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, September 28, 2023

Book Uncle and Me

Book Uncle and Me

Written by Uma Krishnaswami

Illustrated by Julliana Sweeney

Book Uncle and Me

Purchase Link

Yasmin-ma, a curious, determined and courageous nine year old girl is on a mission to bring back Book Uncle, a kind

retired teacher, and his free lending library! Throughout the book, you can clearly see that she is a true leader as she

politically organizes and realizes her own agency and the power of grassroots activism. As I reflect and continue to

find meaning in this book, I appreciate how this book recognizes and gives power to youth in which they rightfully

deserve. This book digs into the reality of the main characters' community. At the end of the book, she helps enact

political change by bringing back Book Uncle. This book would be a perfect read for fourth graders because they can

recognize different issues within their community and plan for action.

This book portrays Element 4: Social Movements and Social Change. Book Uncle and Me aligns with Element 4

because the author tells our students about ways that ordinary people can and will enact change in their communities.

Even young people can get involved in democracy. Additionally, Yasmin-ma exemplifies a leader in which she was

able to even change the outcome of the election at 9 years old. Being a part of the Global majority, she was able to

overcome obstacles that the candidates running had in place. Books can change your life, and this book is a must

read !!

Book Uncle and Me Classroom Activity:

There are a variety of discussion questions and classroom activities that are provided at the end of Book Uncle and Me.

These are activities that I liked from the book being that they address the community movement that was created by

Yasmin-ma as well as taking a look at the similarities and differences of the student’s lives and the life of Yasmin-ma. 

1. The teacher can prepare a Venn Diagram on post-it paper. The teacher can make a note of ten things that are most

important between the student's life and Yasmin-ma's, and ten things that are the same. We can ask students to look

at the first list. First, we can ask "Why do you think these things are so different from your life?" Then, we look at

the second list and ask "Why do you think these things are so similar?"

2. The main characters in the book try to affect change by communicating with the city's mayor.This is a good example

of community movement, and is a way to make sure your voice is heard by the people in power. As a class, discuss

any issues that you feel needs to be addressed. Some suggestions are creating a community garden, local park or

waterway that needs to be cleaned up, or creating a local park. Write to your local government about this, representing

your community's views.

Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed The Earth

Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed The Earth
Written by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm
Illustrated by Molly Bang
Grade Level: 2-5
Purchase Here

    When I was looking through my school’s science textbook I was shocked by its omission of any discussion about climate change. There’s a lesson about how humans can change the environment, a lesson about how energy conservation can help the environment, but no lesson linking the two. Omitting a discussion about global warming makes both lessons far less effective. It refuses necessary connections that our students need to make as citizens of an increasingly warming planet. It's also an act of extreme cowardice, cowing to the worst voices in politics, hungry to make a culture war out of even a children's science textbook. Thankfully, Ms. Moreira, who will be my mentor teacher next semester, had a book well suited for 3rd graders in her classroom that addresses the mechanisms of climate change directly.

    Cowritten by MIT ecology professor and National Science Medal winner Dr. Chisolm and children book author Molly Bang, Buried Sunlight forms a part of Bang's Sunlight Series. Bang illustrates Buried Sunlight in luminous watercolors, giving even complicated science diagrams a childlike sense of wonder. I especially love how carbon dioxide is rendered like a twinkling firefly. Told from the perspective of our sun, Buried Sunlight gives a detailed, nearly comprehensive look at climate change. It explains how coal and oil are "buried sunlight." Burning those resources releases carbon dioxide into the air, which forms greenhouse gasses that will heat our planet and scar the environment. The end of the book is filled with you statements, to accentuate that even young children can reduce their carbon footprint. "Will you use my ancient sunlight more slowly, find other sources of energy, and invent ways to thin the blanket of CO2 ? The choice is yours." This book would be a perfect book to read to 3rd graders to introduce climate change to them.

