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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Earth Book

Author: Todd Parr
Illustrator: Todd Parr
Grade Level: Pre-K to 2nd

Buy it here!

The Earth Book is a book that provides children with ideas for taking care of the earth. It motivates children to do little things that could ultimately make a big impact on the well-being of our planet (i.e. using both sides of paper, bringing own bags to the supermarket, riding bicycles, turning off the faucet while brushing teeth, etc.) Accompanied by children-friendly illustrations, easy to read texts, and a touch of childish humor, this book challenges children and shows them that they have power and say in protecting the earth. Come April, it will be a sweet and perfect read for Earth Day!

Element 6: Taking Social Action
The Earth Book represents Element 6: Taking Social Action because not only does it offer children ideas for taking care of the earth, but also it provides the big impacts and consequences of their small actions. Rather than providing children with a list of almost impossible "To Dos", this book inspires children to modify the way that they perform their daily routines. Adults, as well as children, can be challenged to turn off their lights, recycle, and save their leftovers by this book.

Activity: On Earth Day, teachers can read this book aloud with their students and discuss the importance of taking care of our planet. After the discussion, the students can come up with their own lists of practical "To Dos" in the classroom . Teachers can guide their students in creating a poster or book that illustrates and compiles the classroom "To Dos."
*Younger students who have yet to develop the fine motor skills to write/draw may work together as a team to grow a classroom garden or plant seeds outside of their school. As the students water the plants, take care of their garden, and watch their seeds grow, they can understand that their small actions lead to growth and change in their school environment.

Monday, April 23, 2012

10 things I can do to help my world

Author/Illustrator: Melanie Walsh

Grade Level: Pre-K - First

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            10 things I can do to help my world is a book that provides  young children with ten easy tasks they can do to improve the world.  The book is beautifully illustrated with pop up folds and flaps which make it a more engaging read.  For example, things suggested are sorting your waste and turning off the water while brushing your teeth.  All the activities listed are attainable for all children, and will empower them by showing that they can make a difference too, despite their young age.

Element 6 Taking Social Action:
             10 things I can do to help my world is an excellent representation of Element 6 because the easy and attainable tasks show young children how they too can contribute to earth’s improvement.  The simple tasks given are explained, and children will learn how the actions they are taking better the earth.  It is an empowering book for any age group, especially the younger ones.

             In the classroom, you can easily complete any of the simple activities the books lists to improve the earth.  First, I would have a read-aloud with the story, and then discuss the activities it suggests.  Then I would ask my students “what can we do in our classroom together to better our earth?”  Say they select “plant seeds, and help them grow”; I would have each child plant a few seeds in a small pot.  Each child would water his or her plant, and monitor the growth.  After the seeds sprout, the children can take them home, and hopefully continue to tend to their plant.  The child will actually see the difference he or she is making by observing their plant grow.  It is an exciting and simple activity for all young children to participate in.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

How Can I Deal With...Racism? - Element 6

Racism (How Can I Deal With)

Title: How Can I Deal With...Racism?

Author: Sally Hewitt

SJE: Element 6: Taking Social Action

You can purchase this book here!

This book highlights six different children's stories about racism in their lives. Each child's story deals with racism in a different way such as coming from a new country and beginning school, being left out because of their religion, being told to go back where they came from, being teased because of their name and being bullied because they don't share the same culture as others. Each chapter highlights a student's story about how they were a victim of racism and also incorporates the story of one of their friends, explaining their point of view on how their friend was treated or describing a certain instance in which their friend was being bullied.  It also gives suggestions and steps as to what each child can do to stop the racism toward them such as telling their parents, teacher or principal or explain to their classmates why they do something a certain way or wear certain clothes. The book also includes a chapter explaining what racism is as well as a glossary defining key words such as culture, gang, Muslim, race, racism and religion.

This book represents Element 6: Taking Social Action because it not only explains the different types of racism children face but also gives them ways and suggestions to stop the racism or approach those who are doing the bullying. Each story highlights how the children feel when they are being bullied so others can learn from their stories. With the help of the suggestions in this book, the children will have a foundation as to how to stop the racism they face and start to make a change within their classroom and community.

