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.

Thursday, September 29, 2022



    by Julie Anne Peters


A coming of age story of two sisters becoming themselves and stumbling along the way. Told through the perspective of their sister Regan, we watch as Liam, longing to spread their wings and escape the entrapment of their basement, begins to live as their true self as Luna.

What does it mean to be true to yourself?

What are you willing to risk to be free?

Regan barely knows who she is when her "perfect" brother begins to change. Soon, everything she knows changes too. As she struggles to accept her brother, she learns lessons of love and acceptance. 

Liam Luna is a transgender woman who is tried of living only as herself in her basement. She grows the courage to begin to live as her true self sacrificing all that she has accumulated for all that she truly wishes for. 

Element 5 (Raising Awareness):

Students are able to draw connections between marginalized communities and their shared struggle for acceptance and love. I would use this book as a jumping off point to draw connectivity between marginalized communities and the American dream of love, acceptance, and a place to belong. 


  • After having modeled the exercise (using a nurse) the teacher will explain how students will use the same questions to analyze their perceptions of the following communities:
    • Gay 
    • Lesbian 
    • Transgender
    • Bisexual

  • Students will be split into groups and given one of the following communities to answer the following questions on their poster board:

    • What does…community look like?

    • What does… community wear?

    • What words do you think of when you hear … community?

    • How is … community portrayed in the media?

    • How is … community treated in the community?

  • Students will explain their posters to the group and their findings 

  • Students will explain the answers to their given questions 


Whoever You Are


Author: Mem Fox
Illustrator: Leslie Staub
Genre: Informational Text
Grade: 1 & 2


"Whoever you are" is about children all around the world that share similar experiences with emotions, interacting with friends, learning, eating, and sleeping. Although, the way we go about receiving what we need looks different for everyone because we may not speak the same language or look the same. On the inside, we are all alike. This book takes you across cultures and generations with beautiful paintings and teaches us to welcome our differences, while acknowledging our similarities and loving both. 

Element 2: Respect For Others 

This book allows children to learn about themselves and what makes them similar and different to others around them. Through this exploration of self and the world around us, teachers can facilitate discussions about culture, racism, discrimination, and equity. This can also start conversations around social movements and actions that have helped shape the world today.


I would first read this book to my class and have everyone draw a self-portrait. On their portraits, I would have them write traits or words that describe them or that they love about themselves. Then for my 3rd graders, I would partner them up and have students create a venn diagram. In the venn diagram one student would write traits or words about themselves and their partner would do the same in the other circle. In the middle of the diagram, they would write all the traits they have in common. The activity would help students to understand what they love about themself and learn about a classmate in the process. For my second graders, I found a worksheet with pictures from the story. They would cut out these pictures and sort them by ways the story showed us we are the same and different. 

Purchase Book Here !

The Four Winds

 The Four Winds

Author: Kristin Hannah

Genre: Historical Fiction

Grade Level: 8-12


The Four Winds is a historical fiction piece set in the years leading up to and during the Great Depression. The focus of the novel is on Elsa Martinelli, first as a young woman herself and later as the mother to two children. Readers get an in depth understanding of the Great Depression and the very real horrors it caused, especially in the Southwest United States. Additionally, one woman’s life journey is told and readers get to see her begin to set herself free from the confines placed upon her by her family and society as a whole.

Exploring Issues of Social Justice: 

At the core of this novel is an exploration of class systems in the United States and the way in which capitalism fuels division. Very realistic testimonials of families living during these hard times shows students how difficult it can be to work in manual labor and provide for a family. Additionally, the book offers an honest view at how a capitalistic society is inherently unfair to many groups. Finally, the readers get to see the beginnings of unionization in a way that hopefully corrects misconceptions they may have gathered over the years.

Activity: Students can look up a more recent unionization conflict(such as Amazon) and hold a simulated “town hall” over why unionization is necessary. One group can even "play" Amazon, but it is important to make sure unionization is framed as the right thing.

Teacher Resources: Cheap copies available here!

Just Like Me

  Just Like Me - Brantley-Newton, Vanessa 

Author: Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley-Newton 

Genre: Poetry

Grade: Preschool-3



Just Like Me represents girls of different backgrounds and experiences, embracing who they are, and standing together. There are girls who proudly embrace their body, hair, or weirdness. There are girls who boldly describe themselves as being a canvas, song, warrior, or explorer. Then, there are girls who embrace their hardships/challenges, such as the girl who wishes to have a father, the girl who stands up against bullies, the girl who hates her pimples, and the girl who is shy. Though every girl’s story is different, they are able to identify their worth, celebrate one another, and build each other up. This book showcases the beauty of diversity, uniqueness, authenticity, and unity.

Element One: Self-love and Knowledge:

This book represents self-love and knowledge by representing a variety of girls in different situations, who still manage to embrace themselves, where they are. Some girls are happy, some are proud, some are unfulfilled, some are in unfavorable circumstances, and yet that does not change their beauty or the perception they have of themselves. The message that this book sends is “You are enough, where you are. You do not need to wish to be someone else in order to feel important. You are not alone.”  


Class project where students either draw themselves or bring in a photograph of themselves to place at the center of a poster-board. Around their portrait, they are to draw or find images of objects, symbols, and/or words from magazines, newspapers, or the internet, that make them unique and describes them. The descriptions can be anything they want: cultural, familial, hobbies, interests, dreams etc. The point of this project would be for students to recognize their uniqueness and individuality, and to celebrate themselves, just as they are. There is only one YOU! Students would then be able to present in front of their classmates in order to create a safe space, where everyone could share their posters.


Teacher Resources 

Buy here!



Wednesday, September 28, 2022

She Persisted: Maria Tallchief


Author: Christine Day
Interior Illustrator: Gillian Flint
Publisher: Penguin Random House LLC
Grade Level: 1-4
Social Justice Element #4: Social Movements and Social Change


    She Persisted: Maria Tallchief by Christine Day tells the life story of a biracial Osage girl who, despite the discrimination she faced, persevered to become one of the most successful ballerinas of all time.  In 1925, Maria Tallchief was born in Oklahoma to a father who was a citizen of the Osage Nation and a white woman from Kansas. Her mother could not afford ballet lessons as a child, so she wanted to ensure that her children had the opportunity to try it. In her early teenage years, Maria Tallchief fell in love with the beauty and challenge of ballet, so from then on, she knew that dance was what she wanted to do as a career. Although Maria Tallchief consistently proved to be at the top of her class, she found herself getting background roles until she moved to New York. Although Maria Tallchief continued to face prejudice, her career took off, and she used her platform to support the causes she believed in. 

Social Justice Element

    This book is a powerful representation of Social Justice Element #4: Social Movements and Social Change because it highlights core values of activism on individual and community levels. Throughout Tallchief's life, we see how she pushes back against the prejudice inflicted upon her. For instance, when she is pressured to change her name to sound Russian, she refuses her boss and walks away from an international touring contract. Also, once Tallchief reached the heights of her success, she used her platform to support Americans for Indian Opportunity by volunteering for this organization. Another way that this book draws attention to Social Justice is in its geographic language. Los Angeles is not just Los Angeles; it is the land once known as Tovaangar. When Maria moves, she moves to the traditional Lenape territory known as New York City. Additionally, the book ends with a section titled, "How You Can Persist." In this section, Day outlines several ways that readers can become more active in fighting for social change. One recommendation is to "Visit tribally managed museums, cultural centers, or public powwows to celebrate and support the Native American community" (Day 30). 

Where to Buy It

    An excellent, family-owned bookstore is Aaron's Books in Lititz, PA. You can buy the book She Persisted: Maria Tallchief here and the audiobook here. A. S. King, another renowned social justice author, does work with (and provides signed copies of her books to) this local bookstore. 

Potential Activity
This activity was inspired by this worksheet from Teachers Pay Teachers
  • Before class begins, the teacher can place a pack of sticky notes on each table or group of desks. The teacher can also hang a large poster sticky note in the front of the room with the word "Persistent" in the middle (like a graphic organizer).

  • The Do Now activity could be, "What comes to mind when you think of the word, 'Persistent'?"

  • The students will come up with as many words or phrases as possible and put them on the poster.

  • The class can then come up with their own annotation guide for the reading She Persists: Maria Tallchief. For example, if one/multiple sticky notes said, "Standing up for your beliefs," the class can look for examples of standing up for one's beliefs. The annotation guide might consist of three items to look out for.

  • Throughout the reading, the class can stop and reflect about examples of discrimination or resilience that they see, referring back to the class-made annotation guide.
Teacher Resources

The Water Princess

Author: Susan Verde
Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
Genre: Realistic Fiction 
Grade: K-3


    The Water Princess is a story about a young girl named Princess Gie Gie, who lives in a small African village where clean drinking water is scarce. Gie Gie and her mother wake up before the sun and walk miles to collect fresh water for drinking and cleaning. Gie Gie dreams of bringing clean water to her village. Despite her prayers, Gie Gie cannot make the water come closer to the village and she cannot make it run clearer. She demands that the water come closer and that she no longer wants to get up before the sun to have clean water. Every night Gie Gie and her mother prepare for another voyage the next day. Gie Gie questions: “Why is the water so far? Why is the water not clear? Where is our water?” Her mother tells her to dream that someday she will find a way to bring the water closer and clear. 

Element 6: Social Action

This book represents the element of Social Action because The Water Princess is a great example of a text that highlights a social and cultural dilemma. Gie Gie wants to be an advocate for her village and put a lot of effort and thought into the ways that she hopes to bring clean water into her community. This text can remind and inspire children that it only takes one person to make a change in their community. 


    I would use this book to introduce similar environmental or systemic issues that affect my students and to introduce the meaning of advocacy and what it means to have a voice.  This book will be a great segway into encouraging students to use their voices to talk about environmental or systemic issues that impact themselves and their families. 

    Students will write letters to government officials advocating for an environmental or systemic issue that impacts themselves and their families the most. For example, students who live in Newark, New Jersey, may write letters to The New Jersey Department of Environmental Justice (NJDEP) to advocate for clean air and to keep important environmental justice laws in place. 

Purchase here!

Teacher Resources

Our Skin


Author: Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli, & Isabel Roxas
Illustrator: Isabel Roxas
Genre: Children's literature
Grade: Pre-K - 3rd Grade 


Our Skin is a magnificent reading to start a conversation about skin color with our children. This book uses scientific terms that can be introduce to children at any age.  Additionally, we can utilize the book Our Skin as an example in our classroom to represent skin color with a proper name. Many scholars  pointed at  this book as great conversation starter for skin color in our classrooms.   Overall, the book our skin can easily initiate  a clear view of race, gender, social justice, body positivity, respect to others and the ways that racism operates in our surroundings. 

Element 2:  Respect to others

The idea of respect to others should be taught to children as soon as they recognize differences in people's skin color.  By doing so, we educate  and start creating a positive learning environment where every one is treated with respect.   This book shows us that respect is not just being polite in fact, respect  teaches us  a positive approach to race.  The early conversation about skin color in a meaningful  way,  can  help us interrupt  the  negative narrative that the children of color  experience at a very young age. The children must understand  that the negative things that people say about race are not scientifically proven. People's skin color does not determine whose race is better than the other.  


 Following the reading of the book students  will color garland of people representing each one of them. 

  • With support the student will glue a picture of their faces on each paper  garland,
  • The children will use colors and paint to color each one of them.
  •  With support, the children will write their name on the character that they represented.
  •   The garlands will hang on our multicultural wall.