   Buried Sunlight fits the Awareness Raising element of Social Justice Teaching well. Awareness Raising seeks to make our students aware of social justice issues that they face that they might not even know about. This book works to explain an extremely complicated, yet important social justice issue with clarity. In this country, we easily shunt aside "Inconvenient Truths" about how we live, even out of our science textbooks. Climate change is also an environmental and racial justice issue. As I saw in an environmental justice tour of Newark's Ironbound District, our environments are not race blind. Climate change is affecting and will continue to affect POC communities at much greater rates than white communities. Much of Newark is built on former wetlands and riverbanks. These areas are prone to flooding, especially as climate change accelerates. Climate change is intrinsically linked to social and racial justice. Although Buried Sunlight is comprehensive, one weakness is that it does not talk about these environmental justice issues. However, I think Buried Sunlight is still a great tool for Awareness Raising about the mechanisms of climate change. After being read this book, I think students will have a much greater awareness of how climate change works, and the actions in their own lives that contribute to global warming.
    I would use this book in my 3rd grader's science class, in between our textbook's lessons about environmental change and energy conservation. I would create an activity where I read them this book, and then have them write answers to some of the discussion questions written by the publisher. In future lessons, I would try to incorporate an environmental justice lens to climate change; that rich communities are the leading contributors too climate change and poor communities will be harmed the most it. I would also make sure future lessons touch on advances in green energy technology and legislation. It's one thing to raise awareness about climate change, but I think even many adults aren't aware of ways that they can take action against such a massive problem. Buried Sunlight is a great tool to raise awareness of one of the key problems of the 21st century, one America is only just now beginning to meaningfully address. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Harlem Grown

Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood

Written By Tony Hillary

Illustrated by Jessie Hartland 

Grades K-3


Harlem Grown is a beautifully illustrated children's book based on a true story that focuses on the historically and culturally notable Harlem in New York City. A bustling and lively urban community with a desolate lot piled with trash is cleaned up by Neveah, a student of PS. 175 school, other students, and the people of the neighborhood. They united and transformed this "haunted" lot into a community garden that engages children, families and people of the community. The garden provides fresh and local produce for the members of the community, grown by those same people. 

I chose this book because it is a real life example of Element 6 of SJE. It depicts a community coming together on one accord because of one man's idea to transform an empty lot into something useful for the community which allows for access to fresh produce, education on urban agriculture. This book can encourage young students to collectively be the voices of change within heir own communities. Students may feel as though they have no real ability to cause social change, but encouraging folx to come together within your community and doing something about an issue you feel passionate about is more than possible! This also gets students especially in urban communities thinking about locally grown and harvested foods and start a conversation on how they could implement agriculture in their own communities.

Classroom Activity

I would use this book in a lesson and prompt students to think about areas of their community where they would be able to create a community garden similar to the one shown in Harlem Grown. Empty lots with fertile soil are crowded with trash and are typically owned by the city. Clearing that space and utilizing it as a green space would be beneficial to the community. Students would draw what types of foods they would want to grow in a garden and accompany their drawings with a writing piece that urges their city officials to allow a space for them and other students to grow local produce and allow everyone in their community the opportunity to benefit from the garden. We can talk about the benefits of eating locally grown produce, learn about advocating for a cause of passion.  Students will also have the opportunity to plant seeds of their own, interact with their community, learn about urban agriculture, and incorporate different content areas like science and math.

Classroom Resources

Buy Harlem Grown Here

El Coqui In the City


Coqui in the City 

Written and Illustrated by Nomar Perez

Written for grades Prek-2

Where to find the book 


Short Summary: 

            This story is a powerful book that can be relatable to many students of                                                                         different ethnicities. It is a book that shows the experience of a child named Miguel who moves from their home in Puerto Rico, the place that is all they know, to move to New York. During this move the child is sad about leaving his beloved abuelos, his pet frog coqui who he did everything with, not being able to get quesitos. 

