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, September 30, 2013

Amazing Grace

Author: Mary Hoffman 
Illustrated by: Caroline Binch
Reading Level: Ages 6-8
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.

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Resources for Teachers

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Amazing Grace is a children's book about a young girl "Grace" who loved stories. With her vivid imagination, she transforms herself into different story characters creating adventure along the way. When her teacher decides to perform the play "Peter Pan" with her class, Grace is determined to play the leading role. However, when her classmates tell her she is unable to play the part because she's a girl and also black, Grace becomes sad. Grace's family reassures her that "Grace can do anything she puts her mind to" which is just the support Grace needs to audition for Peter Pan and get the leading role.

Element #1- Self-Love and Knowledge:
Amazing Grace is a great story about deconstructing negative views of individuals based on race/ethnicity, gender, religion, culture etc. It shows how a negative stereotype posed a challenge for Grace and how support helped her overcome this obstacle. Grace shows readers that it is not good to internalize hurtful stereotypes but to embrace your differences and believe in yourself. Amazing Grace provides the foundation for self-love and knowledge in that students learn not to let negative stereotypes affect their self-identity.

In order to incorporate element one into a unit, teachers can have students draw a picture of a person in their family who they resemble the most. Students can then orally explain to the class what these attributes are (i.e eyes, skin tone, lips, nose etc). The teacher can then have the students take the assignment home and have the family member explain the history of their appearance ( i.e grandmother was of a certain race which may explain eye color, skin tone, shape of lips, nose etc). This assignment will teach students the different aspects of their identity and the history associated with it.

Molly's Family

Author: Nancy Garden
Illustrator: Sharon Wooding
Grade Level: K-3rd

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Summary: Molly's kindergarten class is having an Open School Night, and the students decided they want to decorate for their families. When a student suggests drawing pictures of their own families to decorate the classroom, Molly works extra hard on her drawing. When a classmate tells Molly that she cannot have two mothers, Molly does not want to share her picture during Open School Night. Ms. Marston, Molly's teacher, assures her that she can have two mothers. Molly learns that not every family is the same, and her family is just as special as everyone else's.

Element 1: Self- Love and Knowledge: Molly's Family shows that not all families are the same, and it is okay. Having a different type of family makes them unique and special. Molly always loved her family, but thanks to Ms. Marston, and other classmates who have single parent families, she learns to be proud of them. Molly also deals with negative comments from her classmates, and shows how to overcome differences.

Activity: In my classroom, I would use this book at the beginning of the year to get to know my students. It is important to learn who your students live with; they can be a mother and a family, two mothers or two fathers, grandparents, foster families, and aunts or uncles. Whoever they live with, you want to make sure that your students feel comfortable talking about their families and living situations. You also want to make the families feel comfortable coming to visit in the classroom. When talking about different kinds of families, make sure you express to each student that their family is special in their own way, and no two families are the same!

When Marian Sang

Author:Pam Munoz Ryan 
Illustrator: Brian Selznick 
Grade Level: K-6 

Summary: This story is about an African American girl who loved to sing. When she was young she would sing in church, and news spread around town about how good Marian was at singing and she would play at concerts around town and in choirs. When Marian was old enough she applied to go to music school but was not accepted  because of her race.  As Marian got older she began to sing in many different states, and perform each concert twice, one for the black audience and one for the white audience. Marian started traveling around the world singing because of her great talent. When Marian returned to the United States she booked a concert at Howard University in Washington D.C. but was then turned down because of her color. This caused an outrage and people began protesting until President Roosevelt approved her singing, and she sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. Everyone cheered for Marian, and she continued on to sing for presidents, kings, queens, and even prime minsters. This book tells the story of Marian and how she overcame people discriminating her for her color, and instead love her for her talent of singing. 

Element One: This story reflects element one which is self love and knowledge. In this element students learn about where they come from, their history, and identities that are associated with it. In this story Marian is a young African American girl who is discriminated against because of her race. In the story it also talks about segregation, and how she had to perform two different concerts for whites and blacks. The story also has pictures of signs saying COLORED waiting only. This story reflects on the African American history and what life was in the past for colored people. For students who are of color, this book shows the struggles their ancestors have faced in the past, and if you are not of color it shows the struggles and the lifestyle that colored people went through. This book is eye opening for all students. 

Activity:  If I was teaching this book in my classroom, I would make sure it would be in February during black history month. After reading this book I would have students complete an ABC book so some students can incorporate this into their books. I would also bring a CD of Marian singing so students can hear sing for themselves. I would have students do a think, pair, share and talk about the characteristics of Marian that stood out. I would then have students work in pairs on a research project where they have to find another person in history who have these same qualities and went through struggles like Marian did. They would work on these projects for a few days and then present their findings to the class. 

A Life Like Mine--How Children Live Around the World -- Element 2

Title: “A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World”

Author: Dorling Kindersley, in association with UNICEF

Illustrator: Real photographs are used

Appropriate for: Children 9 and up, but adaptable for any grade level

Link to Purchase: Buy it here and here 

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Short summary: A Life Like Mine is a wonderful book for children ages 9 and up. In the book, we meet several children from around the world. We see what their everyday lives are like, where they live, what their routines are, etc. It talks about the necessities of life like food, water, shelter, and what all children need to survive and be happy in this world, regardless of whether they are lucky enough to have access to it. Most importantly, the book conveys this in a way which is appropriate for a child to understand. According to the United National Convention on the Rights of the Child, it focuses on the 4 major components children need for a happy life. They are: survival, (food, water) development, (school, knowledge) protection, and participation (religion, ethnicity, etc.) Each section shows children who both do and do not have their needs met, but every child deserves that right. With this book, a sense of dignity is established in the student, as well as self-identity and connections to their own cultural heritage.

Element 2—Respect for Others: This book supports Element 2—Respect for others because it provides teachers with the opportunity to take the chance and talk about each of their students in the classroom; who they are, where they come from, where their ancestors were born, what their culture is like, etc. However, it also gives students the opportunity to see that all children are equal and entitled to the same rights as we are, no matter where we are located on the globe. Even though we are all different and may come from different cultural backgrounds, we should stand tall and be proud of who we are, and develop a strong sense of self-respect, respect for others, and a worldly appreciation.

Classroom Use: For a more formal activity, it may be a good idea to do a compare/contrast activity with a Venn Diagram. The Venn Diagram could be “How Other Kids Live/How I Live/How We Live”.  For a more fun/informal activity, it may be a cute idea to do a scavenger hunt in the classroom based on facts students’ learned from each of the children from the book. An "About Me" activity can be used with this book also, one in which students write a few paragraphs about themselves and photos to represent their culture/background. Then they could be hung all around the classroom. 


We're Different, We're the Same

Title: We're Different, We're the Same
Author: Bobbi Jane Kates
Illustrator: Joe Mathieu
Featuring Jim Henson's Sesame Street Muppets
Grade Level: Preschool - 2

This children's book uses Sesame Street characters and people to show that even though we are different, at the same time we are also alike. It illustrates pictures of different eyes, noses, mouths, hair, skin colors and more. The book teaches how characteristics that look different on someone else still perform the same functions for our bodies and are meant for the same purposes. It shows how everyone is unique, "That's what makes the world such fun. Many kinds of people, not just one!"

Element One : Self Love and Knowledge
This book represents Element one because it is teaching them about their characteristics and also what they do. This is providing them with self knowledge. It includes different cultures physical attributes in the illustrations trying to deconstruct negative stereotypes. It teaches that it is okay to be different. You are wonderful just the way you are and that's what makes the world so special. The students may gain acceptance and self esteem towards themselves after reading these encouraging words from the friendly Sesame Street friends.  

One idea for a follow up activity would be to make self portrait plates. We could use paper plates for our heads and yarn for our hair. After everyone finished making their plate portrait we could come together on the rug and discuss how our plates look similar. Then we will talk about differences. Their portrait will show how they are expressing feelings towards oneself. You could also make eye color and hair color charts and graphs for an extended activity in math. To get the students up and out of their seats to move around a little I might do a "Step Right Up Activity." I would have all my students stand in a straight horizontal line side by side. I would have a list of questions made up and read one by one. If the question applies to you, the student would take a step forward. For example, things like, step forward if you have blue eyes, if you have a brother, if you have brown hair, if you like to play basketball. This activity is also showing how we are alike and different in so many ways and that each statement we step up for makes us who we are as our own person.

I Am Mixed

Title: I Am Mixed
Authors: Gracelle Beauvais & Sebastian A. Jones
Illustrator: James C. Webster
Editor: Joshua Cozine
Reading Level: Ages 5-8
Publisher: Stranger Comics, LLC

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"I am mixed is an invaluable teaching tool that all children of all races can learn from." - Halle Berry

I Am Mixed is a children's picture book about two twins, Nia and Jay, who are sharing their story about what it means to be mixed. This book has an important message about culture, race and self-acceptance. It truly encourages readers of all ages and all races to be proud of who they are. It goes beyond the idea of blending two families and incorporates the ideas of culture, language, the traditions you have and the things that are important to your family. Readers will be inspired to explore these parts of their heritage after reading I Am Mixed. In addition to the colorful and fun illustrations, this book holds a powerful message on its pages - you are special and there are many things that make you YOU. Be proud of them.

Element 1 - Self-love and Knowledge:
I Am Mixed is an essential teaching tool for Element 1. The twins share with readers their passion and enthusiasm about loving who you are. Nia shares that members of her class ask her "funny things" like why her hair is bendy and curly when other classmates have straight or thick hair. This confronts the negative stereotypes about her identity and is important in children's learning about Element 1. Jay shares things like "I am an Irish jig to an African beat" and "I am a melting pot of scrumptious treats." This embraces the idea of studying different aspects of your identity and the histories associated with it, which is another crucial part of Element 1. I Am Mixed encourages readers to have a voice and truly embrace the ideas of self-love and knowledge.

Follow-up Activity:
It is important for teachers and parents to follow-up a reading on self-love like this with an activity. This book provides follow-up activities right within its pages which makes it such a great resource! The first activity is having the child draw a self-portrait. Teachers can turn this into an art project for the walls in the classroom. Students will be invited to incorporate skin tone, hair color, and other aspects of their identity. Students can then take their self-portrait and create an "I am from" poem with family members.  They should then be invited to share their poem with classmates. Through these activities, teachers are providing students with an opportunity to learn who they are and where they came from. They will learn about themselves while learning more about their classmates. As a result, students should experience the self-love and knowledge that Nia and Jay have in the story.
Henry's Freedom Box

Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Age: Preschool – Grade 3

Henry was a poor young boy who was born into slavery.  It was the only life he had ever known and sadly, as a result, he did not have a birthday or any knowledge of years passing by or his age. When he got older, Henry met a young woman, Nancy, and they fell in love, got married, and had several children.  One unhappy morning Henry found out that Nancy’s master had sold Nancy and their children.  Henry arrived to the town square just in time to wave goodbye to his family.  Many depressing weeks passed until Henry decided that he had enough and was going to be free.  He enlisted the support of a wonderful white doctor who helped him to escape by packing him in a shipping crate and sending him up to his friends in Philadelphia where he could be free.  It was a long journey, but thankfully Henry “Box” Brown arrived safely in Philadelphia on March 30, 1849 where he would live a free man. 

Element III: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice

Based on a true story, Henry’s Freedom Box serves as a means for teaching children about slavery and oppression.  While slavery is such a huge part of American history and a struggle that all students should be aware of, I think this book sheds some light onto the hardships that African Americans faced early on in their history in America.  The book sheds light on the physical and emotional struggles that African Americans had to face.   

In additional to exploring the issue of slavery, Henry’s Freedom Box gives children of color a reason to be proud of their heritage because they overcome the hardships they faced.  While the details are endless, one obvious fact about slavery is that it was the whites that imprisoned and enslaved the blacks.  In this instance, a white doctor was the one who helped Henry escape and sent him to live with his friends in Philadelphia.  I think it is important to showcase that while many white people were guilty for committing intolerable acts of injustice, there were still good people who wanted to help the African Americans and believed slavery was wrong.  These small acts of rebellion and support eventually lead to the end of slavery and freedom for all people.  

Using the book in the classroom:
I think Henry’s Freedom Box is a good starting point to teach students about the history of slavery and some of the key people who helped take a stance and make a difference during this time period. From the very beginning of the story to the vey end, there are many great relatable talking points to discuss with students as a teacher reads along. For example: 
  • Children love their birthdays, but slaves could not celebrate their special days – how would that make a student feel?  
  • If the student were the doctor, would he/she have helped Henry escape even though it meant he/she might get in trouble?
  • After being a slave for 33 years, what things would he/she finally like to do now that he/she is free?

After the reading, the class could learn about other famous African Americans who were monumental in advocating for freedom, such as Harriet Tubman who was famous for her method for escaping slavery. Students could follow Harriet or Henry's journey on a map to understand just how far they had to travel to freedom to put the large feat into perspective.  Lastly, students could discuss amongst themselves or as a class what they would do if they were in Henry’s position.  How would they try and escape?  All of these activities will peak students' interest and start the conversation around social injustices.  

Giraffes Can't Dance

Giraffes Can’t Dance

Title: Giraffes Can’t Dance 
Author: Giles Andreae
Illustrated by: Guy Parker-Rees
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Publisher: Orchard Books

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Giraffes Can’t Dance  is a delightful children’s picture book that teaches about individuality, perseverance, and  how it is ok to be different. The book is about a giraffe named Gerald who can’t dance very well. Every year in Africa they hold the jungle dance and Gerald felt sad because he knew he couldn't dance. The other animals made fun of Gerald, and as he left the dance feeling humiliated, he stumbled upon a compassionate cricket that told him that he has to dance to his own music. Through the crickets advice, Gerald listened to the nature sounds around him and before he knew it he was dancing like a professional. The other animals were astonished at how beautifully Gerald danced.  Through lively and animated illustrations, this book delivers a wonderful message about finding the music that moves you. This book will give children a roller coaster of well-balanced emotions. They will feel sad, happy and compassionate and will leave with a great lesson learned. They will learn to accept their own individuality and dance freely to the music of their own confidence.
Element #1 Self-Love and Knowledge:
Giraffes Can’t Dance: Reinforces the self-love and knowledge element because it teaches children about finding their own rhythm. It encourages them to keep trying. It sends a wonderful message about not giving up even though people around them may discourage them. With the right support, in this case in the form of a friendly cricket, they can learn to find a way to believe in themselves and pierce through the negativity and just let go and believe in themselves. Children will benefit greatly from this story because it will teach them that they can shine in anything they put their minds to even if at first it appears that they can’t.

Follow-Up Activity:
Giraffes Can’t Dance can be a wonderful tool to teach children about individuality. Teachers can hold in class discussions about how Gerald’s feelings when he was mocked for not knowing how to dance. Teachers can then have the students discuss events when they felt they couldn't do something, and how they felt when they found out they actually could when they believed in themselves.
Lastly teachers can encourage students to talk about what dances are special in their own culture and ask students to draw or find pictures associated with these dances. Parents can get involved too by speaking to their children about traditional dances in their culture and teaching their children about them. Then students can share their final projects with the class and everyone will learn something new!

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote

Author: Tanya Lee Stone
Illustrator: Rebecca Gibbon
Grade Level: 3 - 5
Element 4: Social Movement and Social Change

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Summary: Elizabeth Leads the Way is the story about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and how she advocated for women's rights.  Ever since she was a little girl all she heard was how life was easier for boys and men.  Elizabeth decided that she was going to do anything a boy could do. Elizabeth voiced her ideas, stood up for what she believed was right and this allowed women to the right to vote and changed America forever.             

Element 4:    This is a perfect book to introduce social movement and change to students because what Elizabeth Cady Stanton did changed our country forever. She was a brave woman who was not afraid to let her ideas be heard.  She spoke her opinions aloud even though people didn't have the same amount of respect for women as they did for men.  If Elizabeth never stood up for what she believed was right women in America may not have ever got the chance to vote.  Elizabeth not only changed the laws she also made the people of our country understand that women are just as important as men and could do anything a man could.                            

Classroom Ideas:  This book introduces the students to large vocabulary such as preposterous, abolitionist, declaration  and independence. This book would fit into a lesson about elections and women's rights. Other ideas that a teacher could do with the students after reading this book is have them come up with their own "Declaration of Rights and Sentiment" and have them fight for something they strongly believe in.  The students can then share their ideas with each other by presenting to the class or with a gallery walk.  
More Ideas from the Author to use in the classroom