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, November 25, 2015

The Curious Garden

Title: The Curious Garden
Author: Peter Brown
Grade level: PreK-3

Liam lived in a very dull city that lacked vegetation. One day, while he was exploring the top of an abandoned railway, he came across a patch of dying flowers. These flowers were in desperate need of a gardener and Liam knew he could help. He watered them and nurtured them back to life. As the weeks went by, the flowers started looking beautiful and happy again. When winter came and covered the flowers with snow, all he could do was prepare for the spring. When the snow finally melted, Liam returned to the flowers and cared for them again. The flowers started to grow uncontrollably and their weeds traveled down the walls of the railway, making their way into people’s yards and around the city. Liam was most surprised to see all the new gardeners that the flowers had brought around his community. Years later, the city was covered with vegetation and pretty flowers. Liam continued to visit his favorite spot where he first found that little patch of dying flowers. 

Element 6: Taking Social Action
This book exemplifies element six because the main character takes part in a social action that ends up positively affecting his whole community. His passion towards gardening and keeping vegetation alive ends up spreading flowers across the entire city. What makes him the happiest is seeing all the new gardeners (the people living in his community) outside, nurturing the flowers in their yards as well. The city went from being dull and colorless to lively and beautiful thanks to Liam and his social action of making the community a greener place.

To expand upon Liam’s social action, I will finish the lesson with a fun before/after activity. I will distribute worksheets that have two squares side-by-side on them, the left square labeled “Before” and the right square labeled “After.” I will ask students to draw a picture of what the city looked like before (left square) and after (right square) Liam found the patch of flowers on the railway. Students will be able to color their drawings while discussing what they drew with the people sitting around them. Students will also write a sentence or two underneath their pictures explaining what they have drawn.
Why Should I Save Water?

Author: Jen Green
Illustrator: Mike Gordon
Grade Level: Pre-k – Kindergarten

Element 6: Taking Social Action

Summary: Why Should I Save Water? will teach students how important clean water is and how important it is to preserve it. Through heavy use of illustrations, readers are told and shown several ways in which they and their families can conserve their water usage. When Kirsty sees her neighbor wasting water, she tells him the dangerous of wasting water and what would happen if all the water was to disappear. Kirsty walks her neighbor through a list of things him and his family do in their everyday life that wastes a lot of water, and then teaches him how to conserve it. In the text, Kirsty teaches her neighbor, and the readers, that simple things like turning the faucet off when you’re brushing your teeth or washing full loads of laundry instead of several small loads will conserve water usage.

How does it represent SJE6? Why Should I Save Water? promotes the understanding that our most important natural resource, water, is extremely important to our everyday life and it should not go to waste. Kirsty explains to her neighbor several ways he could conserve his water usage and then he takes that information and shares it with his family so they too can conserve their water usage. This book triggers a lot of classroom discussion and allows for students to take home some questions and discussion topics so they can be socially aware of their water usage at home and share that knowledge with their family.

How would I use it? I would use Why Should I Save Water? by having the class create a list of things they use water for and if they believe their water usage is good or not and in what ways they can conserve water. Also, I think that an interesting approach to this book is to use it as an introduction to a unit about water conservation and the water cycle. I think if students understand when and how they’re using too much water, it could be a good idea to begin a lesson to teach them how the water got their homes to begin with and how the water cycle works.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Take Social Action and VOTE!

Title: VOTE!
Author and Illustrator: Eileen Christelow
Social Justice Element: #6 Taking Social Action

VOTE! is a how-to book on voting; it talks about what voting is, why, how, what and where you do it. It's a great book for children to get a good first lesson on voting because although it is mainly about political elections, it relates to simpler things to vote on like a family voting on which puppy they want to buy. This makes it a very relatable book for children of young ages.  In the back of the book there is even a glossary, more information about political parties and a timeline on voting. This book represents the 6th element of taking social action because voting is a fantastic approach to taking social action and has quite a bit to do with most things involving taking social action.

Ideally, I would use this book on Election Day in a 2nd or 3rd grade classroom. We would use this book for a read aloud to briefly talk about election day and what is involved in the process. This is a great way to make use of your reading lesson for the day because you can still teach about Election Day without taking away from the content areas. After reading the book we would have a vote on whether we should write a reaction to the story or do vocabulary from the story (from the words in the glossary). 

If you want to learn more about this book and/or purchase it, you can do so here!

Monday, November 16, 2015


Author / Illustrator: Kathryn Otoshi
Grade Level: K - 2

Buy It Here!

One by Katheryn Otoshi is a colorful tale about standing up for what is right, even when everyone else is afraid to do so. Blue is a quiet color, and although he can be a little envious of his colored friends, he is quite happy being himself. There is only one color that can make Blue feel a little blue, and that color is Red. You see, Red likes to pick on Blue, and even though the other colors comfort Blue privately, they would not dare to stand up to Red. Everything changes when someone new appears, and his name is One. One is not just a color, but he is a number too! When Red starts picking on One, One stands up to him. And so it goes, the others colors begin standing up to Red too, and eventually they become numbers. In the end, it is the Blue number six that convinces Red to join the group, and he too becomes a Red number seven. This heartwarming story of friendship and compassion teaches children of all ages that although it may be difficult, it is important to stand up for what is right. In the end, even the worst of enemies can become the best of friends!