            Upon moving to this new city, Miguel was overwhelmed by the new atmosphere, the sounds, the people, all the what ifs about being a new person in a new place until his mama and him go exploring. While exploring they find things that seem familiar to him that remind him of home, Spanish words, music, the sound of a frog that reminded him of coqui, a baseball field that reminded him of the signed baseball by Roberto Clemente that his abuelo gave him, and his dad found a place that sold quesitos and surprised him after work. 

                What had seemed so unfamiliar started turning into things that were familiar to him that made him feel like he belonged, in an atmosphere that was similar to him. The story ends with Miguel feeling at peace with the sounds of the Spanish music that reminded him of home, and helped him drift into sleep as like the sound of his coquis helped him sleep back home. He discovered then that being somewhere new wasn’t so bad after all. 

Element 2: Respect for Others

Like many children who migrate to a new place at such a young age with their families to have a better future, Miguel came from Puerto Rico to New York, left behind all that he knew, to start fresh and new in  place unknown to him. This book falls under Element 2: Respect for Others because he endured similar things that many other children in the United States endured before moving to somewhere unknown, starting somewhere new where you sometimes feel like you don’t belong. The respect aspect of this Element is giving the ability to allow students to share their cultural background like Miguel did with his pet coqui, the baseball his Abuelo gave him that was signed by a Puerto Rican baseball player, his favorite snacks, the things that make him feel at home while respecting the diversity of where he is from, and teaching other that he is like them in many ways, and each persons culture is just as beautiful.

Classroom Activities:

                   Show a read aloud video if you don’t have access to the book. Here is a link to it.

                   Create a T Chart on intimidating things when moving to a new place and things to make the move smoother. 

                    Create a T chart on how you felt, or your peer thinks you felt or would feel if and when you first made the move, versus how you felt once you got to know the community. Did anything make you feel at home, or remind you of home, do you wish you could go back home, or stay at your new home and why? 

                    Draw and color a picture that shows a time Miguel started warming up to his new home.

                    Other lessons available in this link 


                    Resources with more information on the book, the author, lessons, book readings, etc


Sunday, September 24, 2023

Ruby Bridges Goes to School

Author: Ruby Bridges

Illustrator: Ruby Bridges 

Genre: Biography and Autobiography

Grade level: K-2nd


Ruby Bridges is the first African American student to attend William Frantz Elementary School, located in Louisiana back in 1961. This was a whites-only school. The government gave Ruby permission to attend this school because it was much closer to her home and offered a better education. During this time there was segregation in the United States, white and black people were not allowed to be together in schools, restaurants, bathrooms, movie theaters, and so on. When Ruby attended William Frantz Elementary School white families were very upset about it. This resulted in them removing their children from the school because they did not want a black child at their white child's school. Everyday people would stand outside the school as Ruby arrived, threatening her, saying racist slurs, and saying they want segregation back. Ruby was the only student in this school building for months, and people would threaten her everyday. Ruby had a teacher named Mrs. Henry. Mrs. Henry is a white woman, this teacher stood by her side and taught her in the empty classroom for the majority of the school year. One day students finally began to slowly come back to the school. Many famous people began writing Ruby letters admiring how brave she is for fighting a change in equality, to end segregation in schools. People like the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and artist Norman Rockwell reached out to Ruby with their letters. Ruby at a very young age faced many battles and mistreatment from racist people. Ruby was fighting for justice, and was representing her black community during these hard times. She is still alive today and very well known for her story. Ruby goes around to different schools telling her story, to teach about kindness and social justice.

Element 4: Social movements and social change

Ruby Bridges at the age of 7 fought for social equality in schools and today she is still a civil rights activist. Element 4 is about social movements and social change and that is what Ruby did when she began attending an all white school. By Ruby attending this school she was fighting against what was normal at the time, segregation. Although so many white people were very angry at this 7 year old black girl for attending "their" school, she never once backed down, attended school, and got her education whether people liked it or not. "Some people did not want a black child like me to go to the white school. They stood near the school. They yelled at me to go away", states Ruby in her book. Thanks to Ruby's bravery she was able to begin a movement for social change in the United States. Ruby is one of the many well-known social activists that we know, who were brave enough to fight for where we are today.

