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.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Harlem's Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills

Words By:
Renee Watson

Pictures By:
Christian Robinson

Grade Level:
PreK - 2

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Florence Mills, a descendant of slaves, found her voice at a very early age, singing spirituals with her mother to chase away the storms.  She loved to sing and dance on the playground at school and soon began performing in local contests in Washington D.C., sharing her bird-like voice with all.

But due to segregation, at her first big performance, she was told her family and friends were not allowed into the "Whites Only" theatre.  Florence realized that she could use her voice not just for entertaining, but for voicing her opinion of right and wrong.  She threatened not to perform if her friends and family could not attend.  And so they were allowed in.

As her fame grew, so did the strength of her voice.  From New York to London, Florence used her gift to sing for equal rights, inspiring many to do the same.

Element 4, Social Movements and Social Change:
Florence Mills, not only an everyday person, but a poor, black everyday person living in the early 1900s, used her success as a performer to sing for equality.  Thousands heard her bird-like, peaceful cries for social change, from the United States to Europe, all without youtube.

According to her website, her performances were never filmed nor are there any existing quality recordings of her voice.  However, thanks to author Renee Watson and illustrator Christian Robinson, her message continues to reach thousands more.

Students can read, discuss, and analyze the words to her song, "I'm a Little Blackbird Looking for a Bluebird".

Students can put on a play based on the life of Florence Mills, as depicted in the book, highlighting the talents of each individual student:  actors, singers, set design, sound, ushers, etc.

Students can use cut-paper, in the style of the book's illustrator, Christian Robinson, to each design their own PlayBill for the show.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Author: Nikki Giovanni

Illustrator: Bryan Collier

Grade Level: 3-5

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      Rosa tells the story of Rosa Parks, an African American woman working as a seamstress in Montgomery, who was living in a time that segregation and racism against African Americans dominated the United States.  One day Rosa had just left work and boarded the bus she took home.  When she sat on the bus the bus driver told her to move to the "colored" section, after Rosa refuses, the bus driver has her arrested.  This event sparks a chain reaction for the civil rights movement and encourages African American men and woman to join Rosa Parks in the fight for equality.  This book also shows the marches and other examples of people coming together to ignite change and demolish segregation in the United States. Rosa is a Caldecott Honor Book as well as a winner of the Coretta Scott King Award.

Element 4:
       Rosa is an excellent example of Element 4: Social Movements and Social Change because it allows children of all races to learn about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.  Rosa Park's story shows children how people came together to fight for equality and change.  Rosa also shows children the injustice that African American's faced in the United States, and the struggle they had to go through in order to have equal rights.  This story allows for students to read and understand that one person can make a difference and that no voice is ever too small to be heard.

        Rosa allows for many in class activities that are centered around the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for change. Race can be a difficult topic for teachers to talk about in a classroom, especially the topic of slavery and segregation.  This topic does not have to be difficult if the teacher is able to explain clearly to the students the events that occurred and the steps that were taken to change the way of life African Americans were being forced to live.  An activity that would be beneficial to the class after reading this book would be to have the students write a letter to Rosa Parks.  The students would be able to write about what they thought of Rosa (did you think she was brave?...), what they think about the Civil Rights Movement (the marchers in Washington D.C.), and what they would have done if they were in Rosa Park's position.  This activity will allow for more discussion on both the book and element four.

