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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Element 3: The Skin I'm In A First Look at Racism - Pat Thomas

The Skin I'm In A First Look at Racism - Pat Thomas
Reading Level - Pre-k to Second Grade
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Summary: A first look book at the concept of skin color, culture, and religious differences. Making younger children aware of the differences we all have, and how those difference cause people to be treated in an unkind way. The book also has thought provoking questions like: "Have you ever been bullied because of your skin color?" or "What are the variety of skin colors that people come in?" These questions open children's eyes to something they possibly never thought of before. The book also touches on how the way you treat others effects the person on the receiving end. With the moral that we want to treat everyone fairly and equally. No one person is better than anyone else because of their race or cultural connection.

Connection to Element 3: Element 3 is exploring social injustice. As teachers we need to remember to celebrate diversity and push our students to explore how diversity has positively or negatively impacted people. The Skin I'm In allows students at a young age to explore racism and what it means in our society. What is racism, and how could someone thoughts or actions be considered racist. Allowing children to pause and think has this happened to them, or have they possibly been witness to a racist act.

Classroom Use: In a kindergarten or Pre-K classroom this book could be a perfect connection to helping them understand the concept of fair is fair. A unit on Fair is Fair would first consist of a vocabulary lesson that would come prior to reading the book. In that lesson the students would learn the words equal, equality, fair, separate, include, exclude, bravery, and courage. After the class has had the lesson on that vocabulary, the following day we would sit down and read the book The Skin I'm In. We would stop periodically during the book to discuss and see what the children understand. The Skin I'm In would be the stepping stone to the rest of the unit which would expand of the ideas from the book.

Mrs. Katz and Tush

Mrs. Katz and Tush

Author and Illustrator: Patricia Polacco
Publisher: Dell Dragonfly Books, New York
Ages: 4-8
Book can be purchased here:


This story is about an elderly Jewish widow, Mrs. Katz, who is lonely after her husband passes away, and is befriended by her neighbor, a young African American boy by the name of Larnel. He brings her an abandoned kitten which she names Tush (since she has no tail and you can see her bottom), which needs a home and someone to love her. A friendship starts to develop as Larnel visits and spends more time with his elderly neighbor. He enjoys listening to stories about her life and experiences from long ago, and while doing so, learns about the different rituals and customs associated with the Jewish culture and religion. He starts to see the similarities between the struggles she experienced as a Jew, and the struggles that African Americans also endured throughout history. Larnel says, “You mean Jews couldn’t stay anywhere they wanted to? My grandma told me about places she couldn’t stay either”. When Mrs. Katz is explaining the holiday of Passover, she says, “Like your people, my people were slaves too. They lived in a country where they didn’t want to be”.  As the years pass and Larnel grows up, Mrs. Katz, Tush, and her kittens continue to be a part of Larnel’s life, as he himself gets older, marries and has children of his own. The friendship which developed between two very different individuals is a beautiful story of kindness, respect, understanding and love for someone who on the surface appears to be very different, but underneath is more similar than you think.

Element Two – Respect for Others

This story about the friendship between Mrs. Katz and Larnel exemplifies this element beautifully. Element Two deals with the respect an individual has for another’s diversity and culture. By listening to the experiences of his neighbor with kindness and empathy, Larnel treats Mrs. Katz with kindness, respect and love, and in doing so, receives the same in return. This is a wonderful story about the acceptance of others, and that friendships can bridge cultural differences.


As a classroom activity, I would recommend that after the book is read aloud to the class, they engage in a discussion about the Jewish culture and religion. Since Larnel experiences the Passover Seder with Mrs. Katz, a sample Seder with some of the traditional foods, such as matzah, and the story of the exodus from Egypt can be told. This can then be compared to the experiences of other cultures which were mistreated throughout history.  

