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.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Voices in the Park

Author: Anthony Browne
Illustrator: Anthony Browne
Grade Level: K-2

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Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne is portrayed as apes in human clothing. The characters portrayed are a wealthy mother with her quiet son, Charles and a unemployed father with his outgoing daughter, Smudge. Both duos are taken place in a dog park where they bring their dogs to play. The book is based on each character's perspective (voices) in the park. The wealthy mother's perspective (first voice) shows how she feels about the unemployed man and his daughter with their "scruffy mongrel." The illustrations show that the "first voice" has a beautiful home, with a pedigree Labrador and her main thought for the day was what she planned to prepare for dinner that evening. She also refers to Smudge, as a "very rough-looking child" and the unemployed father as the "frightful type." The unemployed father's perspective (second voice) shows a man who lives in a poor area who seems to be unhappy. He sits on the bench and with despair, searches through the newspaper and talks about how its useless to try to find a job, but there is no hurt in having some hope. He is happy his dog has a lot of energy and is having fun. He does not seem to be bothered by the woman or her son and does not make any comments about them. Charles, the wealthy women's son's (third voice) perspective shows that he is so bored at home and when his mother says they are going on a walk, Charles is finally happy to get out of the house. He talks about meeting this girl, Smudge, who he has a lot of fun with. He does not seem to notice any difference about her except that shes outgoing and he is quiet. He also says how his mother "caught them talking" and made him leave. Smudge, the unemployed fathers daughter's (fourth voice) perspective is how she's happy when her father seems to want to take the dog, Albert, to the park because her dad's been sad lately. She says that Albert was excited and went up to another dog, when the owner (the wealthy woman) became very angry. Smudge refers to the woman as a "silly twit." She talks about meeting Charles and although she thought he was "a wimp" at first, she had a lot of fun with him and was very sad when his mother made them leave.

Element 3- Exploring Issues of Social Injustice:
Voices in the Park is a great introductory book when exploring issues of social injustice. When many students think of discrimination, they think of racism. However, this book digs deep into a different types of discrimination, classism. Many students aren't familiar with this type of discrimination. This book portrays a wealthy women who is judging the man next to her on the bench and refuses to allow her son to play with his daughter, because she is "rough looking." She assumes that these people are dangerous and talks about getting "frightful types at the park these days." Something that really drew me to this story was the different perspective of each other characters. Although the wealthy woman assumes that the unemployed man and his daughter are "dangerous" or "frightening," their perspectives don't prove to be that at all. The man's perspective talks about how he is desperately looking for a job, and that his daughter's happiness after the day at the park cheered him up. It is important for students to be aware of all different types of people and to not stereotype or make assumptions about someone based on their looks or the clothes they are wearing.

Although this book is aimed at younger students, it is a great tool to use for activities for older students because of the meaning of the story. As an introductory activity for students, I would first have my students write down something they really want for their birthday. I would then create small group discussions and have my students talk about this item. We would then get back together as a class and talk about the thing that they really want and why they wanted it. I would then do think aloud reading as I read this book to my students. I would make my own personal thinking out loud to show my students my thoughts while reading this book. Then I would make four groups and each group would have to interpret one voice in the book and the perspective of that voice. We would then get together as a group and discuss each voice. We would go back to the beginning of the activity and look at the gift the students wanted and see if they wanted this gift for the right reasons and to be thankful for everything they do have, because not everyone is as lucky. This activity would also practice comprehension by inferring, questioning throughout the story and activating prior knowledge.

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