Use of this book:
One of the chapters within this book is about a girl named Dipti whose family comes from India but she was born in America. One of the bullies in her class told her to go back where she came from. They said this racist comment to Dipti and did not bother to find out her background or culture. Dipti told the teacher what happened and took this opportunity to assign a Family Tree assignment. I think that was a great idea because it will inform the class of their classmates cultures and where everyone came from. I would do the same in my class because it is a great learning experience. They will be able to find out where their parents and grandparents came from, and see that Dipti is not the only one whose family comes from a different part of the world.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Kid's Guide to Service Projects

The Kid's Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference

Author:  Barbara A. Lewis

Interest Level: Ages 10+

Reading Level: 5th grade +


Summary: Barbara Lewis lays out a multitude of service ideas in her updated 2nd addition of The Kid's Guide to Service Projects.  From topics like crime fighting and politics to homelessness and special needs, Lewis delivers a jam-packed resource complete with contact information and first-to-last steps in almost any social justice project.  Each chapter highlights various angles of attack on issues many children have conviction about.  The "More Ideas" section at the end of each chapter, hones in on some less obvious yet very relevant aspects of the more typical social justice themes.  Every chapter provides phone numbers, addresses and web sites for the many organizations associated with these topics.  In closing, Lewis provides a "Service Project How-To" chapter, detailing how to create a flyer, petition, press release, proclamation, proposal, PSA, resolution and survey!  There are also step-by-step instructions on how to: initiate an ordinance or law, support or oppose a law, lobby, or start a statewide fund or fundraiser.

Element 6:  Any teacher with conviction about taking social action should keep this book in his/her arsenal of resources.  Not only will it help the students to identify issues they feel passionate about but it will also make them more self-sufficient in their research and follow-up.  The simple structure of this book will easily enable them to learn the skills of creating change first-hand.  It is the perfect scaffolding to get a class service project off the ground.  

Activity:  There is no limit to what your class can accomplish with the help of this book!  Try to identify  issues that are meaningful to your specific students.  After reflecting on on how our everyday choices effect others in society, offer this book to your students as a foundation for inspiration.  In no time, they will be inspired to take on issues with passionate civic engagement!  Click here for great ideas on a variety of specific lesson plans!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

                 S is For Save The Planet: Element Five Raising Awareness
Author: Brad Herzod

Illustration: Linda Holt Ayriss

Grade: 3-6




The book provides children with an A to Z guide on the concepts of environmentalism with regards to the preservation of our planet. Each page is beautifully illustrated and introduces a letter of the alphabet with a phrase corresponding to a certain concept that serves to both raise awareness and inspire children to create change when it comes to protecting our planet from harmful things like global warming. Each letter of the alphabet introduces a topic and the author provides children with suggestions on how to combat that particular problem that is facing our planet and environment as a whole. For example, for the letter "R," the book provides children with knowledge of the concept of "reduce, reuse, recycle."

Element Five

This book relates to element five because it raises awareness about various issues related to the environmental struggles we are faced with in maintaining a safe and healthy planet to live on. First, it provides students with information about each of the problems our planet is faced with. However, as element Five also suggests, the book also raises awareness on how they can prevent these problems and help to "save the planet."


Students can create a giant picture of the Earth, using recycled paper from their home and from the classroom. The "recycled Earth" will then be displayed on a bulletin board outside the classroom titled "Save the Planet.". Each of the students will be assigned a letter A to Z  and choose an issue or word from the book relating to our planet's environmental safety. They will then write about the information they learned on this topic/word and provide their own specific solutions on how to protect our planet from it. The papers will be displayed around the giant recycled Earth on the bulletin board to raise awareness to fellow students passing by.

Russell's World

Author: Charles A Amenta III
Illustrator: Monika Pollak
Grade Level: K-3

Buy it here!
More Resources

Summary: Russell's World by Charles A. Amenta is a book about a young boy, Russell, who has autism. The book highlight's Russell's day to day interactions with his family. This book not only serves as a biographical story, but also serves to inform young readers about the characteristics of the disorder itself. The author uses the context of Russell's life to raise awareness of autism. The reader learns about many of the behaviors that children with autism display and gains a better understanding of how to approach and interact with children who have autism through this text. The additional appendix of this book is a guide for parents who may have a child with autism. It presents information about the disorder, how to seek out services for children and families, and how to help the child with autism.

