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, March 31, 2015

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

Title: Amazing Grace

Author: Mary Hoffman

Illustrator: Caroline Binch

Grade Level: K-2nd

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Element 4: Social Movements and Social Change

Grace is a girl who loves stories and enjoyed acting them out. She had a great personality for exploration and could make anything ordinary seem extraordinary. But most of all Grace loved to act out stories and fairy tales. So when her teacher shared with the class that they would be performing the show Peter Pan, Grace knew exactly who she wanted to be! Grace's classmates did not agree with Grace's decision on wanting to be Peter Pan. They said things like"that's a boy's name" and "he isn't black", but this would not stop Grace from playing a role she wanted to play!

SJE Element 4:
Element 4 asks teachers to share stories of everyday people standing up to address the issues of social injustice and that ordinary people can make a change. Amazing Grace teaches us just that, as Grace is able to make a change and show her classmates that a black girl can too play the role of Peter Pan. It is so important for students to understand that not only is it okay to be different but also that being different does not stop you from doing what you believe in. Grace teaches us that instead of feeling overwhelmed or defeated about discrimination, we should address the issue and show people that a change can be made!

Classroom Ideas:
There are so many ways to incorporate Grace's story in a classroom setting. It is important to remember to take in to consideration your classroom and your students. The classroom environment needs to be able to support a topic like discrimination but also understand that like Grace taught us, there has been and will continue to be a change and a time to stand up for what you believe in.

*Students can write letters to Grace about her decision to stand up and make a change. Topics can range from asking her about how it made her feel when students discriminated against her, what made her create a social change in her classroom, or how did she feel when she was able to speak up for what she believed in.

*Students can create their own social movement. A discussion must be had about something the class does not believe is fair and relevant to their society (short recess, no free lunch, etc.) From there, the class can brainstorm ways to create a social movement and stand up for what they believe in!

Anything Else:
Amazing Grace is only the first book created in this series of stories. Mary Hoffman wrote a few other books that tell us more about Grace: Boundless Grace, Princess Grace, Starring Grace and more. For a look at more information on the author, Mary Hoffman, and more books that she has published:

Mary Hoffman

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Day the Crayons Quit

The Day the Crayons Quit

Title: The Day the Crayons Quit
Author: Drew Daywalt
Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers
Grade: K-5

The Day the Crayons Quit is a story about a box of crayons that write their owner Duncan letters saying that they have all had enough and that they are all quitting. Each crayon writes a letter to Duncan as to why they are quitting being his crayons. Red Crayon is tired of working harder than the others. Purple Crayon does not want to be used outside the lines anymore. Beige Crayon does not want to be called “light brown” or “dark tan” and is annoyed about always being used to color a turkey dinner or wheat. Gray Crayon feels that to color a whale is a lot to do all alone. White Crayon wants more than to just fill in empty space. Black Crayon feels it is unfair to be used only to outline pictures. Green Crayon is extremely satisfied but writes Duncan a letter on behalf of Yellow and Orange Crayon because they are not speaking to one another. Yellow and Orange Crayon both feel they should be used for the color of the sun. Blue Crayon is slowly getting shorter because Duncan overuses Blue since it is his favorite color. Pink Crayon is upset that Duncan thinks Pink is a girl’s color and has only been used once during the year. Finally, Peach Crayon speaks out because Duncan peeled the paper off of Peach and Peach now feels naked and embarrassed when having to come out of the crayon box. Duncan felt bad that his crayons were feeling the way they were and wanted them to be happy. He ends up creating a picture using all the crayons in the way they want to be used and they are all happy again. 

Element 4: Social Movements and Social Change
The Day the Crayons Quit is a great book to use as an example of social movement and social change. Even though this book is about a boy and his crayons, there is a deeper meaning underlying the letters that the crayons write to Duncan. The crayons all recognize something that they do not like. They do not like the way that Duncan is treating them and how they are being used so they decide to do something about it by writing letters to Duncan. In each of the letters, the crayons explain how they are being used and how it is making them feel. Once Duncan reads through all of the letters, he realizes that he needs to make a change. He ends up creating a picture that uses all of the colors the way they asked to be used. This represents social movement and social change because the crayons wanted to make a change and Duncan listens. The crayons essentially make a movement to be used in a better way and Duncan makes the change that the crayons want to see.

