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, December 2, 2014

Everyone Matters: A First Look at Respect for Others

Author: Pat Thomas

Everyone Matters is a great book to help teach children about respect. The pictures show differences between people. They show that there can be many differences between people. Differences such as; 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 teaches that respect is given but also has to be earned. From keeping promises to loyalty and honesty, this book teaches children that respect is a reciprocal concept between members of our society. To receive respect you must earn it. If you want people to treat you with respect you must treat them with respect. 

Element Two (Respect for Others):
In Element Two, teachers must make a classroom an environment that is filled with respect. Reading Everyone Matters is a great way to give an example of respect. 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. It will demonstrate to the children that people are different and they need to respect the differences. 

Classroom Use:
This book can be used in a read aloud. It would be a great tool to introduce respect and teach children about it. It would be a great way to have an understanding with the class about respecting everyone. 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 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. We will make a list as a class to determine how we are going to respect others. That list will hang up in the room the entire year. 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. 

Why Should I Recycle?


This small, and colorful, book is about a little girl who learns about recycling through her teacher Mr. Jones. She begins by telling us that her family didn't recycle and they always had a lot of garbage. Throughout the book she learns what recycling means and gets to go to a recycling center to see what happens after everything is brought there. She even learns about having a compose in her house for her mother's vegetables. By the end of the book, she has gotten her whole family to recycle and notes that recycling is "kind to Nature."
Element 6: Taking Social Action 
While this book could be used to "Raise Awareness" of recycling, I feel that it shows how one little girl can change her family to "Take Action" towards recycling, and thus better the environment. This book is a great introduction to what recycling is, and how anyone can take part in it. Students can create change firsthand by recycling themselves, having their families recycle, or even having their school recycle. The book does a good job at describing how to sort through trash, how to reuse containers, and even how to use trash to make compose. It is a great starter book for children in the early elementary years to Take Action and recycle!

How to Use It:
As part of a Kindergarten class, this book could be incorporated into Language Arts/ Reading, as well as Social Studies. I would start by doing a read aloud with prompting questions such as "what is recycling," "where does it go," and "what can we do better in our class to recycle." After assessing for their comprehension, I would ask them if they would like to recycle. Granted their answer is "yes," I would then have them pair up and come up with ways THEY could help recycle. We would come back as a class and chart down their answers. After coming up with a "Recycling Plan" for themselves (and their families), we could then extend the project to the school. The children could draw/write their plans for the school (ex, a drawing of recycling bins with "we should have recycling bins on every floor"), and give them to the school administration. Working with administration, we would then be able to have their plans realized.
As a extension, we could also tie in Element 5, and come up with slogans to Raise Awareness of the importance of Recycling.    
Why Should I Recycle?
Written by Jen Green
Illustrated by Mike Gordon
Grade level: PK-3rd

Uncle Wille and the Soup Kitchen

Author: Dyanne Disalvo-Ryan

Illustrated by: Mira Reisberg

Grade level: 2-5

Element 6: Taking Social Action

Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen is the story of a young boy's uncle who volunteers at a city community soup kitchen everyday.  Uncle Willie teaches the young boy the importance of soup kitchens for many people throughout the city on a daily basis. When the boy visits the community soup kitchen, he learns about the people who come to it, their struggles, and many of the reasons why people seek food from soup kitchens, even if they are not homeless. They boy encounters the kind interactions between the staff and the people who come to the soup kitchen. Uncle Willie talks about the problem hunger and homelessness are in the community. This story manages to keep a simple, yet interesting description of what the boy encounters, without overwhelming readers. It is also a friendly way of teaching serious social problems like hunger and homelessness without being frightening to readers. Finally, there is a great sense of acceptance, as the story is written in a very nonjudgmental tone. 

Element 6: Taking Social Action
Disalvo-Ryan does a great job in demonstrating issues prominent in Element 6: Taking Social Justice in her story, Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen. The story is told through a hands-on approach to helping others and becoming active members of a community. The first pages of this story are narrated by the boy and his lack of understanding of why his uncle works at the soup kitchen or why people go there. By allowing his nephew to visit and volunteer at the soup kitchen, Uncle Willie teaches him the importance of taking social action. The author also prefaces the story by providing statistics of homelessness and hunger in the United States. It is important for teachers to note how other elements of social justice are reflected within this text, such as respect for others and raising social awareness. 

This is a great story to use as an introduction to a lesson or unit on serving others, helping the community, and taking social action. Before reading, the teacher could ask their students, "Where do you think people who are homeless go for food?". This will most likely be followed by many different answers. As a large group, the class can discuss their answers and record what they think they know on a KWL chart or some sort of graphic organizer. Students can also create a word wall with the new vocabulary they will have learned from this story, (e.g. soup kitchen, homelessness, poverty, shelter, community, etc.) The class can also discuss the different ways they can help the problem of hunger in their community. If students are too young to volunteer, the class can begin a food drive in which everyone who would like to donate to a homeless shelter, can bring canned goods or non-perishable foods into class.

Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change Courageous Actions Around the World

Author: Garth Sundem

Grade Level: 5th Grade


The book, Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change Courageous Actions Around the World,  is a collection of thirty different stories of real kids and teens that have took social action around the world to make change. These kids have made real change around the world by saving the environment, standing up for themselves, helping others, overcoming challenges, and using their own talents and creativity. The book also provides ways for you to get involved yourself by visiting the websites that are listed after each chapter or story. 

Element 6 Social Action:

This book can be considered as element 6 social action because it shows that kids really can make a difference when they stand up for what they believe in. The thirty different stories show great examples of how many different ways social action can happen whether it is creating a device to save the environment or fighting against segregation in your town. These stories can inspire kids to create change themselves by taking social action in their own community, town, state or world. The book guides and motivates kids to make a difference and that they can use their own creativity to do so. 


An activity a teacher could do after reading this book involves follow-up research on the stories that are in the book. At the end of each chapter or story there is a website for more information about the story and ways you can get involved yourself with the cause. The teacher could have their students visit the website of the story that they found to be most interesting and have them research what they can do to help or get involved with the cause. Then the students can come up with their own unique way to help the cause and take social action. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Book Cover

The Day the Crayons Quit

Element #6: Social Action

Author: Drew Daywalt

Pictures by: Oliver Jeffers

Grade Level: P-3


The Day the Crayons Quit is about a boy named Duncan and his box of crayons. He reaches into his desk to use his crayons at school, when he finds a stack of letters. The letters are from each of his crayons, who have decided to write to him stating there complaints, suggestions and there decision to quit. Each crayon complains about something different. The red crayon complains about being overworked, the yellow crayon complains about the orange crayon and there debate on what the proper color of the sun is. The white crayon states he feels empty for only being used to fill in space between things, and the list of complaints goes on. By voicing how they feel, at the end of the story Duncan comes up with a creative way to make all of his crayons happy once again. 

Element #6: Taking Social Action

This book is a good example of Element 6, Taking Social Action, because it tells a story of a group of crayons taking a stand for what they feel needs to change. This story represents stereotypes, and how those who are stereotyped are tired of being categorized and want to be treated as equals. This book shows its readers a way to take a stance and change what they believe is wrong in a productive way. By writing these letters, it shows readers a form of protest that allows every crayon to express how they feel, and give suggestions on how to make things more fair. This book teaches students to take action on issues that affect them and there community, and to help gain skills that can help them address these issues and make a positive change. 

Follow Up Activity

After reading this story to my students, and teaching them the meaning of social action, I would like them to take part in making a change. Students will be asked to think of things in there school or community that they would like to see changed for the better. Students will write a well formatted letter that once completed, will be mailed to the town or school and hopefully published in the local paper. In the letter students should include, how they feel, what they want changed, and a suggestion on how to change it, like the crayons did in the story.

The Berenstain Bears Go Green

Author: Jan & Mike Berenstain

Illustrator: Jan & Mike Berenstain

Grade Level: K-2

Buy It Here!



