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, October 21, 2014

Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen

Author: Dyanne DiSalvo-Ryan
Grade Level: 3

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Teacher Resources 


A young boy becomes interested in the people who live on the streets of New York City as he walks around and explores the wonderful city. The boy expresses his concerns to his Uncle Willie who volunteers at a soup kitchen in New York City and is able to take the boy along to show him how a soup kitchen works. The boy works with his Uncle and the volunteers to prepare and serve food for the homeless people of New York City. At the end of the story, the little boy expresses his feelings of reward and self-fulfillment. This book is an excellent tool to help children realize that people in our own country are struggling with obtaining food and shelter.

Element 5:
Although this book mainly talks about the struggle of obtaining food, this book also touches on homelessness and explaining (indirectly) how this effects many people in New York City. As the students take in what they have read, they will become experts on the issues of hunger and homelessness and how they can help. This book does a great job of raising awareness and showing the students exactly what happens in a soup kitchen. Through this book, the students will be able to think of a project to help their local homeless community. 

To integrate this book into the classroom, I would have the students pair up for a small activity. I would hand them a 5 senses sheet. On this sheet it would ask the students to fill out how how a soup kitchen would make them feel as the person who is volunteering at the soup kitchen. And then again how it would feel if they were a homeless person going to a soup kitchen. For example, as the volunteer; for smell, it may smell like their kitchen at home. But for the homeless person, it may smell like survival. I think it would be extremely interesting to see how creative the students get with their answers. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Child of the Civil Rights Movement

Child of the Civil Rights Movement

By: Paula Young Shelton & Raul Colon

This story is about the Civil Rights Movement. It is told through a child's perspective, where her family relocates from New York to southern America to help fellow black people fight for their rights. Interestingly, the author, Paula Young Shelton, was the daughter of a former Civil Rights activist, Andrew Young. The character talked about her first protest, her family's opinions, as well as the discrimination they had experienced on their trip to the south. She called her family, "The Civil Rights Family." Her family included famous Civil Rights Movement leaders such as; Randolph Blackwell, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young, James Orange, Ralph Abernathy, Dorothy Cotton, Jean Childs Young, and Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout the story, the author used historical facts to create and emphasize the perspective of an African- American child during the Civil Rights Movement.

Element Four: 
This book can be used as an example for Element Four: Social Movements and Change. It takes place during the time period when African Americans were fighting for their rights. People were being discriminated against, abused, and disrespected because of the color of their skin. The Civil Rights Movement was a time when people gathered and fought for a change. Because the author was the daughter of an actual Civil Rights Movement leader, it gave the book a more valid description of a child's perspective and experience during this history-changing time period.

After reading this book, students can depict a famous Civil Rights Movement activists' experiences by telling them as if they were their children. This can be an opportunity for them to do conduct research and gather information on the Civil Rights Movement leaders' lives. Like the author, students can retell history through a child's perspective. They can use real facts to enhance their stories. After writing their stories, we can gather together as a class and share our narratives. This is a perfect activity for students to learn how to conduct research, write stories, and share what they learned with their classmates. 

The Lorax


The Lorax
Author: Dr. Seuss
Illustrator: Dr. Seuss
Grade Level: K - 2nd

The Lorax is a story of how the exploitation of a natural resource, which the ecosystem is reliant on, leads the Lorax to speak up for the voiceless Truffula Trees. A greedy Once-ler stumbled upon a Truffula Tree and became enamored by the silkiness of it.  He began to make “thneeds” and found a way to make a profit by selling them to all the people that “needed” them.  The Once-ler sets up a factory, hires his family as workers, and creates an infrastructure and the technology that aids in the advancement of chopping the Truffula Trees and converting them into thneeds.  Throughout the story, the Lorax appears knocking at the Once-ler’s door imploring the Once-ler to stop cutting down the Truffula Trees. The Lorax stands up for the Truffula Trees and challenges the Once-ler to stop, but the Once-ler continues to deplete the Truffula Resource in greedier and bigger ways.  Eventually, all that is left is tree stumps, polluted waterways, and smog. All those who called the land home have fled to other areas leaving the Once-ler by himself. Before leaving, the Lorax leaves the tree stump with the word “unless” engraved on it.  Years after, a boy comes around the neighborhood where the Once-ler tells him about a more prolific time and realizes what the Lorax meant by “unless.” The Once-ler tells the young boy, “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” He advises the young boy to help restore the Truffula Trees and help conserve them for the future while dropping the last Truffula seeds in his hand.
Social Justice Element #5: Raising Awareness
The Lorax addresses many issues that help promote students' consciousness raising .  For example, the Lorax makes various attempts to voice the Truffula Trees concerns since they are voiceless. This exemplifies standing up to injustices and helping others who can be powerless or oppressed in certain situations.  At the same time, the Once-ler plants the seed of caring, conservation, and change onto the young boy by the quote, “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”  The book leaves the reader feeling hopeful that they are now responsible for creating a positive change after all.  Dr. Seuss' story helps raise awareness of many issues that can be discussed in the classroom setting such as conservation and working together to stand up for others.
In a lesson about social and environmental issues, I would focus on choices and social responsibility through letter writing and petitions.  I would ask the students to focus their attention on the choices the characters in the story have made.  We would collectively brainstorm problems that were found in the book such as pollution, habitat destruction, and loss of natural resources.  After writing the students’ ideas down, guide their thought process to making connections between what happened in the story and how individual choices and decisions have consequences.  Once the students are able to make that connection, ask them to do a writing exercise where they become the voice of the voiceless Truffalo Trees and have them write a letter to the Once-ler.  Also, have them collectively come up with concerns that they think might be pertinent to their own hometown or school.  Then, they could write a petition to someone in the community that can help create that change. An example of this would be to write a petition to the principal to install more hand driers to reduce the use of paper towels within the school.  They can make their own pledges that they can carry out outside the classroom such as turning off the lights when they are not needed or taking shorter showers.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

