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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Russell's World

Author: Charles A Amenta III
Illustrator: Monika Pollak
Grade Level: K-3

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Summary: Russell's World by Charles A. Amenta is a book about a young boy, Russell, who has autism. The book highlight's Russell's day to day interactions with his family. This book not only serves as a biographical story, but also serves to inform young readers about the characteristics of the disorder itself. The author uses the context of Russell's life to raise awareness of autism. The reader learns about many of the behaviors that children with autism display and gains a better understanding of how to approach and interact with children who have autism through this text. The additional appendix of this book is a guide for parents who may have a child with autism. It presents information about the disorder, how to seek out services for children and families, and how to help the child with autism.

Element 5-  Raising Awareness: This book falls under the 5th element of social justice education, which is raising awareness. Autism is a puzzling disorder to many. It is not well understood by many adults, yet alone children. Nonetheless, the prevalence of this disorder has increased dramatically just in the past few years alone. This book effectively distributes information about autism in a way that adults and even the youngest of children can understand. By exploring the life of Russell through this biographical picture book, students as well as adults begin to understand the spectrum disorder and the many of the incongruous behaviors that is can display. After reading this book, students will not only be attentive and understanding to those who have special needs, but will be able to raise awareness to others. Russell's World can be used to create a culture of respect for individuals with special needs both in and out of the classroom.

How to Use: Although it can be used at any time during the school year, this book would be a great piece of literature to introduce during April, which is Autism Awareness month. Before students even read the book, the teacher can engage them in a journal writing activity in which students must answer the questions "People's brains work in different ways. In what special way does your brain work?" By answering this question, students become introspective about the way they think and the behaviors that they may engage in, and how such things set them apart from others. After reading the book, students will have a brief discussion on what they learned about autism. Then, students will be able to discuss what they should and shouldn't do when they interact with individuals with autism. Additionally, the teacher will engage students in an activity in which they make materials such as posters that help to raise awareness about autism. These posters can be informational or can be phrases to slogans to debunk myths and/or advocate for those with the disorder. Lastly, students can engage in a service project in which they plan and execute activities for children with autism (such as bringing in a sand/water station, or bringing in beads or other art projects). Students can bring these projects to autistic classrooms and engage in the projects with the students.

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