Additional lesson plans can be found at:

I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote

Title: I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women to Vote 
Author: Linda Arms White
Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter
Reading Level: K-4th Grade

If you liked this book click here to view a similar book about another important women's suffragist 

Summary: The book I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote is a children's picture book about a young girl, who sees her mother doing things, and realizing that she can do them too. In the book Esther Morris keeps telling her mother "I could do that!" She learns how to make tea, sew, take care of her siblings, and even own her own business. She grows up and can do all these things, though she still cannot vote because she is a woman, and only men could vote. She made it her mission to get women the right to vote in Wyoming.  

Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice: This book reflects Element 3 because it is about the history of how women were oppressed because they did not have the right to vote. The book helps explains how women's suffragist, like Esther Morris, changed history. Before Esther Morris woman did not have the right to vote in the state of Wyoming. She was also the first woman to hold public office. Esther Morris started the movement of gaining all woman the right to vote in the United States! 

Activity: Before reading the book to the class I would do an activity to help student's understand that there was a time in history that only certain people were allowed to vote. I would have the student's vote on something like naming the class pet. After the vote, I then would say anyone sitting at certain tables votes do not count because they do not sit near the class pet because they do not know it well enough to name it. I would then see how the vote changes and show the students. This would then lead into a discussion because it is obviously not fair for students sitting further away to not be able to name the class pet. This would bring up the fact that at a time in history woman were not allowed to vote. This would lead into a read-aloud of I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote. After reading the book the class could have a conversation about Esther Morris and how she was important to history, and then the students could write questions that they would want to ask Esther Morris if they got to meet her. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thank You, World

Written by Alice B. McGinty and Illustrated by Wendy Anderson.
For ages 3-7
Find out more about the author click here
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More books from this author click here

SUMMARY: This wonderfully illustrated bookThank You World, by Alice B. McGinty, shows our world and all the simple wonders it has to offer. Each page says 'Thank You' to the world for various beauties such as the sky, the sun, and the grass. Each page shows 8 different children from 8 different countries looking up at the same sky, feeling the same grass. One page writes, "Thank you, grass, for softening my footsteps. I'm dancing with the breeze." Then each page shows four different pictures of children in different countries enjoying the grass and playing... sharing the same simple beauty of the Earth!
This book is a great read for preschool through 2nd grade. With the older students, they can explore the meaning of the text and it's illustrations. This can open a discussion and show children that we are more similar to each other than we are different… we enjoy the same activities like playing in the grass and flying kites, no matter where we live on Earth. Kids from around the world are just like me and you!

ELEMENT 2: This book highlights element 2 because the illustrations show many different cultures experience the same simple joy the earth and what nature has to offer. This can be a wonderful picture book for preschool teachers. Teachers can point out that these children from different countries like playing the same games we do! With the older grades we can discuss with our students what makes us similar to those who live far away, or to those who are of a different culture than ourselves. We discuss what makes us different! We may be different in many beautiful ways, like in what we eat and in what we wear, but as the book shows we all look up at the same sky, enjoy the same rain, and share more similarities than differences.  

ACTIVITY: This book can be a wonderful conversation starter to a unit observing other cultures and linking them to our own. Preschool students can do an art activity with mixing their own unique colors. Hands can be placed in their unique colors and can be placed on a large banner sheet. Together the class makes a banner cover in their unique handprints. The are all different yet similar to each other because each is a hand that is the same as all the others.  Older students can observe the illustrations and pick one culture they would like research more about. Students can research ways in which children in that particular culture learn, play and spend their time. They can show each other in a class report telling how our culture is similar to other cultures, as well as sharing the differences we may share. 

Horton Hears a Who!

Horton Hears a Who!

Written and Illustrated by: Theodor Seuss Geisel "Dr. Seuss"


      This book tells the story of "Horton" the elephant, which while playing in a puddle, hears a voice but no one is around. On further inspection he realizes that the sound is coming from a spec of dust. Being the kind-hearted creature he is, Horton vows to protect the spec of dust realizing that someone or something lives on it.

