in honor of John Lewis

John Lewis’s death is a massive loss for our nation, and one that deeply saddens me.
I stand in awe of his courage and perseverance, his bent towards peace, and his unflagging hope.
His encouragement to “make good trouble,” inspires me,
especially at the times when I feel most dismayed over our society.

Today I’ve collected some top choices from the Marmalade archives for us to read or re-read, alone or with our kids,
to honor Mr. Lewis, learn from his life, and push forward in our awareness and advocacy for racial justice.
These books are for a wide age span, about 4 years through adult,
so scan through the list to find the best choices for yourselves or the readers in your sphere.

March, volumes 1, 2, and 3, written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
published in 2013, 2015, and 2016 by Top Shelf Productions

These are at the top of the list if you want to learn about John Lewis’s extraordinary life. The series of three graphic novel memoirs cover the arc of Lewis’ life and his engagement with the Civil Rights movement.

The trilogy not only acquaints us with this heroic man, but conveys the weight borne by the men, women, and children of the movement, helps us feel the suffering, grief, injustice they faced, as well as the incredible reservoir of peace and love fueling their non-violent resistance, and the long slog towards an outcome they did not know if they would live to see. My highest recommendation for ages 14 through adult.

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis, written by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
published in 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Books for Young Readers

A gorgeous picture book biography of Lewis. Asim confines his account to Lewis’s childhood allowing him the leisure to amble slowly, soaking up the formative details in this gentle giant’s life. E.B. Lewis’s sun-dappled illustrations carry us straight into John’s world on a dusky farm in Alabama, shine a light on the earthy labors of his family and on one earnest, tenderhearted boy. Perfect for ages 4 and up.

Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961, by Larry Dane Brimner
published in 2017 by Calkins Creek
97 pages

Brimner’s chronological account of the heroic Freedom Riders conveys the atrocious violence and injustices they faced as well as the courageous determination of these nonviolent protestors, including John Lewis. It’s a piece of American history you and your children need to know about, a riveting exposition for ages 11 and up.

Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights that Changed America, by Russell Freedman
published in 2014 by Holiday House
96 pages

A vivid account of Selma’s virulent racism, the steely courage of the SNCC workers who began voting rights protests there, the horrors of Bloody Sunday, and the triumphant march to Montgomery. Selma is a piece of ground and of American history hallowed by the shedding of blood for the sake of justice. Lewis was one of those critically involved, viciously beaten, and still resolved to march on. Excellent and important for ages 11 through adult.

A Place to Land: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation, written by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
published in 2019 by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House

If I’m not mistaken, this picture book account, which majors on MLK’s wrestling with what exactly he should speak on at the March on Washington, includes the fiery appeal made by a very young John Lewis. He was just 23 years old when he addressed the massive crowd in that historic, iconic moment. If I’m remembering incorrectly, it’s still a fantastic, gorgeous read about one of the major moments in Lewis’s career and the Civil Rights movement to which he dedicated his life. Ages 8 to adult.

The Undefeated, written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
published in 2018 by Versify, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A stunning picture-book tribute to the unforgettable, the unflappable, the unafraid, the righteous marching ones within the panoply of African American history, including John Lewis. This is a deeply moving piece and an extraordinary work of art. Ages 4 to adult.

How to Build a Museum: Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, by Tonya Bolden
published in 2016 by Viking and The Smithsonian
64 pages

The story of how this museum finally came to be after one hundred years of efforts includes the mighty and persistent advocacy of John Lewis. Read about the process and go treasure hunting among the myriad artifacts within this monumentally popular museum. Ages 9 and up.