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.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Razia's Ray of Hope

Title: Razia's Ray of Hope
Author: Elizabeth Suneby
Illustator: Suana Verelst
Grade Level: 3-7
Publisher: Kids Can Press

Purchase this book here.

Additional resources for educators can be found here and here.

More information about this author, as well as other books she has written can be found here and here.


Razia’s Ray of Hope demonstrates how cultural values can impact someone’s gender in this powerful story of a dream wanting to come true. Razia is a young girl living in the war torn region of Afghanistan. In this part of the country, women have limited rights, compared to men. Razia and her cousins see a new building being built and her grandfather, Baba Gi explains what the commotion is about. They were building a school for girls! Razia’s dream of wanting to attend the new girl’s school, get educated, and learn to read and write, dominate her thoughts. However, this idea does not sit well with her brothers, father, or uncle. They believe it is important for women to have traditional roles, helping around the house. They become afraid that she will break from traditional stereotypes of who women in Afghanistan are and what they are not allowed to do. Even Razia’s mother fails to help her in her quest, focusing more on her role around the house. Razia and the woman who started the school talk to Razia’s father, and mainly her brother, about attending the new school. The wonderful illustrations from Suana Verelst allow the book to come alive, as we go alongside Razia and feel her disappointment, passion, and hope to try to do everything to attend the new girl’s school.  

Element #3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice

This book is a fantastic example of delving into exploring issues of social injustice, with a particular focus on sexism. Students are taught and told from very early ages what their gender role permits them to do in society, as well as what they should not do. Especially in the part of the world that this book takes place, Afghanistan, women’s rights are limited. This book conveys how the men in Razia’s family believe the role of a woman should play out; take care of chores around the house. It conveys the cultural values of the new generation that men believe they should be getting the education and not the women. It is portrayed that taking care of responsibilities around the house are the only things women are good at. Even Razia’s mom is dismissive about the idea and does not have the power or strength to join Razia in her fight for going to school. From this element, students learn about how girls have struggled for social change.

Follow-Up Activity:

Since this book is a great example of gender roles and expectations, it would be a fantastic idea to have students think about breaking their “mold”. Students should not only write about what they believe to be gender roles within society, or what they believe society expects of them, but also about ways in which they want to defy those expectations and do things that are not traditional, yet positive. This would be a great way for students to express how they feel social injustice and how they can fight for social change.    

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