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.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Corduroy Writes a Letter

Title: Corduroy Writes a Letter

Author: Allison Inches

Illustrator: Allan Eitzen

Reading Level: Kindergarten - 3

Buy it here!
Resource- Corduroy Writes a Letter is used within the lessons of this overarching book.

Corduroy Writes a Letter is about Lisa and her bear named Corduroy.  She notices that the bakery is putting less sprinkles on their cookies, so her mom suggests she write the bakery a letter.  Lisa doesn't believe that her letter will have any impact because she is just a little girl.  Instead, Corduroy decides to write a letter.  He continues writing letters to various places where he notices there are issues.  His letters do make a difference and Lisa recognizes that everyone has a voice and can write letters to make a difference.

Element 6- Taking Social Action:
This book introduces students to the idea that their individual voices can have an impact.  Although it is very small scale in its examples, Corduroy Writes a Letter proves that a young person's voice can influence others in the community.  These small steps can begin the process of students feeling important enough to address bigger issues.

This book could be used with many grades.  I would read it as an introduction to an activity.  Students would then brainstorm issues they are passionate about.  After brainstorming, we would discuss the concept of professional letters.  Students would need to understand formatting letters in a formal manner and writing a strong and persuasive letter.  After editing each, ensuring correct grammar and proper spelling, I could allow students to actually send their persuasive letters.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Butterfly

Title- The Butterfly 
Author & Illustrator- Patricia Polacco
SJE- Element 3: Issues of Social Injustice
Where to buy The Butterfly
Patricia Polacco's Website

Summary- The Butterfly is based on the true story of Patricia Polacco's aunt Monique and her mother Marcelle Solliliage. The story takes place in France during World War II and the Nazi occupation. Monique is aware of the war happening around her but she is not aware of her mother's role in France's resistance effort, until one night she sees a little girl at the foot of her bed. The little girl, Sevrine, and her family have been living in Monique's family's basement. Monique and Sevrine begin having nightly play dates and become good friends until one night when a neighbor sees the two girls playing in the window. The girls tell Marcelle what happened and Sevrine and her family are forced to flee the basement to try to escape to Switzerland.

Element 3: Issues of Social Justice-
This story represents the third element of SJE because it demonstrates religious intolerance and how it affected European Jews during World War II. The Butterfly shows a child's perspective on the war and makes it as relatable as possible. Not only does the story focus on the experience of a Jewish child during WWII it also shows how dangerous it was for the brave people who tried to help their Jewish neighbors and friends. This story is a good way to introduce the Holocaust to younger students who are not ready to be exposed to the more gruesome details of this topic. In addition, you could also use this story to tie together Element 3 and Element 4 because it touches upon social movements as well.

This book could be used in an activity where students are asked to compare and contrast the children (Monique and Sevrine) and their experiences. This activity would demonstrate the impact the war had on the two different groups (Jews and non-Jews). Students would be able to see how Jews lost all of their freedom while their non-Jewish neighbors were still able to do daily activities such as go to school. However, by comparing and contrasting the students would also notice that it was not just Jewish people who were afraid during the war, Monique and her friends were also frightened of the "tall boots" even if they did not have to fear being taken by them.

If You Lived When Women Won Their Rights

Author:   Anne Kamma
Illustrator:  Pamela Johnson
Grade: 2nd – 5th (Ages 7-10)
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.

Summary:  The If You book series transports children to a different time and place, and asks them, “What if you were there?” In If You Lived When Women Won Their Rights, children explore what life was like for women and girls during a time in which they could not wear pants, ride bicycles, or go to college. Children get a glimpse of what life was like for women before they had certain rights and the struggle they experienced to gain equal rights.

Element III – Issues of Social Injustice:  This book is a great introduction to Women’s Suffrage Movement and gender equality in the United States. I love that this book follows the development of women’s rights from the Revolution to 1920. It highlights women’s roles and contributions to society way before, during and after the movement. It highlights key men and women, and addresses questions that children would have about the topic. This book is a great way to initiate discussions about gender roles, feminism, and more importantly, empowerment.

Activity:  This book would complement an activity in which students engage in a debate for and against women’s rights. In groups, students would have the opportunity to independently research and find evidence that will support the side of the argument they were assigned. This would expose students to the different perspectives that surrounded the movement and affect gender equality even today.

This Is The Dream

Authors: Diane Z. Shore & Jessica Alexander
Illustrated By: James Ransome
Grade Level: K-3

Buy it here!

This Is The Dream is a book that introduces children to the discrimination African-Americans faced before the civil rights movement, the progress that was made during the civil rights movement, and shows how our country got to be the way it is today.  This Is The Dream takes children through the times of whites only seating sections and segregated schools, teaches of the struggles and triumphs of the everyday people and extraordinary leaders that led the way during the civil rights movement, and shows how we became a nation of freedom and justice for all.

Element 3- Exploring Issues of Social Injustice:
This Is The Dream is a great book for Element 3 because it explores the issue of racism and demonstrates to children how racial discrimination has impacted African Americans in the past.  Through its creative and beautiful illustrations and rhyming dialogue, this book shows children how things used to be for the African American community by showing the separate drinking fountains, seating sections on buses and restaurants, and libraries and schools for white and colored people that existed prior to the civil rights movement. However, this book doesn't just show how things used to be for African Americans, it also takes children through the civil rights movement by demonstrating how everyday people fought for change and briefly introduces children to civil rights leaders like Ella Baker and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The book ends by showing children the world that they are used to living in today, but children walk away from this book with the new knowledge that our country was not always this way as many people fought very hard to establish freedom and justice for all.

