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, October 6, 2014

Which Side Are You On?: The Story of a Song

Author: George Ella Lyon
Illustrator: Christopher Cardinale
Reading Level: 2nd -6th Grades
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press

The book, Which Side Are You On? is told by a child’s perspective of the circumstances that later on led the main character, Florence Reece, to write a song in 1931. This song has been reused by millions of people fighting for their rights all over the world. Writer, George Ella Lyon, begins the book by describing Reece’s family and living conditions. Florence had seven children and her husband Sam was a coal miner in Kentucky. They were forced to live on a company house built on company land. During this time period miners were paid low wages. As a result, Sam and his co-workers went on strike to get a raise and safer working conditions. The company hired shooters to attack the miners’ homes. When Sam’s house was attacked Florence ran to the bedroom with her children to find shelter. The children hid under the bed to not get struck by one of the bullets. Meanwhile, Florence grabbed a piece of a calendar and started writing on it. She whispered to her children, “we need a song”: a song that kept their mind busy. Shortly after the shooters left, Sam got home. He thought it would’ve been a great idea to use Florence’s song and gather his co-workers once again to stand for injustice.

Element #3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice
The book, Which Side Are You On?  allows students to be exposed to an issue of social injustice in the 1930s. This book does an amazing job demonstrating the living conditions many families were living under because of the inequalities in the work force. Unfortunately, this is still an issue that’s going on in today’s society and this book could be a great resource to trigger children’s curiosity. Also, students could use this book as a reference when learning US history during this time period. Teachers should encourage students to find ways on how they can link historical events to this family’s situation. In addition, this book can be a foundation where teachers can start discussions on some of the issues their communities might be facing or how issues of injustice can affect a community in today’s society. The lesson of the book is that if people stay united they can stand against oppression, aggression, and injustice, and fight for their rights without violence.

As a class we will research an issue that individuals have been protesting in the past year (jobs/higher wages/labor conditions, climate change, Gay marriage).  We will break down that issue into three parts. What caused this group of individuals to come together to protest? What are they asking for? And if the protest stops, what was the outcome? Then, I will divide the class into four groups. Each group has to research a problem that occurred in the past 10 years where people went on strike. They have to answer the same questions as before and do an oral presentation in front of the class. This activity will allow students to work in groups, learn how to do research, and become comfortable during oral presentations.  

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