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, September 20, 2014

Coming To America

Title: Coming to America: The History of Immigration
Author: Betsy Maestro
Illustrator: Susannah Ryan
Grade Level: 2-4
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.

Purchase this book here.

The author has written many other children's books on American History. To see these books and more, click here.


This book describes an introductory history of immigration to the U.S. in a simple, straightforward style. The wonderful watercolor portraits of immigrants engage the reader. The reader learns how war, natural disasters, or persecution caused some people to move here; the hardship of travel in ships; and the language barrier and social isolation found in settling into America. Despite the difficulties, immigrants were successful in building a strong, independent nation to call home. Most notably, it describes the battles with Native Americans and the African slave trade as examples of mistreatment and how important it is to celebrate each other's differences.

Element #1: Self-Love and Knowledge

This book provides a great background for students to learn about their heritage. As the book describes, all Americans either are immigrants or are related to immigrants at some point in their family history. There are hundreds of characters in this book to which children can relate, that appear diverse and come from different places in the world. All of the characters are treated with dignity by the author, showing acceptance for diverse peoples.

Follow-Up Activity:

In order to support students in feeling good about their own family's background, students can interview parents and draw a portrait (real or imagined) of a relative that emigrated to the U.S. and describe the possible conditions of their transition to living here.

I Like Myself

Author: Karen Beaumont

Illustrator: David Catrow
Grade Level: K-2
Element 1

This short, picture book is about a little girl who loves herself from head to toe and inside out.  Throughout the book, the character describes how she is happy with the way she looks and her personality.  She states, she would love herself even if she looked and acted differently because “there’s no one else she’d rather be”.

Element 1: Self-Love and Knowledge
I Like Myself represents the first element about self-love and knowledge because it allows students to see how they should love themselves for who they are.   As the character states that she would even love herself if she were any different, it shows children that they should be proud of their looks and personality.

To incorporate I Like Myself within my classroom, I would first read the book to my students. Next, I would have an open discussion where my students can reflect upon the things that make them different, what they are proud of, and what they like about themselves.  I will then engage them in a short writing activity where each student will pick one thing they love about themselves, write about it, and draw a picture.  When each page is complete, I will laminate and bind them together to create a classroom book to keep in the library.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Giraffes Can't Dance

Giraffes Can't Dance
Author: Giles Andreae
Illustrator: Guy Parker- Rees

Giraffes Can’t Dance is about a giraffe named Gerald who thinks his elongated body is holding him back from dancing with his other animal friends. Gerald is able to stretch his neck high up to various trees and eat, but he finds that when he moves his body in other ways his weak knees give out on him. The annual jungle dance  has finally arrived and Gerald feels ashamed of himself as he watches all of his jungle friends prance about with one another. When Gerald builds up the confidence and walks out onto the dance floor, he unfortunately is greeted with laughter and mean comments. He leaves the dance embarrassed and alone, until he meets a cricket who brightens his mood by inferring that everyone “dances to their own beat”. Gerald finds his beat and soon becomes the star of the dance.

Element 1:
Gerald’s self-esteem is challenged when he realizes that he is incapable of doing something that all of his friends do wonderfully. This book is a good representation of element one, because throughout the story Gerald learns to be accepting of himself and gains a ton of pride after his perseverance pays off. Giraffes Can’t Dance does a great job at portraying qualities of individuality, uniqueness, and self-confidence; which is a big part of self-love and knowledge and should be modeled for every child in a positive way. 

A good way to incorporate this book into a daily lesson would be to read the book aloud to the class and afterwards have a discussion on individuality. During the discussion the students can be asked what they think the theme of the story is. The topic of uniqueness can also be brought up during the discussion, reminding the students that everyone dances, walks, talks, eats, and lives differently; and that is what makes us all special and different from one another. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, would be another great topic to touch upon (just like Gerald who at first was not a good dancer, but he was tall enough to reach things that others couldn’t). A hands-on activity that can be done after the discussion would be to have the students draw a shape of whatever they wanted (an outline of themselves, a football, soccer ball, star, etc.) and fill the shape with words or drawings that make them who they are. What are they proud of about themselves? What makes them different from one another? Once they are finished they can choose to share their projects with their peers.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Skin I'm In: A First Look At Racism

Author: Pat Thomas
Illustrator: Lesley Harker
Ages: 4 and up (Pre-K and up)

Buy it here!

