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, February 16, 2012

When Marian Sang

Author: Pam Muñoz Ryan

Illustrator: Brian Selznik

Ages: 7-12

This beautifully illustrated story follows the true life trials of American singer Marian Anderson, best known for her historic concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, as she navigates the world of professional music and finds it particularly hostile to people of color. Marian is forced to deal with issues of which white singers would never dream.  From being completely ignored as she waits in line to apply for music school to being outright rejected by many people in the industry, Marian suffers many injustices at the hands of racism. In the end, Marian endures and is ultimately accepted in the community for who she is - a woman with a beautiful voice, but she will never understand what compelled so many people to rise up against her when all she ever wanted to do was sing.

Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice:
This book serves as a wonderful introductory tool into the world of social injustice. The main character, Marian, is as surprised as many young readers may be when she is rejected simply because of the color of her skin. No historical background knowledge is needed to appreciate the pure injustice Marian suffers as she tries to enter a world whose hostility is beyond her control. Furthermore, Marian's endurance provide a great segue into Element 4 because, although Marian does not take any social action against her oppressors, she never gives up on her dream and that lays a good foundation for exploring social action.

In the Classroom:
This is a wonderful book, but it is also a little long, especially for younger readers. It is important to help students identify the key elements of this book. I would lead a class discussion about the book in which we aim to identify the social injustices Marian faced, the reasons she was not allowed to sing, who was allowed to sing, and why. Then I might have my students think about the end of the book, when people protested against Marian singing - who they were and what they did as a protest - as a jumping off point to talk about social action and what we can do to stop what we see as social injustices in the world around us.

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