Classroom Activity:

After reading the story I would like to go over some vocabulary that may have stood out to the students and talk about what they mean. I would then like the students to create a timeline of the story placing all of the events in sequence using pictures, years and descriptions from beginning, middle, and end.

Other classroom activities: 

Ruby Bridges Flipbook

Timeline activity link


Youtube read aloud

Book purchase

Book purchase

A Day with No Words


Author: Tiffany Hammond
Illustrator: Kate Cosgrove
Genre: Fiction
Grade level: K-4
Reading age: 4-8 yrs old

The story follows a mother and her son, Adian, as they go through their day. They use an assistive device, a tablet, to communicate with one another and others as they head to a park and restaurant. It shares the perspective of a Black neurodivergent non-verbal mother and son using colorful illustrations and detailed language. This book speaks to the ableism and discrimination occurring in the neurodivergent, non-verbal, and communities in between. Mama endures much discrimination for her son's “odd” behaviors but she stands up for her son with every ounce of love and support. 

Element 2: Respect for others:
The book shows respect for others particularly when Mama and Aidan are at the park and hear families making comments. When the Mama hears this she informs them that Aidan may not speak but he can still hear. She speaks to the stereotypes and judgments that people were making. Mama then proceeds by getting Aidan ready to play too (barefoot in the wet grass). The cashier is a prime example as the illustrator shows facial expressions of patience and acceptance to Mama and Aidan as they place their order.  The story embraces differences and addresses respecting others for those differences as they aren’t much different from your own.

What Would I do:
After reading this book, I would want students to look through the book and notice the picture particularly paying attention to the part where the illustrator paints the different sounds Adian hears. I want the students to paint a picture of their favorite sound to hear. I want to see the sound they choose and how it makes them feel. I would potentially ask for a sound that they enjoy hearing and a sound that they don't like. 

Other ideas for the classroom: 

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers


Author: Sarah Warren
Illustrator: Robert Casilla
Genre: non-fiction
Grade level: 1-4
Reading age: 6-9 yrs old

Dolores Huerta is a woman, who advocates for the rights of underpaid farm workers. In this book, we learn about Dolores Huerta's fight for safe working environments and fair wages. We venture through a timeline of her life noting the illustrations as she goes from career to career on her journey as a social justice warrior. It begins when she is a teacher and she begins to question why her students are struggling in class. Detective Dolores Huerta finds out that the parents were getting underpaid and working conditions were harsh. Organizer Dolores Huerta was not going to stand for this injustice, so she gathered the families and many others to raise their voices. This is a story about justice, activism, immigration equality, womanhood, workers' rights and so much more. 

Element 4: Social Movements and Social Change:
Dolores Huerta is a warrior of change. Her story is to be shared as a still current labor leader and civil rights activist. In her earlier days, she organized farmer workers in order to advocate for safer working conditions and better pay. In the story, she leads a strike, boycotting grapes, which ends up allowing farmers to receive better wages and conditions. A peaceful movement that included people of all ages and genders. She is an agent of change and the story captivates her life through many journeys, but also the people who contributed to the movement's success. 
"While some workers argue with the bosses, others watch the children dance and keep them safe"
Mother, Father, sisters, or brothers all contributed to the movement and she is someone who can share the story. 

What Would I do:
After reading I would like to discuss and reflect as a class. The idea would be to talk more about how this appears in our day-to-day and what can be done. When reading you can hear the struggle, but I would want the students to act it out in small groups. I would make groups of 2 and would ask them to act out occurrences on a day working on the farm. 
(The script is from here page 107)
I would follow by asking the discussion questions about what issues were discussed in the script, what would they do, what could they do, and who could help them. 

Other ideas for the classroom: