50 Years Later: Books for Kids and Teens About Martin Luther King, Jr., Apollo 8, and More

A selection of books that provide a look back at some of the tumultuous and impactful events that occurred 50 years ago, the ramifications of which are still being felt today.

1968 is remembered as a turbulent year. It saw the assassinations of civil rights leader and icon Martin Luther King Jr. and presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy. There were riots in Los Angeles and at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The Olympic Games took place, and two American track stars made the Black Power salute at the medal ceremony. In Prague, people were calling for freedom, and the Vietnam War climaxed with the Tet Offensive. On the cultural scene, the Beatles started their own record label, Motown was at its height, and Peanuts introduced African American character Franklin. The year ended on a note of hope as Christmas saw the Apollo 8 astronauts leave Earth’s orbit and circle the moon, and the world realized that the universe was greater than the troubles at home.

Many of these events still resonate today. There are numerous titles on Martin Luther King Jr., and some of the more prominent recent ones are featured here. Books on the moon race and the Vietnam War are still in demand as well. Some of these subjects lend themselves well to fiction, wherein the events lead protagonists to greater self-awareness. All bring to life that momentous time for a new generation of readers.

Picture Books

LEWIS, Aura. Gloria’s Voice: The Story of Gloria Steinem, Feminist, Activist, Leader. illus. by author. Sterling. 2018. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781454926665. K-Gr 2–In easy-to-read prose, complemented by watercolor drawings, Lewis relates the basic facts of the life of the noted feminist. Young readers learn how Steinem, as a child, dreamed of helping others and about her path to success as she led the women’s liberation movement. Positive in tone and attractively illustrated in pastel hues, this is an inspiring biography. NELSON, Vaunda Micheaux. Dream March: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the March on Washington. illus. by Sally Wern Comport. Random. 2017. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781101936702. K-Gr 2–Nelson recounts the events leading up to and including the March on Washington. The struggle for civil rights as well as Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal trials are addressed, making this, along with the colorful drawings, an excellent, accessible introduction to the man and the movement. PACE, Lorenzo. Marching with Martin. illus. by author. Windmill Bks. 2015. Tr $31.25. ISBN 9781477792858. K-Gr 2–In this first-person account, artist and sculptor Pace recalls his youthful days in Alabama and how he came to march for social justice. Each page of simple prose is matched with a period photograph surrounded by the author’s bright abstract artwork. A striking and moving introduction to the civil rights movement and to King’s leadership. ROBBINS, Dean. Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing. illus. by Lucy Knisley. Knopf. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399551857. PreS-Gr 3–Margaret Hamilton loved solving math problems. Her abilities led her to a career with NASA, where she created the codes for the Apollo flights to the moon. Knisley’s cartoon drawings enhance the simple text as both tell this intriguing tale. Today’s young coders will be inspired by Hamilton’s story, as will those with an interest in space history. WEATHERFORD, Carole Boston. Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You. illus. by James E. Ransome. Bloomsbury. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780802723680. K-Gr 3 –Complemented by colorful watercolor and gouache paintings of historical scenes of civil rights activism, Weatherford’s lyrical text provides today’s readers with advice on “how to be a King.” For example, she states, “Stamp out hatred. Put your foot down and walk tall.” This beautifully presented take on King’s life and legacy will inspire and inform a new generation of young readers.

