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, February 16, 2016

Freedom On the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins
Author Carole Boston Weatherford
 Paintings by Jerome Lagarrigue

Where to buy:

Teacher Resources:


The story is told from the point of view of an African America girl named Connie from Greensboro, North Carolina during the civil rights movement.  It's about sit in protests that took place at restaurants in Greensboro, such as Woolworth's, in which African American were not allowed to eat at the counter.  All over town there were signs that said whites only or blacks only for things like restrooms and water fountains.  In the beginning of the story Connie and her mom are at Woolworth's and she wants to eat a banana split at the counter but her mom says no because only whites are allowed to eat at the counter.  One day Connie and her family go to see Martin Luther King preach and this causes her brother and sister to get involved with the civil rights movement and join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Other African Americans soon start to join in the effort of civil rights and one day at Woolworth's, four African American college students sit at the counter and refuse to move until they are served.  This was the start of peaceful sit in protest that started occurring all over Greensboro.  While this was going on Connie's family was explaining to her that it was not about getting food or thinking that it would work but that it was about doing what was right so one day they would be treat as equals to whites. In the summer of that year, Connie and her family were driving downtown and passed by Woolworth's and stop their car and went inside because they saw African American women sitting at the lunch counter!  The very next day her whole family went back and sat at the lunch counter and Connie was finally able to order that banana split

Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice

This book talks about the injustices that African Americans faced as being treated as second classed citizen.  They were not seen as being equal to whites and were being segregated from whites when it came to society in general.  Blacks were not allowed to drink as same water fountains as whites or as this books shows, African Americans were not allowed to eat at the same places as whites and were designated to sit in places that were usually the worst places to sit.  While whites were able to enjoy better sitting and had the ability to sit wherever they wanted.  Just wanting the simple right to choose where they can eat and where they can sit to eat, is what this book is talking about and shows the means in which African Americans in Greensboro, North Carolina had to fight and protest in order to desegregate places like Woolworth.  For students this shows the struggles that African Americans faced and were going through during this time period and what they had to do in order to fight for their rights and start the process of desegregating white society.


After reading the book teach students a little bit about the civil right movement and tell them about other places and things that separated African Americans and whites.  With this discussion we can then make our own list of things that students like to do and places they like to go to.  Then after making the list tell students that they are now not allowed to use or could not go to because society told them they could not.  Talking together as a class, ask students how this would make them feel if they were not able to do these things because society said they were "different".  Once this is done the class will work together coming up with peaceful ideas of what they would do to gain these rights back.

My Name is Bilal

Title: My Name is Bilal
Author: Asma Mobin-Uddin
Grade Level: 3-5
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press

My Name is Bilal is a juvenile fiction book covering the story of Bilal and his sister Ayesha as they start at a new school.  It does not take long for Bilal to realize they may be the only Muslim children in the school.  His sister wears a headscarf, and Bilal notices that no one else is wearing one.  When Ayesha is bullied by a couple of boys tugging her headscarf, Bilal freezes in shock and remains hidden.  The next day, Ayesha is bullied again, and Bilal stands up for his sister.  In the end, the bully and Bilal play basketball together and develop a sort of friendship.  Bilal also discovers another student who shares his religious views as he realizes he and his sister are not the only Muslims at school.

Element 3: Issues of Social Injustice
Bilal and Ayesha experience social injustice as they are bullied for their religious beliefs.  Being the only Muslims in school, they are discriminated based on what they look like.  Although My Name is Bilal hits hard on displaying the cruel nature of social injustice, it has an uplifting message as Bilal realizes he is not the only Muslim at school.  Also, Bilal develops a friendship with one of the boys that was initially bullying him and his sister.

Use in the Classroom:
Teachers can use My Name is Bilal when discussing any number of historical social injustices.  It can provide a modern-day, relatable avenue for children to connect with the social injustices of years past.  This book could be read as a read-aloud before entering a unit about historical events such as Native American genocide, the Holocaust, crimes against persons with disabilities, etc. 

Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan

Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan
Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan
Author: Jeanette Winter
Illustrators: Ann Bobco and Vikki Sheatsley
To purchase:
How to use the book in the classroom (pg. 18):

"Let us not pray to be sheltered
from dangers
But to be fearless when
facing them"


This book is a dual nonfiction story of two young activists that use their power of speech to create awareness as well as start a movement against social injustices. In the first story a girl from Mingora, Pakistan persevered against the Taliban, a group of religious extremists, that began to prevent girls from going to school. Stressing the importance of equal access to schooling for women, the eleven year old Mandala rallies the girls in Swat Valley. Though Mandala faces numerous threats of violence, she continues to lead the girls to rebel and attend school. Despite the resistance that Mandala has created against the Taliban threats, the town is bombed and the schools are set on fire. This doesn’t defer the persistent girls from their education, but makes traveling to school more dangerous. One day Mandala is shot by a Taliban fighter, and faces death. Even after the horrible occurrence of almost dying, Mandala still continues to speak and advocate for women’s rights. She has earned awards like the Peace prize, Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice, and Children’s Peace Prize.

The second part of the book follows a four year old boy named Iqba, who is sold as a slave in a carpet factory  in exchange of a  family debt. Earning only twenty cents a day for long vigorous hours, Igba alongside hundreds of other children, occupied sweat shops. In Pakistan a loan that holds children captive is called a Peshgi. One day Iqba learns that laws have uplifted the Peshgi law, which set all the children free. Investing in his future, Iqba starts to spread his message of freedom to other enslaved children. After receiving death threats, he was unfortunately murdered and mourned by hundreds in Pakistan.

How does it represent Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice?

Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social injustice is reflected in this book because it touches on the issues of sexism, equality, and classism. This narrative is written in a detailed but simplistic diction that young readers can articulate how inequalities affect social structures in other communities. In this book, the author expresses the importance of fighting for social justice. Regardless of what age you are, even as a child, your voice holds power. This book shows how important standing up for your rights even if it may be dangerous. It demonstrates how anyone can be the forefront of their own revolution, and how organizing together can build power in numbers to bring down systems of oppression.


Using the two heroic characters Mandela and Igba as an example of how it’s never too young to be a hero, use the story to help students define the meaning of bravery. Have student’s analyze how the two main characters use their brave voice to advocate for children rights. Explain that bravery can be a small act of standing up for oneself, or it can be bigger effort to create change in their own community. After coming up with a class definition, ask students to brainstorm acts of bravery they’ve seen done by peers, done themselves, or would like seen done in the future. Discuss why it’s important to be brave in tough situations when facing an obstacle. Start a campaign for bravery, and celebrate acts of bravery seen in the classroom or within school. Finally address issues in the classroom or in the school that still need these acts of bravery to make school a safe equitable place for all children. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow
Author: Amy Lee-Tai
Illustrator: Felicia Hoshino
To purchase or get more information:
“A Place Where Sunflowers Grow,” is a story of a young girl named Mari and the feelings and struggles she experiences while living in an internment camp in Utah. The story begins with Mari and her mother staring at the ground waiting for the sunflowers they had planted to grow. As she waters the ground, she begins to remember the life she and her family were forced to leave behind.  Mari is unsure as to why she and her family were sent to the internment camp and because of her sadness and confusion, she has difficulty drawing during her art class. As Mari struggles to acclimate to life in the internment camp, she gains support and encouragement from her parents, Aiko- a classmate in her art class, and her art teacher who helps Mari to not only find a topic to draw about, but helps her to find something to be happy about again. With the help of her art teacher and the growth of her sunflowers, Mari was not only able to find something that comforted and brought happiness to her life at the camp, but she was able to feel hope for the life waiting for her when she and her family would finally get to go home.
How does it represent Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice?
Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social injustice is reflected in this book because it tells the story of the injustices and racism that many Japanese citizens living in the United States experienced during WWII. Japanese citizens were forced to leave their homes, work, family, and friends and move to these internment camps because of an irrational fear and racial prejudice during the war. This book will help students understand not only what people in the internments camps experienced, but through Mari, they will gain a better understanding of what people in these internments camps felt when they were forced to leave their communities. Although students may not have experienced the same exact situation as Mari, students may have had an experience where they have been unfairly treated. Those feelings that the students felt can be used to help them relate to Mari and the feelings she was feeling.
How would you use the book?
After reading the book, students may have a lot of questions about WWII and the Japanese internment. The teacher may want to discuss with students what the Japanese internment was and why it occurred. The teacher should be prepared to describe and answer questions about WWII and why the United States was afraid of the Japanese living in the United States. Students in pairs or groups can share with each other about the many feelings Mari was experiencing and why she was experiencing those feelings. The teacher can assign one feeling to each group or pair and have them write what the feeling was and why Mari was feeling that way. Students could then present their ideas to the class and the teacher could place each piece of paper on a larger chart. Teachers can also have students think about situations when they felt they were unfairly treated or judged and then help students make connections with Mari and the story.  
Students can then make a sunflower and in the middle of the flower, students can draw and/or write about something that gives them hope or brings them comfort or happiness in difficult situations. 
*The book is written in English and Japanese.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Cappy the Lonely Camel