One activity that students can do after reading The Day the Crayons Quit is to have a debate. The students can be split into groups and each group can be given a color to defend. The students can reflect on their color’s letter and then debate reasoning as to why their color has the best argument for how they are being used. This activity will get the students to think about the book and how it can be used to understand social movement and social change. Having a debate around the letters that the crayons wrote will put into perspective the message that each crayon was trying to convey and which color had the strongest argument. They may even debate which crayon may have had the most convincing letter that had Duncan make a change to how he used his crayons. 
Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson
Grade Level: Pre-K - Third

Henry never knew how old he was because slaves weren't allowed to know their birthdays. He was taken away from his family when he was young and was devastated. Once he got older he was torn from his wife and children as they were sold away. His devastation stuck a brilliant idea. So with the help of a few friends he found a clever way to gain his freedom by traveling through a box as "mail" to Philadelphia,PA. When he arrives to his destination he is given a birthday, the day he became free!

Element 4 Social Movements And Social Change:
This book is a great example of a social change action. Henry knew something wasn't right and found a way out to a better life with the help of friends. Despite Henry being a slave he still found a way to change his circumstances. Students can learn that when coming together even if it's a small group, you can create great ideas for social change and or movements.

After reading the book to the students, I would put students in groups and ask them to create their own box, (be creative) and then think of what they would change about the book that they thought was unfair example; how they didn't give slaves birthdays,how they couldn't sing a loud etc.. Then students will find a way they would change it and post their idea on their box. Then each group will present their idea and box in front of the class. Then ask students where would they send this box to, and why? End the discussion with reminding students that their ideas are important and they can also make change too, by coming together. 

Another activity after reading would be to ask the students how Henry felt, when he became free and write a poem about what you think he said and felt once he reached his destination. On the day of the presentations (poetry slam) ask the class to dress up in character and use props if needed.

Henry's Freedom Box

A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Grade Level: PreK - 4
Blog Post by: Megan Peekel

Buy It Here!

Summary: In this story of the underground railroad, students can grow up with Henry; he was born a slave and dreams of a life where he and his family can be free. Based off of this true story the reader is brought along Henry's journey from being a young slave boy, losing his family to slavery, and a friend to help mail him in a wooden box to freedom in Philadelphia.

Element 4: Social Movement and Social Change: In teaching students about social movement and change it is important that they realize that change can start with anyone, all you need is courage. Henry, although born a slave, has the courage to change his circumstances and find others who will help him, students can make connections that they can inspire positive changes in the world around them.

 Activity: With the your class, you can do a character study with Henry. How does his characteristics and character traits affect his actions. Using post-its students can use footprints as they read the story to mark their thoughts. Then with a graphic organizer, students can list out different traits and the textual evidence that is supports these traits. At the same time students can record any questions or information they want to explore more. Through these students can create a project that is rooted in social justice, with a cause they want to help or a way to create social change.

Visit Teachers Pay Teachers to find more lesson resources!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky

Author: Faith Ringgold
Illustrator: Faith Ringgold
Grade Level: Preschool - 2nd grade

Buy it here!
More about the author here!

Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky is based on the true story of Harriet Tubman who escaped from slavery and then risked her life to guide hundreds of slaves to new lives of freedom in the North. The story is about two young siblings, Cassie  Louise Lightfoot and Be Be, who are traveling the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada, just like generations before them did. As Cassie and her brother BeBe fly through the sky, they encounter a train marked "Go Free North or Die" and the train's conductor, Aunt Harriet.  Be Be quickly hops aboard but the train departs before Cassie could climb on. Then she decides to follow the train one stop behind. During her journey, Cassie relives the fears and challenges her great-great-grandparents had to face with 100 years ago. Harriet leaves clues for Cassie along the way, just as she did for other slaves. In the end of the book Cassie and her brother reunite in Canada, in the land of freedom.

Element 4 - Social Movement and Social Change
This book can be used to teach students about Social Movement and Social Change because the story is based on Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad Movement.  The Underground Railroad was a path that slaves traveled at night with the help of conductors, people who guided them from safe house to safe house until they had reached the free states in the North and Canada. Despite of her petite figure and head injury she suffered as a slave, Harriet Tubman took charge, made about 13 trips to the south to help hundreds of people escape from slavery while risking her own life.