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins

Author:  Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator:  Jerome Lagarrigue
Grade Level:  2 - 5

Summary:  This picture book tells an accurate story of the 1960 Greensboro Sit-Ins in North Carolina from the perspective of a young, African American girl named Connie.  As Connie and her mother walk around Greensboro, they see many signs near water fountains, outside the movie theaters and even near bathrooms that designate “white” and “colored”.  Dr. Martin Luther King visits the local college chapel to speak about equal rights, and Connie and her family excitedly join the NAACP with hopes of making a change.   Soon after, Connie and her mother visit downtown and are shocked to see four of Connie’s brother’s friends sitting at a Woolworth’s lunch counter designated for “whites” only.  These four men were pioneers seeking equal rights, dignity and respect.  Together, they began a movement that challenged segregation and eventually spread nationwide.  This story is a powerful one because it contains four ordinary people who choose to take a strong stand against social injustice and ultimately begin to see a little change at a time.  Because it is told from a young girl’s perspective, this meaningful story is appropriate for young readers ages 7-12.
Element 4: Social Movement and Social Change:  This realistic piece of fiction is a wonderful example of Element Four: Social Movements and Social Change.  Freedom on the Menu is a story of four everyday people standing together in Greensboro, North Carolina to address the social injustice of segregation.  This book can help teach students that by something that may seem so overwhelming and unfair can actually be changed though standing up, joining together, and being active citizens.

Activity:  There are many meaningful and fun activities  that could be done in a classroom with Freedom on the Menu.   In my fourth or fifth grade classroom, I would first have my class do a “read aloud” using the realistic fiction book.  As a class, we would discuss the genre realistic historical fiction, and find a few other books in our classroom library that could be designated at historical fiction.  We would then make a T-Chart and while looking through the book together, designate which parts of Freedom on the Menu are fact and which parts of the story are fictional.  Examples would be that the characters Connie and her family and fictional, and so is the lady who registers to vote.  However, the rest of the story is factual such as the Martin Luther King speech, the sit-ins, and the marches.  After the classroom discussion, I would have the students return to their seats and imagine themselves as writers or journalists.  With a partner, they would create a newspaper article or television script about the sit-ins that would later be presented to the class.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Child of the Civil Rights Movement- Element 4

  • Title: Child of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Author: Paula Young Shelton
  • Illustrator: Raul Colon
  • Purchase the book here.
  • Find more information about the author and book here.
  • Element Four: Social Movements and Social Change
  • Summary: Paula, a young girl. discusses what her life was like during the civil rights movement. Paul reflects on her past memories of marches and protests. Although she was born in New York, she deeply describes her parents moving back to Atlanta to be with other colored people and to fight for their rights. Paula's father, Andrew Young, a civil rights leader and ambassador, would travel on many occasions to protest and march. Paula remembers many times when her father would go to jail or be beaten because of what he was doing for their family. She also explains many scenarios where her family was not granted the same rights at the "whites." One in particular was at a restaurant. The host would not sit Paula's family even though there were plenty of open tables. Paul sat and the floor and threw a temper tantrum because she was so hungry. That was her way of protesting. Paula's extended family and friends would come over for dinner on a weekly basis where they would play music and dance and enjoy time together. Paula explained that that was their way of having fun. In the last portion of the book Paula describes the march from Selma to Montgomery. Everyone in her family marched, even Paula at the young age of 4. It took all the marchers about four days to make it to Montgomery. The final page of the book describes the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Paula remembers her family watching President Johnson sign the bill that would make all people eligible to vote. 
  • This book is great example of element four because it discusses ways in which every day people marched and protested for their rights. This was a major event in American history. Paula and her family, along with friends and neighbors, fought through the negative words and actions that the white people would say/do. Paula and her family were fighting for their rights.  These were everyday people standing together to fight for their freedom, addressing social injustices, and uniting together to make changes in history.
  • Grades 4-6: As a future teacher, I would read this book to my students. I would also try to incorporate popcorn style reading so the students are involved. I would try to find other books about the civil rights movement that were told in children's perspectives, like Paula did in this book. After reading many children's perspectives, I would ask my students to think of a major event that we discussed in the children's narratives and try to imagine if you alive during this time. I would ask them to make and write a short picture book revolving around a major event. I would ask them to include details and dialogue that might have taken place during this event. I would try to incorporate the language arts standards about characters, setting, place etc. As well as the social studies standards about laws and rights of individuals.