The Berenstain Bears Go Green is a children's book about taking care of the environment. The Berenstain Bears live in beautiful Bear Country where there is a lot of nature. There are many animals who live in Bear Country and depend on all the nature of Bear Country. One day as Bear family was going for a stroll and tidying up Bear Country, they all decided to have a little picnic and go fishing. As they were fishing and enjoying their picnic they came upon an awful smell. They noticed it was the overflowing Bear Country Dump! The Bear family had to get this problem solved and called a town meeting. In the town meeting everyone volunteered to help clean Bear Country Dump. As Bear family left the Dump Sister Bear suggested many good ideas to keep Bear Country clean. When Papa Bear got home he decided he was going to make a huge green contribution! That was to make a windmill!

Element 6- Taking Social Action 

I feel that this is an adequate book for Element 6 because the Berenstain Bears take action into their hands to clean up the Dump in order to prevent pollution in the river. Because they are all concerned, Mama Bear says she will complain in the town meeting. At the town meeting everyone accepts to volunteer to clean up Bear Country Dump. Everyone is taking action for a better environment! After they are done cleaning up the Dump, sister bear comes up with great ideas to be more green. Towards the end of the book, there is a list of suggestions for going green at home. In reading this book, they can learn that recycling and composting, carpooling and even shutting off the water while brushing their teeth are simple actions that they can take to becoming more green. These tips can be shared with the class and can make a different in the community.


After reading the book I would ask students to brainstorm some actions they would take to contribute to a green friendly environment. I would then ask them what Papa Bear did to go green. After they have told me that he created a windmill in order to save energy, I will then tell them they will be making a small windmill. After making our windmill, I will then take them to a local park and have them try out their windmills. I will then explain that like Papa Bear's windmill, the wind is used to create free energy that doesn't hurt the environment.

Ballyhoo Bay

Author: Judy Sierra
Illustrator: Derek Anderson
Grade Level: P-3

Buy it here!

Ballyhoo Bay is where Mira Bella, the artist, teaches art classes every Saturday morning on the beach. She teaches to everyone who wants to learn: grandparents, children, birds, sea animals, etc. Mira Bella was planning an art fair to show off her all of her students artwork. The day before the art fair was to take place, a sign appeared about building apartments, parking garages and a casino on Ballyhoo Bay. No children or wildlife allowed! Voting for this plan was taking place that night. Every one of Mira Bella's students got upset and quiet. They all were about to head home discouraged when Mira Bella yelled, "Let's create a Plan B and save Ballyhoo Bay." Everyone banded together to make posters to protest Plan A. They all painted the things they loved about Ballyhoo Bay. After everyone had their sign (including the sea animals and birds), they made their way to Ballyhoo Hall to vote against the new building. When the builders and town council said that children, birds and sea animals could not vote, everyone declared, cried and fought that Plan B was better than Plan A! The mayor finally announced that Plan A did not get any votes and Plan B had tons. The protest was a success! Mira Bella and all of her students went home to clean up and set up for the art fair the next day. Together, they saved the day!

Element #6- Taking Social Action: 
Ballyhoo Bay is about an art teacher and her students who feel passionately about having art classes on the beach every Saturday morning. When a sign is posted stating that their beach may be taken over by buildings, parking garages and casinos, they know they must stand up for their "classroom". Especially because children and wildlife are not allowed if the beach gets taken over. They believe it is their duty to fight against this plan and save Ballyhoo Bay. By making posters, heading straight to Ballyhoo Hall and voting against this plan, even when the town council says they are not allowed shows awesome social action. Ballyhoo Bay is a great book to teach children to stand up for what they believe in, no matter what.

In order to reinforce the lesson of social action presented in Ballyhoo Bay, teachers can help students create some type of protest in their own classroom, school, or entire communities. For younger students, starting small in the classroom could be as easy as changing something that is a part of the students' daily routine. Maybe on Monday, take away 10 minutes of their recess time for the week. Ask the students how having 10 less minutes to play makes them feel. During that 10 minutes in the beginning of the week, have students create posters about what they love about recess and why they want their 10 minutes back. On Thursday, have students bring their posters to recess and when the teachers call for recess to be over, have them protest to get their time back. On Friday, allow full recess time. Applaud the students for their courage to stand up for what they wanted and making a difference for their entire class. Students will now hopefully appreciate that last ten minutes of recess!