Element 5 - Raising Awareness:
One shares the story of Blue, who is constantly being picked on by Red. Although the other colors console Blue in secret, they would never dream of confronting Red. And so it goes, every time Red says something mean, he grows bigger and bigger. And as he grows bigger, he becomes meaner and meaner. Soon, all of colors became afraid of him, and none of them are courageous enough to face him. That is, until One comes along. One is not like the other colors, for he is a number. Not only is he a number, but he is a funny number that makes all the colors laugh. Red does not like this, and he becomes red hot with anger. He tells the other colors to stop laughing, and they do as they are told. However, when Red tells One to stop laughing, One says no.
Soon enough, the other colors start standing up to Red. And then, something magical begins happening. The colors turn to numbers too! Seeing this only causes Red to become angrier and hotter. He races over to Blue and does what he had always done, pick on him. This time, however, Blue stands firm in front of Red and will not back down. Eventually, Blue becomes a blue number six. When Red tries to run Blue over, the other numbers stand in his way. But Blue does not want Red to feel left out, and so One and the rest of numbers decide to include Red, and soon enough, he becomes a Red number 7. Katheryn Otoshi does a phenomenal job of showing readers that it only takes one act of bravery to make a difference, and only one act of kindness to bring everyone together. 


I would choose to read this book to my class during National Bullying Prevention Month. I would read this book to my students first, and continue with a follow-up discussion about some important elements in the book. (i.e. what mood or personality each color represents, which color represented the bully, which color(s) represented the victim, who the hero(s) was, etc.) After this discussion, I would read the book aloud to my students once more.
Afterwards, I would ask students to draw the scene from the book that they felt depicted what it means to stand up to a bully. After drawing the scene, I would ask students, using a piece of loose-leaf paper, to write why they feel it is important to do so. Gathering together as a group, we will discuss some of the important scenes that students drew, as well as their responses to my open-ended question.
To complete this lesson, together as a class we will create an anti-bullying pledge that incorporates the title of the book. (i.e. I will stand up to bullying. I will treat others how I want to be treated. Even if I am the only ONE, it is my responsibility to stand up for what is right.)
Using the drawn scenes from the book, the responses to my question, and our classroom anti-bullying pledge, I will create a bulletin board outside of my classroom to show others in the school that my students will not tolerate bullying.

Faraway Grandpa

Author: Roberta Karim

Illustrator: Ted Rand

Grade Level: K-3

Get the book here!

Resources: Tolerance Ageism, and Alzheimer's

Summary: Faraway Grandpa is a heartwarming story about the unbreakable bond between a young girl and her grandfather during the early 20th century. The two families live far apart from one another and they write letters in order to stay in touch. Every summer the granddaughter and her parents travel to visit Grandpa. Unfortunately, on their last trip to Grandpa’s house, he has trouble remembering things.

Element 2- Respect for Others: The young girl notices the changes in her grandfather’s actions and his inability to always remember their special traditions, and yet she does not let it change their relationship. The granddaughter continues to treat her grandpa with the same love and respect even when everyone else begins to act differently towards him because of his illness. Grandpa is actually able to remember things a lot more clearly when his granddaughter is around because of her unwavering support and encouragement.

Activity:  It is imperative for students to realize that everyone deserves respect and a meaningful life; no matter their age, ability, or background. Students should be aware that seniors should not be looked upon as burdens but as individuals full of wisdom and life stories to share. Faraway Grandpa reminds us that children too have the ability to teach others and make the world a better place. I would have my class write letters to and/or visit senior citizens, allowing for the exchange of knowledge and experiences from one generation to another.

Element 5

What Do You Do With An Idea? 

Written by Kobi Yamada 
Illustrated by Mae Besom 

What Do You Do With An Idea?, by Kobi Yamada, is a great story to highlight the importance of following through with the things that you believe in. In this case, we follow a little boy who is seemingly burdened by an idea. As the story progresses, he comes to realize that he can nurture and play with his idea. Thus, helping it to grow and turn into something amazing. Along the way he faces some challenges; He worries what others think of his idea. However, he comes to understand that it does not matter; It is his idea. Therefore, he can make his idea into anything he wants. Finally, his idea is set free and we see his world change for the better. Hence, in order to follow through with an idea, children need guidance and a push in the right direction. 

What Do You Do With An Idea, certainly represents Element 5 of the Six Elements of Social Justice. In other words, important themes can be introduced through the use of a short story like this one. More specifically, the importance of raising awareness. Like the boy in the story, feeling passionately about something helps one become an advocate. While What Do You Do With An Idea is very whimsical and up for interpretation, I feel it is the perfect way to help young children have faith in themselves; To help them realize it is okay to have new and different ideas. Further, that it is so important for them to let their ideas out. In doing so, they are being a predecessor for action; helping those around them become comfortable to raise awareness as well. 

In order for the action to occur, there are a few ways to use this text. First off, this text can be used for children as young as preschool age, but all the way up to around the fourth grade. This silly, inventive story can be spun to fit a plethora of content areas, lessons, and units. When using this text in a lesson, I would likely start with an anticipatory set. In doing so, I can introduce the idea of raising awareness in a subtle manner. While subtle, I am a believer in beginning certain lessons with little connection to the overall goal or theme. While unorthodox, I feel that doing this helps students think outside of the box; they are not being restricted to a specific question or topic. Further, their initial ideas and thoughts will be authentic; exactly what I'd be looking for when dealing with this element.  
I would likely link this to a social studies lesson. For example, if my students are in the middle of learning about immigration, I can carry this concept over into their literacy lesson. I will use What Do You Do With An Idea and the information I would have presented to them about immigrants coming to the land of opportunity. Having them use their background information, I will incorporate the theme of making a change; taking an idea and following through with it. Just like the uncountable individuals who migrated to America in search of a better life. In doing so, I am linking two content areas and more importantly incorporating Element 5. What Do You Do With An Idea is the perfect starting point for further exploration into ideas they have. This can be turned into a project for my students. The possibilities are endless. 

The following are two great resources that can be used alongside the story. They can enhance a read aloud or take htis concept further, into other content areas.