Top 10 Civil Rights Books for Kids

content.chilifreshThe Liberation of Gabriel King by K. L. Going: Gabriel King’s best friend Frita has a plan for liberating Gabriel of his fears. His greatest fear is moving on to 5th grade, but Frita doesn’t want to go on without her only friend. Most the kids in her Georgia school aren’t ready to embrace the girl who integrated their school. So the two work together on overcoming their fears, but one of Frita’s fears is so big and real that the adults in the community come together to oust the racism that is threatening her.

Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia C. McKissack: A little girl, Tricia Ann, dresses with care, complete with a hat to match her dress, boards a bus all by herself to go “someplace special.” She listens to all the instructions to be careful, and she heads out sure of herself. The first challenge is to remember to go to the back of the bus, to the “colored” section, even though there are lots of seats up front. After leaving the bus, she can’t sit on a park bench marked “Whites only.” She gets instructions on where coloreds can get something to eat. She is swept into the lobby of a beautiful hotel to be told to get out, she doesn’t belong because of her color. Finally, she gets to that “someplace special” where she is welcome: The public library.

Dad, Jackie, and Me by Myron Uhlberg: A young baseball fan in 1947 is thrilled when his father, who is deaf, buys tickets to see the Brooklyn Dodgers play during Jackie Robinson’s rookie season. Based roughly on the author’s Dodger-fan experiences with his own father, the story is about triumph over prejudice, whether it involves race or physical disabilities.

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman: Powerful and moving, this biography of Marian Anderson places her accomplishments against the background of humiliating discrimination that was part of law in the United States during the time Marion Anderson was building her career as one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century.

content.chilifresh-1When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan: A moving look at the life of one of the greatest singers of the century, Marian Anderson, this book is also excellent at describing the racial prejudice in the United States during much of the twentieth century. Marian Anderson’s acceptance in Europe is contrasted with the prejudice she faced in the United States, particularly in Washington D.C. and Constitution Hall managed by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Katheen Krull: The lush illustrations enhance this brief biography of the founder of the United Farm Workers, Cesar Chavez. The book relates a happy childhood on the family-owned ranch to the misery of a migrant farm worker’s life after his family lost the ranch in the drought that coincided with the Great Depression. One teacher made him wear a sign, “I am a clown. I speak Spanish.”

Ain’t Nothing but a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson: The author didn’t set out to find the real John Henry behind the legend. He set out to find the 40,000 mostly Black men who built the southern railroads but have been ignored in the history books. The pieces he found to the puzzle show human rights abuses to the recently freed slaves that built the railroads at an enormous cost in human life, including the life of John Henry.

Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story by Paula Yoo: Lee won Olympic gold in diving in 1948, despite challenges that included his childhood exclusion from the neighborhood swimming pool because of race. The picture book focuses on Sammy Lee’s great courage and determination as he pursued his goal to be an Olympic diver while also fulfilling his father’s dream that he become a medical doctor.

content.chilifresh-2Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond by Joseph Medicine Crow: Joseph Medicine Crow was the first male member of his tribe to graduate from college. Soon after, he enlists for WWII, refusing the opportunity to be an officer because he wanted to follow the Crow way of moving up in rank by accomplishment. He found the U.S. Army didn’t work that way. When he returns after service in Germany, tribal leaders determined he had accomplished the four Coup necessary to be a Crow War Chief. One coup was stealing horses from the enemy. The cruelty he suffered in his school years because of race is shocking, especially as so much of the cruelty was from teachers.

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson: Dramatic illustrations and a powerful poem comprised of fifteen sonnets explore the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till by white racists.

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