Middle Grades

BAUSUM, Ann. Marching to the Mountaintop: How Poverty, Labor Fights, and Civil Rights Set the Stage for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Hours. National Geographic. 2012. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781426309397. Gr 6 Up–While there are many books that focus on King’s life, this title explores the immediate time leading up to his assassination. He was in Memphis that fatal day because he was helping sanitation workers achieve better conditions and promoting his Poor People’s Campaign. Highlighted with excerpts from King’s prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, this well-illustrated and engaging narrative will appeal to all. DUFFIELD, Katy. The Tet Offensive: Crucial Battles of the Vietnam War . North Star. 2016. Tr $19.38. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781635170818. Gr 2-5–In a straightforward narrative, Duffield succinctly relates the events of the Tet Offensive. Photographs, maps, and time lines complement the text. Thorough yet accessible, it provides a good introduction to this turning point in the Vietnam War. GREEN, Jen & Mark Bergin. Explorers: The Story of the Race to the Moon. Black Rabbit Bks. 2017. Tr $31.35. ISBN 9781910706923. Gr 4-6–An appealing introduction to the space race. In clear and succinct terms, the narrative provides an account of the efforts of the Soviet Union and the United States to explore space, including the Apollo missions. Though greater emphasis is placed on the Apollo 11 mission, Apollo 8 is given its due as the first space flight to circle the moon. This well-illustrated account of space exploration should be appreciated by young enthusiasts. KLUGER, Jeffrey. To the Moon!: The True Story of the American Heroes on the Apollo 8 Spaceship. Penguin. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524741013. Gr 5-9Apollo 8 was the first manned flight to the moon. In this engaging narrative, readers learn about the preparation for the mission by astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders. The book then provides an exciting account of the mission itself. An informative and engaging read that will be enjoyed by more than just those interested in the space race. MANNING, Mick & Brita Granström. The Beatles. illus. by Brita Granström. Frances Lincoln. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781847804518. Gr 3-6–This is a charming and well-illustrated introduction to the Beatles. It traces the childhoods of John, Paul, George, and Ringo and then portrays the highlights of the group’s meteoric rise and eventual dissolution. Colorful cartoon drawings complete the entertaining presentation. PINKNEY, Andrea Davis. Martin Rising: Requiem for a King. illus. by Brian Pinkney. Scholastic. 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780545702539. Gr 4 Up–Beautiful and moving poems about the last days of King’s life and his death constitute this homage to the civil rights leader. Pinkney’s watercolor drawings enhance verses like “Sorrow you are a stubborn cloud that clings. But did you see sunset’s promise?” Readers will be enriched by this poignant tribute. RISSMAN, Rebecca. The Black Power Movement. ABDO. 2015. Tr $27.64. ISBN 9781624031441. Gr 4-6–Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African Americans still suffered injustice and discrimination. Thus the Black Power movement was formed, and 1968 proved its climactic year. This book provides a straightforward history of the movement. SMITH-LIERA, Danielle. Black Power Salute: How a Photograph Captured a Political Protest. Compass Point. 2017. Tr $25.74. ISBN 9780756555269. Gr 5-8–A picture is worth a thousand words, and the photograph of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in the Black Power salute at their 1968 Olympic medal ceremony said much. With quotations from the athletes and well-reproduced photographs, the book details how this brief moment captured on film showed the frustration of athletes subjected to racial injustice. A good read with solid information. Space Exploration. Mason Crest. 2017. Tr $20.95. ISBN 9781422236444. Gr 4-6–This title on the history of space exploration provides an engaging introduction to the American space program. Tracing humanity’s journey into the heavens from the early days of flight to present hopes for future missions, this volume includes the Apollo flights. A compelling read enhanced by colorful photographs.


