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, September 30, 2014

Thank You, World

Written by Alice B. McGinty and Illustrated by Wendy Anderson.
For ages 3-7
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SUMMARY: This wonderfully illustrated bookThank You World, by Alice B. McGinty, shows our world and all the simple wonders it has to offer. Each page says 'Thank You' to the world for various beauties such as the sky, the sun, and the grass. Each page shows 8 different children from 8 different countries looking up at the same sky, feeling the same grass. One page writes, "Thank you, grass, for softening my footsteps. I'm dancing with the breeze." Then each page shows four different pictures of children in different countries enjoying the grass and playing... sharing the same simple beauty of the Earth!
This book is a great read for preschool through 2nd grade. With the older students, they can explore the meaning of the text and it's illustrations. This can open a discussion and show children that we are more similar to each other than we are different… we enjoy the same activities like playing in the grass and flying kites, no matter where we live on Earth. Kids from around the world are just like me and you!

ELEMENT 2: This book highlights element 2 because the illustrations show many different cultures experience the same simple joy the earth and what nature has to offer. This can be a wonderful picture book for preschool teachers. Teachers can point out that these children from different countries like playing the same games we do! With the older grades we can discuss with our students what makes us similar to those who live far away, or to those who are of a different culture than ourselves. We discuss what makes us different! We may be different in many beautiful ways, like in what we eat and in what we wear, but as the book shows we all look up at the same sky, enjoy the same rain, and share more similarities than differences.  

ACTIVITY: This book can be a wonderful conversation starter to a unit observing other cultures and linking them to our own. Preschool students can do an art activity with mixing their own unique colors. Hands can be placed in their unique colors and can be placed on a large banner sheet. Together the class makes a banner cover in their unique handprints. The are all different yet similar to each other because each is a hand that is the same as all the others.  Older students can observe the illustrations and pick one culture they would like research more about. Students can research ways in which children in that particular culture learn, play and spend their time. They can show each other in a class report telling how our culture is similar to other cultures, as well as sharing the differences we may share. 

Horton Hears a Who!

Horton Hears a Who!

Written and Illustrated by: Theodor Seuss Geisel "Dr. Seuss"


      This book tells the story of "Horton" the elephant, which while playing in a puddle, hears a voice but no one is around. On further inspection he realizes that the sound is coming from a spec of dust. Being the kind-hearted creature he is, Horton vows to protect the spec of dust realizing that someone or something lives on it.

Later, Horton realizes that not only does someone live on the spec but in all actuality the spec is actually a planet! One with buildings, trees and people, yes! Plural! The Mayor of the microscopic whoville asks Horton to protect them from all dangers they may encounter. Horton agrees stating, "A person is a person no matter how small. “The other animals in the village don’t take well to Horton protecting the spec, of which they believe is not inhabited by anything.

      At one point the spec is stolen by monkeys and Horton vows to get it back. The person in charge a power hungry Kangaroo, threatens to boil the spec to prove nothing exists on it. That is when the town gets together to make a loud sound; loud enough to assure the kangaroo and everyone else hear them. Alas, they succeed and all the jungle animals vow to protect the spec and its tiny inhabitants.

Element 2: Respect for others

The reason I picked this book was because of its message, I believe it is the perfect story for element two. This story spreads the message of equality, "A person is a person no matter how small." It also shows students to stand up for people who dont or cant stand up for themselves. It also shows studetns that if you beleive in something you should stand up to all those that oppose you.

Classroom Activity 

The story can assist with different subjects there are activities for Literacy and Math, even science. 

Literacy: The students can write a thank you letter in the prespective of the Mayor of the whos to Horton. Also, the students can write a newspaper report about an elephant who found a planet on a spec or a article about the planet itself, how did it get there?

Math: How large is an elephant? How small is a speck of dust and how would you be able to measure them. What unit of measure would you use. 

Science: As a teacher you can compare the size of whos to things in real life so they can picture the scale of things. 

Giraffes Can't Dance

Book Title: Giraffes Can't Dance

Author: Giles Andreae

Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees

Grade Level: Pre-K - Kindergarten

Social Justice Element: Element 2 - Respect for Others 


Gerald is a giraffe living in the jungles of Africa. Unfortunately, he is uncoordinated and so clumsy that he oftentimes has trouble just walking around. Gerald is very excited for the annual Jungle Dance. He watched all the other animals and their wonderful dancing, and wanted to join in. However, when Gerald ventured to join the dance he was teased by the other animals before he started dancing. This was so discouraging for Gerald that he left the dance feeling sad and lonely. While wallowing through the forest, Gerald ran into a cricket who encouraged Gerald that he could dance if he found the right music. The cricket began to play music, and made Gerald aware of the sound of the jungle and before long the giraffe was dancing away. The rest of the animals found Gerald and began to cheer on his dance moves.

Representation of Social Justice Element:

In the case of Gerald and his dance moves, the other animals of the jungle made assumptions about his abilities. Gerald was disrespected and ostracized before he was even given the opportunity to dance and enjoy himself. Not were the animals disrespectful of Gerald by accepting a stereotype that giraffes would not be good dances, but they were also disrespectful in insisting that only good dancers be allowed at the dance. The cricket, however, respected Gerald despite the preconceived notions and encouraged the giraffe to develop confidence and dance. The other animals grew to respect Gerald and realized they were wrong in the way they treated him. By the end of the book the whole jungle learned a lesson about respect for one another and were even asking Gerald to teach them some moves! 

Classroom Activity: 

When introducing this book to the class, the teacher could ask the class how they would feel if they were laughed at, or made to feel like they didn't belong. There could be a discussion about how it feels when people tell you that you are bad at something and kick you out of a group. The class would then read the book together. Following this, the teacher would ask the class what "respect" means to them. Once there is a clear definition of respect for others understood by the class, each student would then be asked to make a chart of which characters in the book were and were not respectful of one another. As a class, the teacher would lead a discussion about the actions of the characters and what they could have done differently to show respect for one another. 