Image result for cappy the lonely camel Title:  Cappy the Lonely Camel
                                                                  Author:  Donald Rubinetti
                                                                  Illustrator:  Liisa Chauncy Guida
                                                                  Publisher:  Silver Press
                                                                  Grade Level:  2-4

Although this book is no longer available for purchase in stores, it is available to buy online-                                                             
This book is found on with reviews:

This book is about a camel named Cappy who lives in a village in Asia.  Cappy has two humps on his back and is also smaller and more hairy than the other camels.  Every camel in his village has one hump on their back and because Cappy looks different, he is bullied and mocked; Cappy feels quite neglected.  A camel named Nastella  (who is the biggest bully to Cappy) has a baby who became very sick and there is only one doctor who could help the baby camel and this doctor lives very far away.  The only camel that could make this journey to the doctor to save Nastella’s baby was Cappy.  Cappy has ancestors that are from the north where the weather is frigid, so he knows he could survive.  He leaves his home to make the journey to the north alone to try to get help to save Nastella’s baby.  When he finally makes it to the doctor, she hops in between the two humps on Cappy’s back and they travel back to Cappy’s village to save Nastella’s baby.  Cappy’s physical features, that are different than the other camels’ physical features, help protect him from the harsh weather conditions on his way back to his village.  When the doctor arrives to see Nastella's sick baby, Nastella learns that Cappy traveled to get the doctor and bring her back to the village.  She is so thankful and appreciative that Cappy has done all of this to help save her baby; she is also extremely hurt from all the upsetment and torture she caused Cappy.  Nastella and the camels of the village all apologize to Cappy for how cruel they had treated him. Cappy forgives them and he and Nastella become great friends.

Element 3:
This book portrays element 3 from the 6 elements of social justice.  This book shows readers how a person (or an animal in this case) can be bullied, tormented, and excluded from a social group because of differences.  Cappy was segregated from his community because of the other camels' realization that Cappy looked different than them.  Instead of the camels getting to know Cappy and who he was, they simply judged him by his outside appearance and were unjust in the way they treated himReaders also learn how judgements that were made about Cappy affected how he did not fit into his community.  What is also learned in reading this book are that judgements and stereotypes are often easily made about people who look different and if one was to get to know someone and look beneath physical appearances, one may find someone to be wonderful.

This is a great book for teachers to do a read aloud with and conduct a follow-up discussion about bullying and differences that everybody has.  Teachers can ask students to discuss physical differences in people.  Teachers can teach students that although people have differences and different physical features, everyone is good at something, can make a difference in someone’s life, and people should get to know others before passing judgement because there is much more to someone than what is on the outside.  Teachers can then hand out copies of a black and white camel for students to color, add whatever details they want, and make their own.  Every student’s camel will look different and have different features.  Students can then assign their camels a special quality and they can do a “show and tell” for the class.  I would use this book while teaching students about differences and respect.