CROWE, Chris. Death Coming Up the Hill. HMH. 2014. Tr $14.52. ISBN 9780544302150. Gr 9 Up–Seventeen-year-old Ashe writes an account of 1968 in haiku—for a total of 16,592 syllables—one for each soldier killed in Vietnam that fateful year. Ashe relates events both political and personal while his parents’ marriage disintegrates and his girlfriend’s brother goes missing in Vietnam. His resolve to help his mother and himself lead to a heartbreaking decision in this unusual but intriguing story. GIBSON, Bob. Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game. Flatiron. 2015. Tr. $26.99. ISBN 9781250061041. Gr 8 Up –Baseball Hall of Famer Gibson recounts his experience pitching the first game of the 1968 World Series. Recalling each batter with great detail, Gibson offers insight into his thoughts at the time and reminisces about his teammates and how events of the day affected him. Baseball lovers will rejoice in this autobiographical remembrance by one of the game’s greatest. KLUGER, Jeffrey. Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon. Holt. 2017. Tr $30.00. ISBN 9781627798327. Gr 9 Up –It is December 1968, and three astronauts, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders, make the first flight around the moon. This exciting narrative about the men and their mission culminates with their reading from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve. The mission also provided us with the first photographs of Earth from space. PARTRIDGE, Elizabeth. Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam. Philomel. 2018. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780670785063. Gr 7 Up–Partridge presents firsthand accounts by six American soldiers, one American military nurse, and one Vietnamese refugee about their experiences in the Vietnam War. Chapters about the public and secret actions of four U.S. presidents appear between the personal narratives. Among the veterans profiled is Jan Scruggs, who was the driving force behind the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. With more than 100 photographs, the accessible and visually informative portrait will leave readers with much fodder for discussion and further research. PINKNEY, Andrea Davis. Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound. Roaring Brook. 2014. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9781596439733. Gr 5 Up –With a tempo all its own, this volume relates the rise of Berry Gordy’s Motown, the successful music enterprise that launched the careers of Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, and the Jackson 5. Set against the backdrop of the upheaval of the ’60s, it highlights the stars and their careers. The photographs and a time line enhance this informative and enjoyable read. SANDERS, Ed. Broken Glory: The Final Years of Robert F. Kennedy. illus. by Rick Veitch. Arcade. 2018. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9781628729511. Gr 8 Up–Constructed like poetry but reading like prose, this graphically illustrated biography of Robert F. Kennedy recounts the last years of his life. Sanders relates not only Kennedy’s actions but also those of Martin Luther King Jr. and both men’s assassins. Speculation about conspiracies is included. Veitch’s black-and-white drawings are exceptional. Overall, a unique and readable account of the senator’s tragic last months. SCHULZ, Charles. The Complete Peanuts: 1967–1968. Fantagraphic Bks. 2008. Tr $28.95. 9781560978268. Gr 1 Up –The years 1967–1968 see the Peanuts gang doing the usual—receiving Valentines, fighting the Red Baron, attending school, teasing one another, and dealing with life in general. However, there are a few nods to the time: An African American character, Franklin, is introduced in 1968, Snoopy practices for the Winter Olympics, a still-unnamed Woodstock protests, and Snoopy runs for president. As always, the Peanuts strips reflect the way kids have always thought in a gentle and humorous manner. SPOTSWOOD, Jessica, ed. A Tyranny of Petticoats. Candlewick. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763678487 Gr 9 Up–In the last entry of this collection of historical short stories, “The Whole World Is Watching” by Robin Talley, college student Jill is caught up in the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. While running from the police, she reflects on her life, her values, and sexuality. An exciting read, this story provides insight into the violence sometimes encountered at demonstrations at the time. STONE, Nic. Dear Martin: A Novel. Crown. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101939499. Gr 9 Up –Seventeen-year-old prep student and Yale-destined Justyce McAllister finds racism is still prevalent in 21st-century America. After he is caught up in a tragedy, he works through his feelings by writing letters to Martin Luther King, Jr., to whom he looks for inspiration. This timely contemporary novel makes for a compelling read. SWANSON, James L. Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin. Scholastic. 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780545723336. Gr 7 Up–This well-written account chronicles the movements of King and his assassin, James Earl Ray. It includes histories of both men as well as Ray’s subsequent activities before his capture. Detailed and accessible, this account, complete with several photographs, provides far more information than most YA books on King’s life, and readers will learn a great deal.

Margaret Nunes is a librarian at the Gwinnett County Public Library in Georgia.

Digital picks

The King Center. Created by Coretta Scott King after the death of her husband, this site contains information about Martin Luther King Jr. and features an excellent archive of primary documents. NASA. NASA has information on all its flights, including Apollo 8. It contains text, data, and pictures. Especially eye-catching is the famous picture “Earthrise” taken on that mission. Olympics. More information about the 1968 Olympics. The photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the Black Power salute can be found on this site. Vietnam Center and Archive. Texas Tech has archival information pertaining to the Tet Offensive, including photographs and other primary resources.

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