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.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Shelter in Our Car

A Shelter in Our Car

A Shelter in Our Car
Story by Monica Gunning
Illustrations by Elaine Pedlar

A Shelter in Our Car is about a little girl, Zettie, and her mother's search for a better life in America. After her father died, Zettie and her mother left Jamaica to come to the United States. This book shows Zettie's mother struggle to find a job and obtain a better education in an American city. During her search, Zettie and her mother sleep in their car, search for food, wash up in public restrooms, and try to stay away from the police. Both characters show strength, love, courage, and determination despite the fact that they are without a home.

I was drawn to this book because of its colorful, unique illustrations. I also liked how the book showed the harsh realities of being homeless in America. Zettie and her mother are lovable characters that all readers can appreciate.

This book would be useful for all students to read and discuss in the classroom. In both my previous and current student teaching placements, students from NYC shelters have been a part of the class. I feel that this story would help these students understand that they are not alone in their struggle. The last page of the book tells its readers about homelessness in America and some reasons why people are homeless. This section of the book explains that all human beings have basic needs that need to be met and suggests ways individuals can help others meet their basic needs. The end of this book provides hope, information, and suggestions about how to be a part of the solution to homelessness.

A Shelter in Our Car addresses all five levels of social justice education. Self love and acceptance are shown by explaining both Jamaican and immigrant culture through the two main characters. Zettie and her mother show that they accept themselves and want to make the best possible lives for their family in America. The story demonstrates respect for others when the police officer helps Zettie. It also shows a time when respect for others was not present when Zettie's classmates make fun of her. Students could learn from the negative incidents that happen to Zettie when she is at school. Classism and homelessness are explored in A Shelter in Our Car, which addresses level three of social justice education. Zettie and her mother's story shows a struggle for social change. Both characters worked hard to overcome their hardships faced in America. Finally, the end of the story provides students/readers with information to learn about homelessness in America and ways to work for change. I think that students would learn a lot from this text and related discussions.

Children's Book Press provides an excellent teacher's guide containing detailed lesson plans, cross curricular activities, and additional resources.