This page lists some of the best civil rights kids books that depict the civil rights movement and era in age appropriate and meaningful ways for children. These stories help the reader to understand the widespread and legal segregation and discrimination practices of the time, and also bring to life the heroism of those who fought to change the system. Personal stories or powerful historical fiction novels are often the most effective in helping children see how discriminatory society was and how dangerous it was to fight the system. Children today often find the stories hard to believe given how far we've come.
In our multi-cultural society, it's essential to teach children that every person is important regardless of whether they are "different" than you are. Kids pick up on the attitudes and opinions they hear from the adults in their life, and sadly, some students hear messages of prejudice at home. As their teacher, you may be the only adult voice of equality and acceptance in their life!
following civil rights books vividly bring to life the civil rights
era--depicting the pervasive and often institutional discrimination and
depicting the courageous and determined actions of the freedom fighters
who were not going to stop until there was equality for all.
Below are some good chapter books and non-fiction books on the civil rights era for older kids. If any of these books seem like a good fit for you, click the link below. Some of these connect to review pages by us and others connect directly to Amazon. Please note that if you purchase an item from Amazon, they give us a small referral fee. This helps pay for site hosting costs, thus allowing us to keep everything free for site visitors!
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
Six year old Ruby was the first black student to attend an all-white school in the segregated South. In this book, Ruby tells the story as she remembers it. Her account shows her sweet innocence about what a historic event this was. (ie: She didn't realize they were yelling at her. She thought it was Mardi Gras!) Very powerful..."like poetry or prayer, they melt the heart." (Publisher's Weekly) Grades 3-7
Circle of Fire (History Mysteries series)
Jeffrey, a white boy, and Mendy, an African-American girl are best friends until one summer Jeffrey's parents forbid him from playing with Mendy. Ethnic tensions in the area are high, but Mendy is excited that Eleanor Roosevelt is coming to speak in her town...until she and Jeffrey uncover a Klan plot to bomb the event. (Based on an actual planned bombing by the KKK and uncovered by the FBI!) Grades 3-6
Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery
Most people do not realize the coordination and sacrifice that went into the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott. This title combines segments from memoirs, scholarly articles, personal stories, and historical accounts with large black-and-white photos on every spread to create an "exemplary presentation [and]...a powerful introduction to the Civil Rights Movement" (SLJ, starred review). Grade 4-6
One Crazy Summer
What Delphine and her sisters really want is to get to know their estranged mother, who they are visiting in Oakland during the summer of 1968. But their mother is cold to them ("No one told y'all to come out here") and sends them to the local Black Panther day camp to get them out of her hair. While there, the girls learn about racial injustice and black power. Great for learning about the era, as "the setting and time period are vividly realized." (Horn Book) Grade 4-7
Fire from the Rock
Sylvia is honored to have been selected to be one of the first African American students to attend Little Rock's Central High School, but it's 1957 and racial tensions are high. She doesn't aspire to be a hero of the movement. Maybe she should just stay at her black school with her friends. This stirring first- person account helps "personalize the civil rights struggle beyond slogans and politics." (Booklist) Grade 4-7
Alice's family has just moved to Mississippi, where her father job is to protect civil rights workers and African Americans registering to vote. Alice has a hard time making friends at school because of her father's job. When the school is integrated by two black girls, Alice struggles with whether she should befriend the girls and be further ostracized by the popular but racist girls at her school. Grade 4-8
The Journal of Biddy Owens: The Negro Leagues
(My Name is America series)
Biddy Owens writes in his journal about being the equipment manager for a 1948 Negro League baseball team, including stories about the games, about road trips, and about the racial segregation and blatant bigotry in Birmingham. "The writing is infused with a love of baseball" (Booklist), making this a great book to give to baseball fans, who will learn about the racial prejudice of the era in the process. (5th grade & Up)
Freedom Riders: ...on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement
Two young men, one black, one white, participate in the historic freedom rides of the early 1960s, and exemplify the amazing courage and unending determination of the youth who put themselves in great danger to participate. In vivid detail, the author brings the story of the end of segregated transportation to life. In a starred review, School Library Journal called it an "excellent work of nonfiction." Gr. 5-9
Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues
In this mystery book set during the Alabama bus boycott, 12-year-old Alfa and his sister try to find out who is stealing grandma's rent money. They begin cleaning houses to help pay the rent, and when they are wrongly accused of theft, Alfa discovers that whites have money problems too. Racial inequalities permeate the story, but Alfa rises above them with determination and nonviolence. Grade 5-8
The Return of Gabriel
When civil rights workers come to Cooper & Jubal's Mississippi town to try and get the blacks to vote, Cooper finds himself in the middle between Jubal's black family and his own prejudiced white family. Can the boys stay friends despite all the pressures? "An inspiring story set during Freedom Summer." (School Library Journal) Grade 5-8
A Dream of Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968
A "compelling retrospective" (SLJ) of the civil rights era by a white woman who grew up in the segregated South and admits she didn't often see the racial injustices around her. This title offers both a personal recollection and a factual accounts. Of the civil rights books listed here, this is one of the most "compelling but challenging." (Booklist) Grade 5-9
Marching for Freedom
This moving book is about the vital role that children played in the Civil Rights Movement, with personal stories of young demonstrators (ie: 10 years old!) paired with "well-selected, breathtaking photographs." (Kirkus) Students will be startled and impressed by these tales of bravery and conviction. Grade 6+
The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963
In this title, Curtis creates "a warmly memorable evocation of an African American family" (Horn Book) living in 1960s Michigan. When the eldest brother starts to get into trouble, the family travels to Alabama for him to spend the summer with his grandmother, and arrive just in time to experience the church bombing known as Birmingham Sunday. Full of "ribald humor, sly sibling digs, and a totally believable child's view of the world...an instant hit" (School Library Journal). Grade 6+
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Did you know that Rosa Parks was not the first African American to refuse to give up her seat to a white person. It was 15-year-old Claudette several months prior. Claudette was arrested, but did not become the face of the movement. This Newbery title is an "outstanding choice" among the collection of civil rights books for kids as it will "give [students] new perspective on the era." (School Library Journal) Gr. 6+
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