It is a good idea to present this book during Black History Month to celebrate the history and culture of African Americans.  First discuss that people who worked and traveled on the Railroad used secret codes to learn the routes from one safe place to the next. Besides secret codes, “conductors” used quilts to guide slaves on the path. Quilts in the African-American slave community represented warmth but also served as message boards; people put them on their roof to make it visible. A great activity to do with students related to this book is to create your own coded classroom quilt. Show students a variety of codes that were used by slaves to communicate with each other. You can download some pictures of codes with their meaning here. Make copies of these squares and let students color and decorate them by using scrap paper, pieces of fabrics and/or other colorful materials. After the individual codes are done make a huge classroom quilt from the pieces. You can see an example of a classroom quilt on Pinterest here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Freedom on the Menu
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator: Jerome Lagarrigue
Grade level: K-4
Blog post by: Adriana Rivero

Buy it Here!

About this book:

This book offers readers a child's point of view of the events occurring during the Civil Rights Movement.  Connie, the main character, always respected her place in society.  She knew to drink from the "colored" water fountain and not sit by the counter when eating food downtown.  After watching four insanely courageous teenagers of color sit by the counter downtown of the snack-bar, Connie's family became involved in the movement for equality.  Connie used to watch the young American girls sit by the counter and twirl in the chairs as they ate their banana splits.  This made her realize how badly she also wanted to help her family in order to be able to freely do the same.  The sisters and brothers began making signs and risk everything they had for a chance to be viewed as worthy as any other American.  After many attempts to establish a community of equal rights, being sent to jail in protest, and listening to Martin Luther King speak within a Chapel, Connie and her family gained the rights they so courageously worked for.  At the end of the book, Connie and her family visited the downtown snack-bar, where they were able to sit on the counter and enjoy a banana split-- with a cherry on top!

Element 4: Social Movement and Social Change 

In order for student's to understand what it means to succeed in making a social change, they must first understand how important it is to work collaboratively.  Freedom on the Menu does a great job on showing how people of color went from nothing to everything, by joining their forces and working together for a greater cause.  This book also helps students to engage with one another to find common ground on what they believe in.  The essence of this book, being so straight forward, will assist students in understanding how their own voice can create change within their own community. Your voice matters!

Follow-up Activities: 
Since Freedom on the Menu demonstrates a successful way collaboration makes a social change, perhaps a follow up activity can include creating a change within your student's own community.  Breaking students up into groups and letting them discuss one aspect of their school community that they would like to change or work together to change-- for instance becoming a more recyclable energy school, a change in school lunch options to aid in health, or even a cultural movement and become more aware and accepting of different cultures that may not be present in your school community (make sure to use an idea YOU know can work and possibly discuss with Principle). Work together with students to find ways to create this change.  Build posters with them and hang them within the school hallways. This can demonstrate to students the power of their voices, both individually, and collaboratively.  Another way would be to discuss heroes in general. What do your students consider a hero? Why? Do they help make a change? Is this change a positive or a negative one?

Extra Resources!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sandy's Incredible Shrinking Footprint

Title:  Sandy's Incredible Footprints
Author: Femida Handy and Carole Carpenter
Illustrator: Adrianna Steele-Card
Grade Level:Pre-School-3 years old
More info and where you can purchase this book

Summary: Sandy's Incredible Shrinking Footprint by Femida Handy and Carole Carpenter is a short children's picture book that discusses the importance of recycling and doing your part in helping keep the environment clean.  Sandy goes to her grandfather's house every summer and brings her dog, Pepper.  One day while they are walking on the beach she comes across all this garbage people chose to leave behind and not clean up.  Sandy is disgusted that people would choose to ruin a beautiful place like a beach to garbage.  She then meets "the garbage lady" who helps her clean up the garbage on the beach and also teaches her that everyone has a footprint on earth and it is their job to make their footprint shrink.  This symbolizes the idea that everyone has a duty which is to respect and take care of the environment, and it is therefore the responsibility of each person to do things that will benefit the environment like recycling which makes your footprint shrink.

Element of Social Justice: (Social Movements and Social Change): This book represents Social Movement and Social change because it introduces the idea of recycling to young children with helps them learn that not recycling can create negative problems for the environment.  It also says that if people work together and shrink their footprints everyone will be working together to keep the environment healthy and clean.  Littering is an example of a social injustice and people working together to fix this injustice by taking a stand and recycling helps to address the issue and "shrink one's footprint"

How I would use this book in the classroom:  I would love to read this book to my young children during national recycling week.  I plan to prepare an activity that would involve student's making their own footprint and filling it with different ways they can shrink it and sharing this with the class and school as a whole.  I think this would be a good start to teach kids about littering and the importance of recycling to the environment.