book is a lovely tool for opening up a space for a serious subject in a fun and mindful way.

Thank you for visiting our blog. Our vision here at Books2All is a world where every child finds the books that help them reach their true potential. If you have spare books in good condition at home that you think might be appropriate for school children, please sign up for our app’s pre-release waiting list. If you represent a school, please register to receive books for your students.

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