With MLK Day on January 17 and Black History Month in February, we are diving into reading that teaches, honors, and celebrates diversity and inclusion. There are many excellent books for young people that focus on these themes and plant the seeds of action to make the world a better place. Read on for some favorites that share the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; inspire with the work of pioneering Black botanists, environmentalists and scientists; and give examples of how to practice compassion and understanding every day.

Martin Luther King Jr: A Peaceful Leader by Sarah Albee with pictures by Chin Ko

This biography for new readers is a helpful, accessible introduction to the life and work of Dr. King. In simple, clear prose, it highlights the key events of his life and the segregationist policies his activism sought to overcome. It includes a timeline and photos.

I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with paintings by Kadir Nelson

This book presents an excerpt from King’s most famous speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. Readers already may be familiar with some parts of his speech, and this book offers an in-depth opportunity to experience King’s powerful words alongside paintings depicting the racial diversity and natural beauty of America. This is a deeply moving book to read aloud and also to use as a resource while listening to a recording of the speech. The full speech is printed in the back of the book.

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by James E. Ransome

This action-oriented, stirring text urges readers to stand up for what’s right. With the powerful refrain “You can be a King” introducing each spread, readers consider how they can apply the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to their own lives and communities. The author’s note at the back provides additional facts about King’s life and work.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

With a refrain focused on kindness and inclusion, readers can anticipate and repeat: “All are welcome here” in this rhyming text, especially helpful for children in early elementary school grades. The story follows a classroom of students through a school day as they share stories, build community, and learn from each other on the playground, at the science fair, in the lunchroom, and more.

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt Lamothe

The author takes us on an exploration of seven kids and their families around the world. Readers get a glimpse of a diverse range of the places people live, the foods they eat, the games they play, the things they love, and more. There’s so much here for readers to immerse themselves in, and it naturally lends itself to discussion of how other cultures contain both similarities and differences with our own.

Adventures to School: Real-Life Journeys of Students from Around the World by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul and illustrated by Isabel Muñoz

This book features students from thirteen different nations on their daily trips to school. Some go by boat, others by toboggan, and some by wire bridge. Featuring first-person perspectives as well as information about each country, this format offers readers a lot to consider, comparing some of these challenging journeys to our own journeys to school.

What’s Cooking at 10 Garden Street? by Felicita Sala

This picture book leads the reader through an apartment building as the residents prepare dishes to bring to a potluck. Each spread includes a simple recipe and gives a peek into another world or culture. Whimsical and creative, this story highlights the pleasures of connecting with friends and neighbors around a table and the inclusive spirit that a good meal fosters.

Buzzing with Questions: The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner by Janice N. Harrington and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III

Whether studying spiders, ants or bees, biologist Charles Henry Turner’s work was marked by incredible curiosity and determination. In the early 20th century, he made discoveries about the behavior of insects that made him a leader in the field of entomology, all while battling racial prejudice and segregated institutions. Despite these difficulties, Turner saw social hope in his professional work, writing that “biology could help people see the connections among all living things.”

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson and illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler

This is the inspiring story of environmentalist Wangari Matthai, the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. As a child in Kenya, Wangari developed a profound connection to the mugumo tree. She studied biology, became a professor, and launched efforts to plant trees across Kenya to restore forests and farmland. Wangari, who became known as “Mother of Trees,” showed the world the power of planting a tree in pursuit of peace.

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver written by Gene Barretta and illustrated by Frank Morrison

This book takes us into the childhood secret garden of George Washington Carver, the agricultural scientist who came of age working on the Missouri farm where his family had been enslaved. As a boy, he learned how to make dyes and paints from nuts and berries, to craft brushes from twigs and grass, and to use plants and leaves for medicines. He loved nature and made “his own classroom in the woods.” This is the story of a determined botanist, scientist and inventor who overcame tremendous hardship and dedicated himself to sharing knowledge to help family farms flourish.

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi with illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky

This rhyming board book addresses issues important for readers of all ages to be familiar with and understand. It offers nine steps for conversations about working toward making equity a reality, and stresses the celebration of diverse people and ideas while condemning the policies that inhibit an embrace of our common humanity.

Kate Rowe loves picture books, reading, gardening, cooking, and talking about all of these things! She shares picture book recommendations paired with food adventures @thepicturebookcook on Instagram. She is a writer, editor, and parent of two young book-loving garden helpers.