Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom.  The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2012).  It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. Teacher candidates have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings. If you have any questions or comments, please email

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Definition of Elements

1) Self-love and Knowledge: Teachers provide opportunities for students to learn about who they are and where they come from. A sense of dignity in their culture, heritage, ethnicity/race, religion, skin tone, gender etc. is cultivated in the classroom. Students learn about different aspects of their identity and history associated with it. Negative stereotypes about students' identities are deconstructed.

2) Respect for Others: Teachers provide opportunities for students to share their knowledge about their own cultural background with their classmates. The goal is to create a climate of respect for diversity through students learning to listen with kindness and empathy to the experiences of their peers. Students deconstruct stereotypes about their peers' identities.

3) Exploring Issues of Social Injustice: Teachers move from "celebrating diversity" to an exploration of how diversity has differently impacted various groups of people. Students learn about the history of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, religious intolerance etc. and how these forms of oppression have affected different communities. Teachers make links that show how the historical roots of oppression impact the lived experiences and material conditions of people today.

4) Social Movements and Social Change: Teachers share examples of movements of iconic and everyday people standing together to address the issues of social injustice they learned about in element three. Rather than leaving students feeling overwhelmed and defeated, teachers help students understand that working together, ordinary people have united to create change.

5) Raising Awareness: Teachers provide opportunities for students to teach others about the issues they have learned about. This allows students who feel passionately about particular issues to become advocates by raising awareness of other students, teachers, family and community members. It is important to recognize that while raising awareness is a necessary and important pre-cursor for action, it by itself does not translate into change.

6) Taking Social Action: Teachers provide opportunities to take action on issues that afect students and their communities. Students identify issues they feel passionate abotu and learn the skills of creating change firsthand.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jungle Bullies

Author: Steven Kroll
Illustrator: Vincent Nguyen
Grade Level: Pre-k - 1
Summary: Jungle Bullies is a story about jungle animals that bully one another.  The elephant tells the hippo to get out of the water so he can bathe in peace.  The hippo tells the lion to get out of the way so he could get by.  Lion tells the leopard to get out of his spot so he can nap.  Leopard tells the little monkey to get off the branch.  Little monkey runs to his mama and tells her how the leopard is bullying him and she replies that he must stand up to bullies.  Mama goes with the little monkey to tell leopard "Don't you tell me what to do, this tree's big enough for two.  Share it with me as a friend, don't be mean to me again."  After little monkey tells this to leopard he gets an idea.  From than on the animals work together to tell whoever bullied them that it isn't nice.  At the end all of the animals join elephant in the pond and play together. 
Element: Element 5 is raising awareness.  In this story, the awareness of bullying begins when little monkey tells his mama that the leopard had bullied him away from the branch he was sitting on.  After the monkey tells his mama, each animal raises awareness by telling whoever bullied them, "Share with me as a friend, don't be mean to me again."  Within the jungle the animals are raising awareness of bullying amongst themselves.
Activity: With students sitting at their desks, teachers will perform a role play in which they fight over an object, by pretending to yell and push at one another.  Teachers will then hold a class discussion, asking what the two people in the role play did wrong and what could have been done differently.  Each student will get the chance to play each role.  After they play the “bully” the students will switch roles and become the person that is getting yelled at. Students will than design posters that raise awareness about bullying.  The posters will be displayed outside the classroom for all to see.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Social Element 6: Planting the Trees of Kenya: the Story of Wangari Maathai

Title: Planting the tress of Kenya: the story of Wangar
Author: Claire A Nivola
Grade Level: Pre K- 5th grade
It is a fictional Nobel based on a woman who received the Nobel Peace prize in Kenya. Her name is Wangari Maathai who made an active choice and an effort to change Kenya which is her land by educating others to take care for it. She lived in the hill by the farm in a central Kenya where was filled with fig tree, olive tree, flame tree and fish in the streams. She goes to school in America and returns back home in Kenya after five years. The landscape changed, the trees were cut down, and stream water dried up, less animals, no trace of frogs and large plantation growing for tea for business export. The store food became expensive, the neighbor grew weaker and often sickly. The clean drinking water were gone. The firewood were gone, so the cooking became difficult. The neighbor blamed each other, and the government for the shortage of resource, increase in sickness and overall difficult in life. The main character notice the problem, and raise awareness in community to protest against government plan to sell the portion of Karura forest, and to gain authority of poor and uneducated people. She says, “When we see that we are part of the problem, we can become part of the solution”. She suggest simple and big ideas to plant more trees. She taught their community how to make a hole, to prepare soil, to insert seeds and how to water them. The plant died and others were discouraged since it was their new learning experience but she taught them not to give up. Many of the women in Kenya were illiterate because they were farmer and mother, and no one really considered them importantly due to lack of education. Wangari wanted people to take initiative without the involvement of government. She wanted the community to change their own lives. Women started to work harder to plant more trees that helped the health of the community and educated the children. The men admired their wives, mother and children through their social action. He visited the prisons and the soldiers to educate them on seedling instead of bearing arms to protect something that is not their priority. Over thirty years, Wangari started a movement to plant trees, person by person and thirty million trees were plants that recovered the nature of the land.