Element 5-  Raising Awareness: This book falls under the 5th element of social justice education, which is raising awareness. Autism is a puzzling disorder to many. It is not well understood by many adults, yet alone children. Nonetheless, the prevalence of this disorder has increased dramatically just in the past few years alone. This book effectively distributes information about autism in a way that adults and even the youngest of children can understand. By exploring the life of Russell through this biographical picture book, students as well as adults begin to understand the spectrum disorder and the many of the incongruous behaviors that is can display. After reading this book, students will not only be attentive and understanding to those who have special needs, but will be able to raise awareness to others. Russell's World can be used to create a culture of respect for individuals with special needs both in and out of the classroom.

How to Use: Although it can be used at any time during the school year, this book would be a great piece of literature to introduce during April, which is Autism Awareness month. Before students even read the book, the teacher can engage them in a journal writing activity in which students must answer the questions "People's brains work in different ways. In what special way does your brain work?" By answering this question, students become introspective about the way they think and the behaviors that they may engage in, and how such things set them apart from others. After reading the book, students will have a brief discussion on what they learned about autism. Then, students will be able to discuss what they should and shouldn't do when they interact with individuals with autism. Additionally, the teacher will engage students in an activity in which they make materials such as posters that help to raise awareness about autism. These posters can be informational or can be phrases to slogans to debunk myths and/or advocate for those with the disorder. Lastly, students can engage in a service project in which they plan and execute activities for children with autism (such as bringing in a sand/water station, or bringing in beads or other art projects). Students can bring these projects to autistic classrooms and engage in the projects with the students.

Uncle Willy's Tickles

Author: Marcie Aboff

Illustrator: Kathleen Gartner

Grade: kindergarten - 3rd grade




Kyle enjoys when his uncle Willy comes to visit.  His uncle Willy likes to laugh, joke, play and he also takes Kyle and sister out for their favorite ice cream.  Even though Kyle loves to play and hang out with uncle Willie, there is one thing that he does not like, uncle Willy's tickles.  In the beginning it was fun, but now Kyle is uncomfortable.  He is so uncomfortable he tries to disguise himself or pretend he is sick so he does not have to interact with his uncle Willy.  Kyle finally gets the courage to speak to his mom about the way uncle Willy touches him and explains how he does not like it.  Kyles mom encourages Kyle to tell uncle Willy how he feels and to his surprise uncle Willy promises not to tickle Kyle anymore because now he knows he does not like it.

Element 5

This book can be used to raise awareness about topics such as inappropriate touching, privacy, and children's rights.  Element 5 is about raising awareness and this book does a great job at covering these topics at an elementary level.  Kyle, like many other kids was feeling very uncomfortable the way his uncle would tickle him.  Even when he mentioned it to his sister, she said that he tickles all of the kids. Some children may feel like this behavior is okay because it promotes laughter and everyone is having fun, but this book lets children know that no matter what they have a say over their body and if someone is touching them inappropriately even during fun and laughter they have a right to say "STOP" or "NO".  Uncle Willy's Tickles is not only for kids but it raises awareness for adults/parents as well.  Something as simple as tickling can cause emotional stress, anger, sadness, feelings of discomfort and violation in children.  Kyle dealt with these things but he gathered the courage to speak to his mom and her warmth, understanding and guidance allowed him to speak up for himself letting his unlce know that he did not like the way he was being touched.  This book is awesome for parents and teachers to introduce things like bad touches, when somone says "no", speaking up and knowing your rights.


Sometimes kids need to feel empowered and they need to know that they have a voice especially when it comes to their own body.  The teacher can give the students a fill-in the blank prompt. Ex. I do not like when you __(tickle me)__ and I want _(you to stop)_or I will_(tell my mom)__.   In small groups (2nd & 3rd grade) or whole group (k &1) students can discuss things that make them uncomfortable and if they were Kyle what would be some other ways that they would tell uncle Willy they were uncomfortable with his tickling. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Day Gogo Went to Vote

Author: Elinor Batezat Sisulu 
Illustrator: Sharon Wilson
Grade Level: 1st & 2nd
About the Illustrator

The Day Gogo Went to Vote is a book about the first time black South Africans were allowed to vote. The book is written in the perspective of a young girl, named Thembi, who describes her great- grandmother's first voting experience. Thembi's great- grandmother, or Gogo as she calls her, is 100 years old and has not left her house in years. Once it is announced that black South Africans can vote, Gogo is determined to not let this opportunity pass her by, despite her family's opposition. Gogo is also determined to take her young great-granddaughter with her to show her how important this moment is for them. Gogo catches the attention of others so much, that people come out to see her vote and she has even featured in the front page of the local newspaper. 