Side Note:

Not only does this book have amazing illustrations and focus around an animal very lovable for kids, but the syntax is also amazing. The rhymes flow very easily and would be especially helpful for kids who are having trouble with pronunciation or phonetic skills. The singsongy nature of the book attracts kids, and the theme of dancing can bring movement and excitement into the classroom.

Alternative Lesson Plan:

Get this Book!

The Color of Us

Book Title: The Color of Us
Author: Karen Katz
Illustrator: Karen Katz
Grade Level: Grades K-2
Buy the book here!
Helpful ideas of how to use The Color of Us in classrooms!
Social Justice Element: Element 2- Respect for Others

The Color of Us is a children's book that takes its readers on a journey learning about types of skin colors, specifically the different shades of brown. Karen Katz, the author, dedicated this book to her adopted daughter, Lena, from Guatemala. In this book, seven year old Lena is learning how to mix colors by her mother who is an artist. When Lena comments that brown is brown, her mother takes her on a walk around their neighborhood to show her all the unique shades of brown that people's skin can be. She compares Lena's skin to cinnamon and herself to french toast. This colorful book takes us on a tasty adventure comparing the different shades of brown to yummy foods and flavors in a way that makes its readers appreciate all the different colors people's skin can be. At the end of the book, Lena creates a portrait of everyone in their neighborhood with all the beautiful shades of brown that she discovered.

Representation of Social Justice Element: 
The Color of Us introduces children to all the different colors of people from different backgrounds in a creative and unique way. This book is a great way to implement Element 2: Respect for Others in to a classroom. All of the different skin colors are compared to delicious foods and treats in a manner that is child friendly and relative to their lives. Karen Katz wrote this book in a way that allows her readers to find the appreciation in peoples differences. Each race and ethnicity of Lena's neighbors are portrayed in a positive light that shows the beauty in all skin colors.

Classroom Activity:
One way that this book can be used to instill respect for others in the classroom would be to create a class portrait after reading with all the students different skin colors like Lena did with her painting of the people in her neighborhood. Not only would this activity raise awareness in students about the subtle differences in people's skin colors, but would also be an opportunity to post it in the classroom to highlight all the unique qualities and backgrounds of each students. By hanging the class portrait you can create a more welcoming environment that invites students to appreciate the differences in skin colors and races of their classmates.

Everyone Matters: A First Look at Respect for Others

Author: Pat Thomas

Everyone Matters is a book that teaches children about respect. The illustrations alone depict children and adults with all kinds of differences; hair color/type, skin color, ability, height, weight, etc. In all pages, kind gestures are being shared between the characters in everyday locations; school, park, home, and streets.  Everyone Matters explains that despite any physical differences, what really matters is what we have in our hearts. It continues by pointing out that there is some respect that must be earned. From keeping promises to loyalty and honesty, Pat Thomas teaches children that respect is a reciprocal concept between members of our society. Respect cannot be forced. To get respect, one must earn it. 

Element Two (Respect for Others):
In Element Two, teachers foster a climate of respect for diversity. What better way to introduce the concept of respect than to read Everyone Matters: A First Look at Respect for Others? Through the illustrations, children see that there are many different kinds of people in this world that do not necessarily look like them,but we should be kind to them. Even if their hometowns do not have too many cultures and races, Everyone Matters, is a perfect tool to emphasize the importance of respect for others, as well as respect for oneself on an everyday basis.

Classroom Use:
This book and the concept of respect can be used in the classroom in various ways. For starters, teachers can introduce the concept by sharing the book with the class. He/she can focus on students' recognition of the pictures in the book. In every page, the teachers can have her students point out the different kinds of people in the pictures. They can continue by explaining what each person is doing in the scenes. After the book is thoroughly read, teachers can ask their students to draw pictures like the ones in the book. Each picture should show people of different characteristics doing kind and respectful gestures for each others. Lastly, they can take activity sheets home to work with their parents so they are aware that respect is not just something for school; it takes place in any location, at any time, with anybody. 

Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons

Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons
By: Alice B. McGinty
Illustrated by: Jennifer Black Reinhart

You can purchase the book Here
You can find more information on this book Here

Rabbi Benjamin is the town’s favorite rabbi! They love him so much, that they give him a holiday vest that has four silver buttons at the beginning of the Jewish New Year.  Throughout the year, he celebrates all of the Jewish holidays with all of the families and eats so much of their delicious traditional food that the silver buttons on his vest pop off one by one. His congregation adores him so much that when they see he is sad about his broken vest, they make him a new vest for the next year’s celebrations. 

Element Two- Respect for Others:
This book is an excellent element 2 book because of the many details it includes about the Jewish culture. This book talks about each Jewish holiday and shows examples of the traditional foods they eat and traditions they have. It also has a glossary at the end with many traditional Jewish vocabulary, and has a few recipes for traditional foods. Jewish children will be able to identify with the holidays and foods that the story talks about while many other children will still be able to identify with the close family dinners. 

Classroom Activity:
One great idea for a classroom lesson would be to make one of traditional Jewish recipes that are in the back of the book. It would be a great way to incorporate math into the lesson, by letting the students practice measurement types and how to read recipes. Although some classes may not be able to do this because of the lack of availability to a oven, it may be ok to cook them ahead of time for the children to eat, but let them measure all of the ingredients they would need if they were making it. The children can make the exact recipes they read about in the book such as “Mrs. Muchnik’s Delicious Honey Cake” or even “The Three Golswasser Girls’ Crispy Potato Latkes”.