Social element 6: Taking social action

It relates to our social element six that is about taking action on the issue they feel passionate about. They are able to make a change in the community. This story is specifically about advocating against their own government to do what they believe is right. Wangari showed that women can be more than powerful, and showed their civil rights to take an active role in changing their community environment, health and also speaking up against the government from taking away their forest.
Ask the students to bring a world map, and to find out the location of Africa and Kenya specifically. Teacher will provide age-appropriate books relating to the country of Kenya. Students will do reading on the climate and landscape of Kenya. Student will later do some research on Kenya's government system. This will broaden the student's understanding of global diversity including the way they live in which environment and their government type. The second activity is for students to learn about how to influence the government policy through a project. The project is to create a chart after imaging themselves as the women, men and children who lives in the village  in Kenya. They will brainstorm multiple ways to communicate and reach to the government to advocate and express their opinions/ideas.

It's Earth Day!

 Title: It's Earth Day!
Author & Illustrator: Mercer Mayer
Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Publisher: HarperFestival

Element 5: Raising Awareness

It's Earth Day! is a children's book series about a lovable and charismatic character named Little Critter. He has just learned that the earth is getting hotter and the ice at the North Pole is melting, putting the lives of the Polar Bears at risk. Little Critter goes home and shares this new found knowledge with his family. Him and his classmates take on the task of bringing awareness to the community by making and posting signs that say "Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!". They hope that this will encourage other members of the community to join the fight to keep the North Pole cold and the Polar Bears alive. In addition It's Earth Day! also includes a list of Little Critter's top 10 ways to help save the planet.

Element No. 5- Raising Awareness
It's Earth Day! is a great book to teach element No. 5 because it tells the story about how Little Critter is on a mission to raise awareness among his family and community to slow down global warming. After learning in school that the ice at the North Pole is melting and the Polar Bears are in danger, Little Critter goes home and with his father's help he researches different ways to slow down global warming. Little Critter shares his new found knowledge with his family and community. It's Earth Day! educates readers and gives them ideas of things they can do to help the earth and make a difference. This is a great book that can be used to let readers know that they too can make a difference.

Follow-up Activity:
After reading It's Earth Day! and Little Critter's top 10 ways to help save the planet, the teacher can make a contract that includes a  list with the top 10 things that we can do to help slow down global warming. After giving each student a contract, the teacher can read it and discuss it with the class and the students will check off at least 5 of the things on the list and finally sign off at the bottom. By signing this contract the students will be making a commitment to help save the planet. For homework each student will  be asked to take a blank contract and they will choose someone whom they will share their new found knowledge with; they will then encourage the person they chose to check off at least 5 things from the list, sign it and commit to help save the planet.


Monday, April 14, 2014

One Thousand Paper Cranes

“One Thousand Paper Cranes:  
The Story of Sadako and the Children’s Peace Statue”

Author:  Takayuki Ishii

Grade Level:  4th-6th
Reading Level:  Ages 9-11

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 “One Thousand Paper Cranes:  The Story of Sadako and the Children’s Peace Statue” is a non-fiction chapter book for students in 4th – 6th grade about a young girl in Hiroshima named Sadako.  Sadako was just two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  Ten years later, Sadako Sasaki died from leukemia resulting from exposure to the bomb.  Sadako's determination to fold one thousand paper cranes and her courageous struggle with her illness inspired everyone that knew her.  This story tells of the Japanese national campaign, initiated by Sadako’s classmates, to build the Children's Peace Statue honoring Sadako and the hundreds of other children who died as a result of the bombing of Hiroshima.  On top of the statue is a girl, modeled after Sadako, holding a large folded crane in her outstretched arms. Today in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park this statue of Sadako is beautifully decorated with thousands of paper cranes given by people throughout the world as a symbol of world peace.

 Element Five:  Raising Awareness

This book is an excellent example of Element Five because it shows two specific examples of students coming together to raise awareness of the importance of world peace by remembering those who have died as a result of war.  This book goes beyond the traditional telling of Sadako and her paper cranes by explaining how the author’s son was read the traditional story in his classroom, and as a result, the class decided to raise money for the American Children’s Peace Statue.  Just as the children in the original story had come together to raise funds for the statue, the students of Arroyo del Oso Elementary school in Albuquerque, NM, raised funds for five years.  As a result, they were able to build a statue, “Our Hope For a Peaceful Future” in August of 1995, on the fiftieth anniversary of the dropping of the bomb.

Follow Up Activity
Have the class create a string of one hundred paper cranes to send to the Children's Peace Monument and have their class named on the Paper Crane data base.

Instructions on folding a paper crane:

To send paper cranes:

Anyone may place paper cranes to the Children's Peace Monument in Peace Memorial Park. However, if you are unable to go to the park, they will be happy to offer your cranes to the monument on your behalf. Please send your cranes to the following address. In addition, they would like to enter your name and message for peace into the Paper Crane Database. In this way, your desire for peace will be recorded for posterity. For this purpose, please fill out this registration form and send it back to this address with your paper cranes:

Peace Promotion Division
The City of Hiroshima
1-5 Nakajima-cho Naka-ku,
Hiroshima 730-0811 Japan