Later, Horton realizes that not only does someone live on the spec but in all actuality the spec is actually a planet! One with buildings, trees and people, yes! Plural! The Mayor of the microscopic whoville asks Horton to protect them from all dangers they may encounter. Horton agrees stating, "A person is a person no matter how small. “The other animals in the village don’t take well to Horton protecting the spec, of which they believe is not inhabited by anything.

      At one point the spec is stolen by monkeys and Horton vows to get it back. The person in charge a power hungry Kangaroo, threatens to boil the spec to prove nothing exists on it. That is when the town gets together to make a loud sound; loud enough to assure the kangaroo and everyone else hear them. Alas, they succeed and all the jungle animals vow to protect the spec and its tiny inhabitants.

Element 2: Respect for others

The reason I picked this book was because of its message, I believe it is the perfect story for element two. This story spreads the message of equality, "A person is a person no matter how small." It also shows students to stand up for people who dont or cant stand up for themselves. It also shows studetns that if you beleive in something you should stand up to all those that oppose you.

Classroom Activity 

The story can assist with different subjects there are activities for Literacy and Math, even science. 

Literacy: The students can write a thank you letter in the prespective of the Mayor of the whos to Horton. Also, the students can write a newspaper report about an elephant who found a planet on a spec or a article about the planet itself, how did it get there?

Math: How large is an elephant? How small is a speck of dust and how would you be able to measure them. What unit of measure would you use. 

Science: As a teacher you can compare the size of whos to things in real life so they can picture the scale of things. 

Giraffes Can't Dance

Book Title: Giraffes Can't Dance

Author: Giles Andreae

Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees

Grade Level: Pre-K - Kindergarten

Social Justice Element: Element 2 - Respect for Others 


Gerald is a giraffe living in the jungles of Africa. Unfortunately, he is uncoordinated and so clumsy that he oftentimes has trouble just walking around. Gerald is very excited for the annual Jungle Dance. He watched all the other animals and their wonderful dancing, and wanted to join in. However, when Gerald ventured to join the dance he was teased by the other animals before he started dancing. This was so discouraging for Gerald that he left the dance feeling sad and lonely. While wallowing through the forest, Gerald ran into a cricket who encouraged Gerald that he could dance if he found the right music. The cricket began to play music, and made Gerald aware of the sound of the jungle and before long the giraffe was dancing away. The rest of the animals found Gerald and began to cheer on his dance moves.

Representation of Social Justice Element:

In the case of Gerald and his dance moves, the other animals of the jungle made assumptions about his abilities. Gerald was disrespected and ostracized before he was even given the opportunity to dance and enjoy himself. Not were the animals disrespectful of Gerald by accepting a stereotype that giraffes would not be good dances, but they were also disrespectful in insisting that only good dancers be allowed at the dance. The cricket, however, respected Gerald despite the preconceived notions and encouraged the giraffe to develop confidence and dance. The other animals grew to respect Gerald and realized they were wrong in the way they treated him. By the end of the book the whole jungle learned a lesson about respect for one another and were even asking Gerald to teach them some moves! 

Classroom Activity: 

When introducing this book to the class, the teacher could ask the class how they would feel if they were laughed at, or made to feel like they didn't belong. There could be a discussion about how it feels when people tell you that you are bad at something and kick you out of a group. The class would then read the book together. Following this, the teacher would ask the class what "respect" means to them. Once there is a clear definition of respect for others understood by the class, each student would then be asked to make a chart of which characters in the book were and were not respectful of one another. As a class, the teacher would lead a discussion about the actions of the characters and what they could have done differently to show respect for one another. 

Side Note:

Not only does this book have amazing illustrations and focus around an animal very lovable for kids, but the syntax is also amazing. The rhymes flow very easily and would be especially helpful for kids who are having trouble with pronunciation or phonetic skills. The singsongy nature of the book attracts kids, and the theme of dancing can bring movement and excitement into the classroom.

Alternative Lesson Plan:

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