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.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Harvesting Hope

Title:  Harvesting Hope
The Story of Cesar Chavez
Author:  Kathleen Krull
Illustrator:  Yuyi Morales
Publisher:  Harcourt, Inc.
Ages 6 to 9

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This book is a biography about a young boy named Cesar Chavez who lives with his family on a ranch on Arizona and in a sturdy house that Cesar’s grandfather built. Cesar starts school, although he is nervous about it and his mom instills in him and his siblings that physical fighting is wrong and that they should use their words to resolve problems.  When Cesar is a little older, the ranch he lived on begins to die; there is a drought and his family can no longer harvest crops.  Therefore, money cannot be made to pay bills.  Cesar’s family has to leave their ranch and move on to California to look for jobs.  Cesar’s life has undergone dramatic change and he and his family have to work on other people’s farms, overcoming challenges such as filth, fighting, poor shelter, and meager portions of meals.  Cesar still continues to work hard with his family as they still have faith that they will be able to earn enough money to get their ranch back one day.  Cesar goes to many schools, but none of them are safe for him; Cesar is put down by teachers and he hates school, yet likes to learn.  He eventually drops out of school and works in the fields full-time.  Cesar works hard to help provide for his family even though the landowners treat their workers terribly; this upsets Cesar very much.  As outsiders show up on the land to help, Cesar begins to become a little more hopeful.  He wants to make a drastic change and starts talking people into joining his fight for better treatment.  He starts to hold meetings and raise awareness to the issue of how the landowners are treating their workers very poorly.  People begin to trust Cesar; he is committed to making a change in a nonviolent way, just as his mother had taught him.  As Cesar gains more followers, he organizes a march to ask the government for help.  Cesar and his followers march on and on, even with blistering feet.  People become aware of the marchers and support them, giving them feasts.  As the march goes on, more people become aware of the issue and everyone gets involved to help.  Cesar’s goal is to get a raise in pay and better working conditions.  When the marchers eventually make it to Sacramento, the parade is made up of ten thousand people.  Finally, Cesar signs the very first contract for farm workers in American history.  The parade joyously celebrates, as Cesar has won his fight nonviolently and starts to create change.

Element 4: 
This book portrays element 4 from the 6 elements of social justice.  This book shows readers how a social movement started by one person’s idea (Cesar’s idea to take a stand against unfair treatment of farm workers) led to a great social change in history (Cesar signed the contract for farm workers in American history).  Social injustice was shown in how Cesar and other workers were treated by landowners, as well as by teachers because of their background.  This book showed that one person can stand up, gain a strong group of supporters, and create a drastic change.

This book would be good for teachers to do a read aloud with and conduct a follow-up discussion about what the students’ ideas would be if they were in Cesar’s situation or a similar situation in which they felt as though they were being treated poorly and/or unfairly.  Teachers can ask what they would do to try to get people to join their side and help create a positive change.  Students can share these ideas in front of the whole class and have an open discussion about each others’ ideas.  Students can also each write a letter to Cesar expressing whatever they would like to say to him if they had the chance to give him the letter.  This allows students to express their thoughts on paper.  I would use this book while teaching students about the power of working together in a nonviolent matter to make a change and/or to take a stand in one’s beliefs. 

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