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 17, 2011

Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys

Author: Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard
Illustrator: E. B. Lewis
Grade Level: 2

Summary: Virgie goes to school is a story about an African American girl, who lived during the time period when blacks were not allowed to attend school, therefore not receiving the proper education in order to learn to read and write. In the beginning of the story it discusses how recently thanks to Abraham Lincoln setting them free, a school for black people was just opened. Virgie has five brothers that begin to attend the school, but she begins to wonder why she can’t go to school as well. Some of her brothers tell her the reason is because girls don’t need school, but her brother C.C. thinks differently from his brothers and defends Virgie by saying that girls need to learn to read, write and do ‘rithmetic just like boys do. Throughout the story Virgie insists and questions why she can’t go to school, that her parents finally give in and tell her she can attend when classes start again after summer. The school is seven miles away and as she travels with her brothers, there are instances during their journey that depict how Virgie is treated differently or stereotyped for being a girl. As the story unfolds, it shows that Virgie is no different from her brothers just because she is a girl and in the end her brothers' realize this. Virgie arrives at the school and experiences this whole new world, this place has to offer and converses to her brother C.C. how she can’t wait to go home to tell their parents how they’re learning to be free.

Element 3: This book depicts element 3 “Exploring Issues of Social Injustice,” in that it intertwines the issues of racism and sexism. Racism is illustrated when the book discusses how when African Americans were slaves, they were not allowed to attend school. Even after they were freed thanks to Abraham Lincoln, they still faced the social injustice of being segregated in view that that the school that opened was just for blacks. This is an important illustration of everything blacks have endured to get equal rights, but yet somehow some till present day may still feel segregated in some way. In addition to exploring the concept “learning to be free,” through the visual lens of a little girl the book demonstrates sexism and how although they tell Virgie that girls do not need school, she questions and fights to get the equal opportunity like her brothers to learn how to read and write. The book does a great job at illustrating in different parts how girls are stereotyped and treated distinctly based on their gender through the way Virgie was treated by her brothers. At the end it shows how the brothers’ thinking is altered and realize Virgie should have the right to learn how to read and write no matter what her gender is.

Activity: As a follow up activity after reading the book, the teacher can have the class define the word stereotype and have them write about some they may have encountered, whether it is based on race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status or religion and how these can influence people’s way of thinking as well as how this makes them feel. Then collect these writings, shuffle them and hand them out to different students. After passing them out once again, have the students discuss in groups what is written on their sheet and have them come up with ways they could alter this stereotype or actions that can take place to help fight these social injustices.

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