The Skin I'm In: A First Look At Racism is book that discusses the issue of racism in our world.  The book immediately begins by having the reader imagine a world where only certain types of people receive privileges over others.  Following that, the author informs the reader that everyone has their own culture or race that tells of your family history. This allows the reader to reflect on their own culture, traditions, religion, etc.  It goes on to show that everyone around the world may be very different on the outside but everyone is more alike, beautiful, and from the same family called the human family.  The book then defines what a racist and a bully is and behavior shown by both through pictures and examples.  Afterwards, it discusses how one can make a difference by telling a trusted adult and stand up against racism.  The book shows us how to appreciate our culture and love one another's differences.

Element 1:
In element one, students learn to love who they are and where they came from.  It also deconstructs negative stereotypes.  In the book The Skin I'm In: A First Look At Racism, students will learn to embrace their differences like culture and skin color and stand up against racism to better our world.  There is an example in the book where a girl is discriminated against because of her skin color.  As a result, she tells an adult and learns to love herself regardless of what others may think. This book is a great tool for early childhood elementary teachers because it provides them with various ways students can stand up to racism and bullying.  It also encourages students to take pride in their culture, heritage, skin color, etc which directly relates to element one.

I would read this book aloud to the class and encourage the students to think about their culture, family traditions, skin color, religion, etc as the book is being read.  Before reading the book, I would ask the students to look around the classroom to notice that people around them may not look like them but may share some similarities and differences.  I would then allow them to discuss with one another their family background.  This would give opportunity for the students to learn about their peers.  Upon completing the book, I would do a role-playing activity by putting the students in groups and create scenarios where people may be bullied or made fun due to racial differences.  In this activity, we would discuss how it made the individual feel and how we can be better citizens by standing up to racism.  This activity teaches us how to love ourselves and love others.

I Love Saturdays y dominos by Alma Flor Ada

I Love Saturdays y domingos
Author: Alma Flor Ada
Illustrator: Elivia Savadier
Grade Level: K-2

Buy it here!
Additional Resources

Summary: I Love Saturdays y domingos is a story about a little girl who spends the weekend with her grandparents. On Saturdays, she goes to her father's parents who she calls Grandma and Grandpa. On domingos (Sundays in Spanish) she goes to her mother's parents who she calls Abuelito y Abuelita. She spends her weekends eating different foods from their cultures, singing different songs, spending time with both sets of grandparents doing fun activities, and hearing stories about when they were growing up in New York, California, and Mexico. Her Saturdays y domingos are very different at each house but she is proud of both of her heritages and realizes that even though both sets of grandparents are different they have one thing in common- they love her very much.

Element 1: This book relates to element 1 of social justice education because it shows the young girl having a sense of pride and dignity in the fact that she is mixed race and has two different and interesting cultures in her life. This book shows how both cultures are equally as important and valid and shows the interesting things about each culture that this young girl gets to experience. They show many different aspects of both cultures and even include the language of the spanish culture in the book, which is wonderful. It also gives some insight about the history of these cultures- riding a ship from Europe, immigrating from Mexico, and traveling to California in a covered wagon are all mentioned in the story. It has a strong sense of family which is a big part of who most young children are and even if they aren't from a mixed race background, they may be able to relate on the family aspects of the book.

How I would use the book: I would use the book in 2 different ways. I would do a guided read aloud with the students first and try to get them to think about their own families as we read. I would ask them to look for similarities and differences between their own family and the family in the story. I would also make it a point to go over the many spanish words learned in the book. On every page where the young girl is with her abuelito y abuelita, there are multiple spanish words being introduced. These spanish words could be tied into a spanish lesson, and if there was a second read aloud of the story attention could be brought to translating the spanish words in the story. The second thing I would do is a project about their own heritage. I would instruct them to ask their family where they come from and what their heritage is. I would ask them to include any special types of foods they eat, any traditions they have, or any interesting stories from their family regarding their heritage. This could be a way to get students to connect and relate to each other and realize that although they may have different cultures and heritages than some other children in the class, they will most likely also have many things in common.

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.