Element 5:
This book can be used for both element 5 and 6. Element 5 is about raising awareness, something that this story illustrates. In the book Gogo, insists that her great-granddaughter accompany her to the voting booths. Gogo wanted to ensure that her great-granddaughter would understand the importance of this historical vote.    Also, Gogo drew plenty of attention from individuals and the media, causing a bigger crowd at the voting booths. 

An activity that can go along with this book, involves the topic of voting. Before the activity, the teacher should go over basic items pertaining to voting. Some of these items would be: what is voting?, who can vote?, and even the history of voting restrictions. After having a good understanding about voting and its history, the student will create a voting public service announcement. The PSA will serve to educate others on the current percentage of people who actually vote and the importance of voting. The PSA can also remind different the different groups of people what their ancestors had to go through to finally gain the right to vote. 


Author: Gail Gibbons

Grade Level: 3-5

Buy it here!


RECYCLE! is an informative book that brings awareness to the problems of landfills in the United States and how we can help by recycling! RECYCLE! explains the process of recycling from start to finish. Not only does it explain the process, but it goes into great details about five major materials one can recycle and how they can be reused. The five types of garage that can be recycled are; paper, glass, aluminum cans, plastic, and polystyrene. RECYCLE! also provides wonderful and detailed pictures to allow readers to clearly visualize the process of recycling.

Element 5:
RECYCLE! is an educational book that raises awareness on landfills, recycling, and how each person in the world can help to make the Earth a more healthy environments to live in. This book promotes readers to make a difference. For example the book states several statistics such as, "Each hour, people in the U.S. use two and a half million plastic bottles" and then encourages the reader to make environmentally friendly decisions by recycling. RECYCLE! is the perfect book to read on Earth Day or when having a lesson plan on the environment.

After reading this book with your students, it is imperative to discuss how important it is to recycle everyday and how we can all reuse certain materials. To show the students how we can reuse materials such as paper and plastic, the teacher should provide students with miscellaneous objects that are made from paper and plastic. The students will be asked to make anything they can think of using the provided materials. For example, make a plastic bottle into a funnel or creating a pen holder out of pop sticks. This fun and interactive activity will allow children to recycle and reuse their materials in the classroom!

What's the point of being green?

Author: Jacqui Bailey
Illustrator: Jan McCafferty
Grade Level: 4-6


What’s the point of being green?  is an excellent resource book written by Jacqui  Bailey. The book raises awareness about pollution and how everyone can do their part in saving the planet and keeping it green.  The book is divided into short chapters that cover different environmental challenges and discusses ways children can help preserve their carbon footprint. For example the chapter on trees discusses why trees are important, why do we cut trees down, what happens when people cut them down, and how we can be more forest friendly. Throughout each chapter a cartoon teenager provides facts about the environment and gives the reader solutions on how to be more eco-friendly. 

Element 5
What’s the point of being green is a great example for Element 5 raising awareness.  It provides amazing photos on what’s happening to the earth and supports its claims with child friendly science facts about the issue. It covers issues such as pollution, the greenhouse effect, different types of energy, how pollution became such an issue and more. The most interesting aspect of the book is that it not only brings awareness to the problem, but also offers solutions on how people can make a change.

There are several activities that can be done with children that relate to recycling. One activity that you can do is to place several recyclable and non- recyclable items in front of them and with a worksheet have the students separate which items can and cannot be recycled. Then after they separate the items, the teacher can then have a discussion on which items can be eliminated altogether to go completely green.  A second activity that a teacher can do is to do an experiment on how plastic garbage affects sea animals. The students will hook one end of a rubber band around their little finger and then stretch it behind their hand and hook the free end to their thumb. Then ask the students to remove the rubber band without using their fingers or their other hand. Remind the students that sea animals do not have hands and if they get caught in plastic they have no way of removing it from their bodies.  Ask the students how this could have been prevented and in what ways are they going to help the planet stay green. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I Can Save the Earth!

