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.

Friday, January 29, 2016


Title: Wings
Author & Illustrator: Christopher Myers
Grade level: 2-3
Interest level: P-3

Available for Purchase from Scholastic and Amazon
Learn more!  New York Times Book Review of Wings
Christopher Myers talking about his book
Other books by Christopher Myers

Summary: Wings, by Christopher Myers, illustrates the story of Ikarus Jackson, a young African American boy who is new to his community and soars above rooftops using his "long proud wings." The story is narrated through the viewpoint of a young girl in Ikarus' neighborhood who admires him and the radiating confidence he displays as he moves across the sky. Ikarus' initial self-efficacy shines through his ordinary clothes, hair, and shoes. However, his peers, a teacher, and authority figures ridicule his individuality and shake his spirit. When Ikarus' classmates resent and denounce the size of his wings, he doesn't soar across the sky with the same pride, but drags his wings out of school and drifts away slowly disappearing into the sky. Empathizing with her hero, the narrator relates to Ikarus' loneliness as she also endures harsh criticism for her quiet nature. Soon, an epiphany emerges when the narrator regrets her passivity during Ikarus' poor treatment and not standing up for her friend. Running through the streets, she finds Ikarus has been punished for hanging around rooftop pigeons. Such exaggerated consequences based on false judgment of Ikarus' character upset her, and she recognizes this as an injustice. Ikarus hits rock bottom in flames, which prompts the narrator to stand up and do something about it. Giving admiration to Ikarus and his unique spirit, they both realize that what is on the inside makes us beautiful. Their unified confidence is what rises them up over the villains in their lives with the most power. Despite the discrimination and injustices these characters endure, the heroes persevere with pride and do so together. Through vivid written imagery and pages of ornate paper cut-out artwork, this story teaches a meaningful lesson with the appropriate grit and honesty we need to reevaluate ourselves and our society.

Element 1: Self Love & Knowledge: Wings is a story featuring a fantasy element ("wings") that serve as a meaningful metaphor for Ikarus' self-efficacy. Having confidence within and confidence in others is what yields love and acceptance, marking an essential component of the 6 pillars of social justice. While Ikarus' pride is momentarily rattled, his friend and narrator guides him back to his center by reminding him of his own worth and therefore inspiring him to find the love within himself again.  The narrator is then driven to reflect on her own experiences where she has felt defeated by the judgment of others. When she finally offers Ikarus praise, "your flying is beautiful," this action serves as a defining moment in the story. For Ikarus, the narrator, and the reader, we look within ourselves to find our own wings. together, we realize that we all have strengths within us that will help us fly, empowering us to do anything we put our mind to and to love ourselves in the process.

Classroom activity: This story teaches readers valuable lessons on confidence, identity and self-reflection to cultivate acceptance within oneself and for respect for the individuality that makes us all unique. I would use this book as a resource for a 2nd or 3rd grade classroom activity that will inspire students to make connections with each other to find out what gives their peers "wings." In pairs, students an probe each other with questions that make connections to the reading in reflection of their own lives. Through this probing, questions will inform their partner of what strengths give their peer wings and feel good about themselves. They will then compose a tribute to their peer based on what they learned about them. Students can also decorate their wings through artwork or write their actual tribute on a pair of wings. Tributes can be self-assessed and presented to their classmates so that everyone can learn about and honor the unique characteristics that act as their classmate's wings.

Mommy, Mama, and Me

Mommy, Mama, and Me

Author: Leslea Newman
Illustrator: Carol Thompson
Grade Level- Pre-K - 2nd grade

To purchase this book Find it here!
For reviews on this book click here
For more books by this author click here

This book is about a little girl growing up with two mothers. The little girl describes a typical day with her family and all of the daily activities and fun adventures her mothers do together. Just because your family is a little different doesn't mean you can't have fun!

Element 1: Knowledge and Self-Love
This book shows knowledge and self-love of having a family that is not the "norm" in society. The little girl in the story is still able to do everything any other family would with her mothers. It is a great starter book for children beginning to learn that families come in all different shapes and sizes but the most important thing is the love and fun you have together. 

Classroom Activity:
I would use this book when teaching a unit about families to teach students there is no "normal" when it comes to families.  After introducing and reading the book to students I would have them describe their own families. The class would then take a look at all the different types of families that exist and what they all have in common. I would then breakdown what the most important things to have in a family, i.e. love, caring about each other, and having fun.

Big Hair, Don't Care

Author: Crystal Swain-Bates
Illustrator: Megan Bair
Grade Level: All Early Childhood and Elementary Levels

Buy It Here!


Lola is an African American girl who acknowledges the positive and negative aspects of having big hair.   She is aware it is bigger than the hair of other children in her school, but she is not discouraged from looking on the bright side of having beautiful, big hair and showing it!  This upbeat and colorful picture book will leave anyone reading it with a confident attitude!   

Element 1
This children’s book represents self-love and knowledge because Lola promotes self-confidence and acceptance by embracing her natural, big hair; even when she sees other kids stare.  It is also a reinforcement to all children that if they are different; they can be proud of who they are and remain optimistic in every situation. 

Classroom Activity
I would use this book to practice writing skills, build self-confidence and self-appreciation.  I would have the students start by writing a list of their own characteristics.  They would then be instructed to write WHY they are happy that they possess that characteristic.  What is good about it?  Why?  They can work on it by themselves or involve their relatives and/or friends.  If they are having trouble identifying a positive reason, a discussion may help them realize they have much more to offer than they think! They would have the freedom to turn it into any type of literature they desire i.e., picture book, poem, short story, etc.  The teacher should model the process and scaffold creative writing.   

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lily and Miss Liberty

Title:  Lily and Miss Liberty
Author:  Carla Stevens
Illustrator:  Deborah Kogan Ray
Grade level:  2-4

Available for purchase here and here.

Set in the late 1800s, this story focuses on a young girl named Lily. She and her family are immigrants from Ireland, now living in New York. Her family came to the United States for a better life and for freedom.

As Lily’s community awaits the arrival of the Statue of Liberty from France, they must raise money for the pedestal so that the statue can be reassembled and displayed in America. At school, Lily's teacher explains the symbolism of Lady Liberty's crown. The seven rays on the crown stand for the seven seas and the seven continents of the world. The students are also donating their money to the pedestal fund. In order to raise money, Lily seeks work and completes small jobs around her neighborhood. She realizes that the freedom of America does not feed people. Immigrant families are still facing the issues of poverty and hunger. 

Element 1: Self-Love and Knowledge
Lily works hard to raise money for the pedestal because she is excited as she awaits the Statue of Liberty’s arrival. Lily’s efforts and excitement reflect what Lady Liberty symbolizes to her. This cultural symbol represents hope and freedom for immigrants around the world, including Lily and her family. Through her hard work and dedication, Lily shows that she is proud of her heritage and she is supportive of fellow immigrants who seek freedom and hope.

Classroom Activity
In the story, Lily writes a poem about Lady Liberty’s arrival. I would like to lead students in a discussion about liberty: What does liberty (freedom) mean to you? Students can write their own short poems about freedom, explaining what it means to them and how they experience freedom in their own lives.