If A Bus Could Talk- The Story of Rosa Parks

Author: Faith Ringgold

Illustrated by: Faith Ringgold

Grade level: 3-6

Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice

If A Bus Could Talk tells the story of Rosa Parks through a different lens. An African-American girl named Marcie living in modern day society boards a talking bus to school. The talking bus takes Marcie on journey as it retells the story of Rosa Parks, the mother of the Civil Rights Movement. The magic bus depicts the struggles Rosa Parks and other African-Americans faced during times of segregation in the 1950’s and 60’s. It shows the impact Rosa Parks and other key figures of the time, like Martin Luther King Jr., had on society and the influence they were able to achieve through non-violent forms of protest and persistence for equality. The beautifully illustrated pictures show scenes from various sit-ins, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the assaults on behalf of the Ku Klux Klan on anyone who was not white. At the end of the story, Marcie has arrived at school and realizes that she is aboard the same bus Rosa Parks was arrested on. She also realizes that all the key figures in Rosa Parks’s life are aboard the bus, as well as Rosa Parks herself, and they all celebrate Parks’s birthday.

Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice:
If A Bus Could Talk is a great way of teaching and exploring issues of social injustice in the classroom. Students are able to see how the diversity that is celebrated in elements 1 and 2 at several points in history had negative impacts on society. Through element 3, students learn about the prominent figures, the history, and the forms of oppression that have molded our societies today.  Ringgold’s story does a great job in introducing topics like segregation, racism, and intolerance through a different perspective that depicts Rosa Parks as a leader, activist, non-violence advocate that fought segregation, prejudice, and injustice.

If A Bus Could Talk is an engaging story that can be used with grades 3-6. A pre-reading activity like a story map can be done before students read this book. Questions like "What do you think this story is about?, What is the setting of the book?, What does the title of the story tell us?" can be asked to students prior to reading. Post reading, students can discuss the differences in today's society to those in the time period of the story. What is different, what remains the same? 
Students can write letters to Rosa Parks telling her what they admire, what they would have done in her shoes, and how they think she has helped influence and change the way African-Americans are treated.

The Skin I'm In: A First Look at Racism - Element 3

The Skin I'm in: a First Look at Racism


The Skin I'm In: A First Look at Racism

Written By: Pat Thomas
Illustrated By: Lesley Harker
Grade level: Kindergarten and up

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Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice
            This book explains what it is to be racist and to exclude the rights of people based off their race. It starts off with a scenario, asking the reader to imagine a world where only people with a certain hair color or eye color could go to school, or get a job. The author explains how a world like this would be unfair. This book not only teaches what culture and race is, but it explains how people should not be judged based on their skin color. This book compares racists to bullies; people who treat others like they are not good enough, without knowing the person for who they really are. The book explains that racists are cowards who are afraid of people that may look different than them. The author explains that we should never follow racists’ examples; we should accept everyone for who they are on the inside.  This book is a kindergarten and up reading level.

Connection to element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice:
This book connects to element three, exploring issues of social injustice, because it discusses the issue of racism. It explains that people are sometimes judgmental to those of a difference race. The book promotes diversity and accepting people of all colors. It enforces the idea that we are all people who deserve the same respect. This book shows how racism has affected people in the past, and present. It explains how racist actions can make one feel low about themselves and their heritage. It also makes clear that these racist remarks are from people who are bullies, and should not be taken to heart. The author tells the reader that if they have any feelings about racist behavior that they should share them with an adult that they trust, because they will be able to help. It mentions that we should learn to embrace each other’s differences and learn and grow together.

Classroom activity:
In the classroom, I would do a read aloud of this book, stopping throughout the reading to discuss what we have read. I would ask the class to discuss any connections they make, observations, or comments. I would ask the children why they think people make racist comments or have these racist beliefs and how we could change their view. I would also ask students to elaborate on their thoughts about diversity and accepting one another. I would end this lesson with a discussion on how we can help change people’s views on diversity and on treating everyone equally.