One of the things I liked most about This Is The Dream was how it incorporated real pictures and people from the civil rights movement within some of the illustrations on the pages.  In fact, the book starts off with a collage representing how things were prior to the civil rights movement (whites only and colored signs, mentions of Jim Crow and the American Dream, etc.) and ends with a collage to represent today (diverse children holding hands, freedom and justice for all signs, the Statue of Liberty, etc.).  An activity I would do in a classroom in conjunction with this book would be to have students make their own collages that demonstrate what they learned about how things were prior to the civil rights movement, during the civil rights movement, and how they think our country is today.

Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Grade Level: K-4

Buy it here!

Henry’s Freedom Box is the story of a young African American boy named Henry Brown, who was born a slave. He doesn’t know how old he is because at that time slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays. When Henry’s master passed away, he was sent away to work for his master’s son and separated from his family. There he met Nancy, another slave who he later married, and together they had three children. One day, Nancy and his three children were sold to another slave owner. Henry knew from that point on he had to be free, and came up with a plan to mail himself in a box to a place where there were no slaves. After a long journey in his box, Henry woke up to four men who welcomed him from Philadelphia. This was the day Henry finally became free from slavery, on March 30th 1849.

Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice:
With Henry’s Freedom Box being based on a true story, it shows us how African Americans were treated during the time of slavery. They had no rights, and were owned by people who often yelled at them, beat them, and made them do hard labor. They weren’t allowed to do simple tasks such as sing in the streets, didn’t have birthdays, and couldn’t marry without the permission of their master. They lived their life knowing that at any point they could be uprooted from their family, and sold to another master at a slave market.

In a 2nd grade class, I would use this book for an interactive read aloud. While reading, I would stop every couple pages and respond with feelings, connections, and questions. I would also ask the students to make predictions as well. For example, I would stop after the first page and respond with a feeling such as, “I feel bad for Henry, I can’t imagine not having a birthday to celebrate each year.” When Henry’s master is telling him he will be giving him to his son, I would respond with a question “I can’t believe Henry is going to be separated from his family! I wonder how that will make him feel?” Then when Henry says goodbye to his family I would respond with a connection saying “This reminds me of when I went to visit my grandma in Chile once, and I had to say goodbye to my family before I left.” I would then ask my students to make some predictions. For the part where Henry is walking in the streets I would say to my students “What do you think would happen to slaves if they were caught singing in the streets?” Another prediction I would ask students to make is after Henry’s wife and children were sold at the slave market, I’ll say to my students “What do you think Henry will do next?” After we finish the text, I would start a discussion with some open ended questions where I might ask students, “How do you think Henry felt when his family was sold at the slave market?” “Do you think Henry will see his family again?” Also, “Why do you think slaves were treated this way during this time?”

The Story of Ruby Bridges

Title: The Story of Ruby Bridges
Author: Robert Coles
Illustrator: George Ford
Grade Levels: 3-5

Click here for more information about the book!

Click here for a helpful resource!

           The story of ruby bridges is a popular, inspirational story of a young African American girl who rose above the hate and prejudice that surrounded her. Growing up in the 1960s, she was faced with segregation and unfairly tormented just because of the color of her skin. As decided by a judge, Ruby was chosen to “be a part of history” and attend an all-white school in New Orleans. Consequently, white parents did not allow their children to accompany her, leaving Ruby all alone at the William Frantz Elementary School. Even worse, she was met by angry mobs against her mere presence every single day. Yet, Ruby enthusiastically stayed committed to her education and was determined to learn. Rather than fight back with anger, hate, and negativity, she remained positive and chose to see past the harshness of her criticizers, instead wishing forgiveness upon them. In my classroom, I would use this book as means to introduce racism and segregation to teach my students the impact these issues have had on peoples’ lives, and how these issues may still exist and continue to impact the lives of many.

Element 3-Exploring Issues of Social Injustice:
The story of ruby bridges suits element 3 due to its exploration into the subjects of racism and segregation. After reading this story, children can gain insight into what life was like in the 1950s/1960s. Ruby’s story occurs during the early 1960s and at this time, integrated schools were not all too popular in the south. The angry mobs of white people that met Ruby day after day depicts the harsh reality of this time and the racism that occurred towards an innocent African American child. It also implies the educational unfairness that took place. With school segregation, African American children did not always have an equal opportunity to the same quality education white student may have had. Students can reflect on these facts and relate it to educational inequality, segregation, and racism today and perhaps note that although it may not be as obvious, issues of social injustice brought to attention by this story could very well still be currently taking place and having an impact on peoples’ lives.

Follow-up Activity:
I would use this story as an introduction to the topics of racism and segregation, to educate students of just some of the injustices in history. Using Ruby Bridges as an example, the class can learn of school segregation and the several other cases of segregation in other public facilities. Since it is a story of a young girl at school, it may be easier for children to relate to Ruby and deeply understand the injustice that was taking place. After learning of Elements 1 and 2, students will hopefully already be aware of self-love as well as the importance of having respect for others. They can use this knowledge to form their own opinions on the unjust treatment of Ruby Bridges. Students could also make lists of the differences and similarities they see between when this story took place and now, and identify any issues of racism or unjust segregation they may have encountered/heard about and discuss why, perhaps, they believe this takes place.