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, September 9, 2008

Freedom River

Freedom River by Doreen Rappaport

Title: Freedom River
Author: Doreen Rappaport
Illustrator: Bryan Collier

Link to book:

Freedom River is based on a true story about John Parker, an ex-slave, and his persistence and courage in repeatedly taking the dangerous journey of helping slaves escape. In this story, Parker helps Isaac, Sarah and their baby (a family of 3) escape from Master Shrofe. At his first attempt, they were caught and as a result, their baby had been taken away from them. Parker felt responsible for the baby's separation from her parents and was determined to help reunite them and set them free, despite their repeated rejection of him trying to help.

Reflection: When I read this book, I realized that so many different lessons can be created from reading this one book. Although the story line is relatively simple, this book is packed with meaningful concepts and ideas that teachers can use to teach in different subjects. The illustrations does a really great job conveying to the readers the emotions and feelings that John Parker and the slaves may be experiencing during time like that...the dark colors used during scenes of danger and enslavement, and light colors during scenes of freedom.

How I would use this book: As mentioned above, many lessons can be created from this book and can be integrated into different subjects. Following are some ideas:
Literacy: This book can be incorporated into the unit of character study, where students can analyze John Parker as a character. John Parker can be viewed in a variety of perspectives: in the eyes of slave owners, slaves, and ex-slaves (freed slaves). Students can be split up into groups where they will take role as one of these characters. This can also be an introduction to a unit on slavery and/or racism.
MathUnits of distance can be taught her, as well as addition and subtraction word problems. Maps of the Underground Railroad can be created and appropriate scales will be learned during this time.
Social Studies: Students can research more on who John Parker is and his life. Questions like: What caused him develop such courage and determination to help families escape?

Depending on the direction that the unit goes, different culminating projects can be designed:
-writing a story on how they helped someone and why; a time when they were treated unfairly and whether or not someone helped them; taking the role as John Parker (or other characters) and writing a diary about their journeys; pretending that they were students traveling back in time and can speak to the slave owners.

Domains of Social Justice:
Self Love and Acceptance: Students can talk about how Isaac and John are different because while Isaac, a slave, doesn't really have a voice of his own, John who is freed, does. This can link to students learning that it is important to accept themselves with their own identity and not as someone else's property. They should be proud of who they are.

Respect for others/Exploring issues of social justice: Although this book does not directly talk about this idea, discussion about how people do not respect others of a different race during the slavery time will spark the idea of respecting others while also exploring the idea of social justice.

Taking Social Action: Using their own voice and perspective, students will write letters to slave owners telling them why owning slaves is unfair and give suggestions as to what they can do instead. There will be a day when the class will "travel back in time" and read these letters to a slave owner (role played by teacher)

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