The Legacy of MLK Jr.: Books for Today's Teens

The Legacy of MLK Jr. Books for today's teens

Monday January 18  is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is a federal holiday designated as a day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. Observing this day through service honors Dr. King's life and teachings. Check out AmeriCorps MLK Day of Service for ideas on ways you can celebrate King’s messages of freedom, equality, justice, and love. We wanted to celebrate through books, here are some of our favorite.

color me in book coverColor Me In by Natasha Diaz 

Sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots because she lives in a predominately white neighborhood and passes for white. But when her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom's family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time. Even with the push and pull of her two cultures, Nevaeh does what she's always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent. It's only when Nevaeh sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces that she begins to realize she has a voice. 


All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylorall the days past all the days to come book cover

 In her tenth book, Mildred Taylor completes her sweeping saga about the Logan family of Mississippi, which is also the story of the civil rights movement in America of the 20th century. Cassie Logan is a young woman is on a journey that takes her from Toledo to California, to law school in Boston, and, ultimately, in the 60s, home to Mississippi to participate in voter registration. She is witness to the now-historic events of the century: the Great Migration north, the rise of the civil rights movement, preceded and precipitated by the racist society of America, and the often violent confrontations that brought about change. 

the henna wars book coverThe Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

When eighteen year old Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. Her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into it. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both choose to do henna. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled.



A Phoenix First Must Burn by Patrice Caldwell a phoenix first must burn book cover

Sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic. Authors include Elizabeth Acevedo, Amerie, Dhonielle Clayton, Jalissa Corrie, Somaiya Daud, Charlotte Davis, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Justina Ireland, Danny Lore, L.L. McKinney, Danielle Paige, Rebecca Roanhorse, Karen Strong, Ashley Woodfolk, and Ibi Zoboi.


punching the air book coverPunching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam 

One fateful night Amal Shahid’s life is forever changed, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white. At just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story.



When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamedwhen stars are scattered book cover

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.


On the Come Up by Angie Thomason the come up book cover 

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. But food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. This is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.



We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-LowyWe are power book cover

We Are Power brings to light the incredible individuals who have used nonviolent activism to change the world. The book explores questions such as what is nonviolent resistance and how does it work? In an age when armies are stronger than ever before, when guns seem to be everywhere, how can people confront their adversaries without resorting to violence themselves?


amazons abolitionists and activist book coverAmazons, Abolitionists, and Activits: A Graphic History of Women's Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall and A. D'Amico

A fascinating graphic novel that covers the key figures and events that have advanced women's rights from antiquity to the modern era. This compelling book illuminates the stories of notable women throughout history, from queens and freedom fighters to warriors and spies. The progressive movements led by women that have shaped history, including abolition, suffrage, labor, civil rights, LGBTQ liberation, reproductive rights, and more. 


Black Flamingo by Dean Attablack flamingo book cover

A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen, then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flaming. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers - to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.


dear justyce book cover

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone

From a troubled childhood and bad timing to a coerced confession and prejudiced police work, Nic Stone's newest novel takes an unflinching look at the flawed practices and ideologies that discriminate against African American boys and minorities in the American justice system.



Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March by Lunda Blackmon Loweryturning 15 on the road to freedom book cover

As the youngest marcher in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Albama, Lynda Blackmon Lowery proved that young adults can be heroes. Jailed nine times before her fifteenth birthday, Lowery fought alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. for the rights of African-Americans. In this memoir, she shows today's young readers what it means to fight nonviolently and how it felt to be part of changing American history.


the black kids book coverThe Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

Ashley Bennett and her friends are living the charmed life. Suddenly everything changes when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids. As violent protests engulf LA and the city burns, Ashley tries to continue on as if life were normal. With her world splintering around her, Ashley, along with the rest of LA, is left to question who is the us? And who is the them?