I Can Save the Earth!: One Little Monster Learns to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (Little Green Books)

Author:  Alison Inches
Illustrator:  Vivian Garofoli
Grade Level:  Pre-School - Second Grade

Buy it HERE!

To view all books written by this author, CLICK HERE.

CLICK HERE  to learn more about the author, Alison Inches.

For more information on Little Green Books, CLICK HERE.

To learn what it means to be green through Keep America Beautiful's educational programs and to see how you can get involved, CLICK HERE.


            I Can Save the Earth! is a children’s picture book that is part of a series of green books for green readers.  The purpose of this series is to educate children on what they can do to be more eco-friendly.  In this particular story, we meet Max the Little Monster.  Max is not aware that he has some pretty poor habits that are environmental nightmares.  Max likes to throw candy wrappers around, clog the toilet, overflow the sink, leave lights on, plays computer games all day long, just to name a few.  One day, Max causes a black out and Max soon realizes that everything in the world is really beautiful.  He starts a quest to protect everything he can in the world including the beaches and the parks.  He wants to spread the news so everyone can work together to keep the world beautiful.  At the end of the story, Max does such a great job at keeping the Earth clean that his name is changed to Max the Little Green Monster.

Element 5:

            I Can Save the Earth! is a great book that shows raising awareness (Element 5).  This book takes the issues of pollution, recycling and community responsibility and brings it into the children’s everyday lives.  Children can follow Max the Little Green Monster's journey to environmental awareness, from polluter to recycler.  Children can also learn tips on how they can become little green monsters themselves.  This book is a great precursor for children to take action and make a change.


            If the students would like to raise awareness around recycling, reducing, reusing and littering, a good activity is to create a recycle patrol.  The teacher will ask the students, “Do you think keeping Earth “clean and green” is important?”  Then invite them all to sit on the floor and conduct a read-aloud using I Can Save the Earth!  After the book is finished, the teacher could ask the students, “Have you ever wondered how much your class throws away in a month or a year? Do you think that anything you and your classmates throw away can be recycled?”  Tell the students that you will assign groups (based on different types of learners) to the “recycle patrol."  They will first conduct an experiment that will help them see what happens to the class trash and then find ways to recycle some of it.  They can set up a recycling center and keep track of how many items the class recycles in one day and one week (how many water bottles, pieces of paper, etc.).  They can also calculate estimations for one month and one year.

After the groups keep track of the items for one week, the next level would be to take action to their school community about their findings.  This would progress into Element 6-Taking Social Action.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Our Class Is Going Green!

Title: Our Class Is Going Green!
Written and illustrated: by kindergarten students
Oak Park Elementary, Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Project Coordinator: Joyce Nickels and Erinn Rakes
Grade Level: K-12

Click Here to learn about the Kindergarten Students of Oak Park Elementary.

Joyce Nickels and Erinn Rakes Kindergarten class were going over the theme about environment and were teaching their class on how to take care of our planet.  After discussing what they should do in order to make a difference in their own school, they decided to make a book.  Each page from the book helps readers build a clear and brief list of easy ways to make a positive impact on our environment.  For example in the book it states"Walk to school.. INSTEAD of riding in cars. The book also has facts which we can learn from in our to have a better understanding about going green.

Element 5 Raising Awareness:
Our Class is Going Green is mostly about showing the readers different ways we can go green and improving our environment.  It shows us different ways we can clean up our community and even make a difference in our schools.  This book is broken down so kids of all ages can go out and make a difference in their environment from recycling used paper to turning the water off while washing and drying your hands.  By teaching children at a young age to be environmentally aware, you are building lifelong habits that can make a big difference in the future of our environment.  

Class Activity:
After reading this book to your class and going over the theme of going green, you can come up with new classroom rules or activities which can also be implemented all year around about going green.  You could also follow the book and try out some things they had put down as ways of going green.  You could have separate garbage buckets in your classroom.  One for paper only, another for plastic materials, and another for bottles only.  This way at the end of the day when they come to collect the trash it can all be recycled to the right place.  Also you could always take a little trip outside to the school playground and do a clean up, wear gloves and bring trash bags and make sure you find trash and put it into the garbage bags to ensure a litter free environment.