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.

Thursday, October 18, 2018


Title: Juneteenth
Authors: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Drew Nelson
Illustrator: Mark Schroder
Grade Level: 1st-4th grade
Summary:  June 19th, 1865 began as just another day in Texas. African American slaves were working chopping wood, scrubbing floors milking cows in a barn. Then, a message arrived. Slavery had ended, they were free! Although Slavery had actually ended 2 years prior when the order was given by President Lincoln in 1863, not all slaves heard the news right away. It took more than two years for the news of freedom to reach the Texas slaves. June 19th has since then became a day of celebration in the United States, a day to remember and honor freedom from all people. The book does a great job explaining as well as illustrating Juneeteenth traditions.
Element 3:  Issues of Social Injustice: Through this book readers learn about past injustices of how black people became slaves, the war , the signing of the emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth when all slaves became truly free.
Follow up Activity:
If used in a unit discussing celebrations: Use Vandiagrams and have students compare how Juneteenth is celebrated VS. how Fourth of July is Celebrated.

Additional Resources:

Giraffes Can't Dance

Giraffes Can't Dance
Author: Giles Andreae
Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees
Grade Level: Pre-K - Kindergarten
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Gerald was a Giraffe who thought he couldn’t dance. When he would try to dance like the other animals, his knees would buckle and he would fall. When the annual Jungle Dance would come around all the other animals would be dancing, the lions would tango and the rhinos would rock ‘n’ roll, but Gerald would just stand and watch until this year. The year Gerald went out and tried to dance like the other animals but they made fun of him. Gerald ran into the forest where he met a cricket who told him he may just dance to a different song. Then, Gerald started dancing to the sounds of the trees and grass, and he found his song. He finally felt confident in dancing! The animals one by one started to enter and saw that Gerald could dance!

Element 1 - Self love and Knowledge:
Giraffes Can’t Dance is a story about a Giraffe who thinks he can’t dance because the way everyone else danced was not the way he could dance. Gerald would get upset and self conscious when he would try to dance the way everyone else was dancing. But once he finds his own song he is able to dance the way he feels comfortable. As well, when Gerald is finally comfortable dancing he is doing it for himself, rather than focusing on what the other animals are thinking. He is literally dancing to the beat of his own song.  He learns to love his dancing and his body just the way it is.

Follow Up:
To go off of the idea of being good at things we’re not I would have the students we’ll talk about the things that we think we’re not good at. In that process we’ll talk about why we think we’re not good at something and reframe it in a positive light. For example a student may not think they are athletic because the can’t run fast, but they may be able to throw a ball really far so they are athletic! With this idea the students will go back to their journals and write about something they think they’re not good at, then the student will reframe it with something they are good at but enjoy doing and how they feel positively about themselves.

More Resources! 
Even More Resources!
Lesson Plans!

All Are Welcome

Image result for all are welcome book
All Are Welcome

Author: Alexandra Penfold

Illustrator: Suzanne Kaufman

Grades: Preschool-3

This is a book about acceptance of others. The book is based in a classroom where students represent many cultures, ethnicities, religions, abilities, family structures and interests. The book repeats the saying, "All are welcome" while celebrating everyone and encouraging everyone to share/learn about each other. There are several visuals of uniqueness and the world map, inferring that the world is made up of differences but all are important. A major theme is community-that everyone brings something to the classroom and that there's so much to learn from each other. This book aligns with the second element of social justice education because it goes beyond sending the message of inclusivity by repeatedly stating that we can learn and grow from each other.

Element 2:
This book is a great representation of Element 2: Respect for Others because it exhibits students from all kinds of backgrounds and explicitly describes how we can learn from and about each other. The illustrations in this book promote pride in ones self and the representation of typically marginalized groups (POC, people with disabilities, non western cultures, etc).

This is a great welcome back to school book for a read aloud during the first week of school. Activities for students to do after doing the read aloud could be: class bingo (find someone who: has siblings), get to know your classmates: write down something about each of your classmates, pass the ball (and answer the question your hands touch on the ball). These are all activities for students to get to know their classmates better. For classroom activities to promote respecting each other click here.

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Words Are Not for Hurting

Element 2: Respect For Others
Book Title: Words Are Not for Hurting
Author: Elizabeth Verdick
Illustrator: Marieka Heinlen
Age: 4-8 years of age

Words are not for hurting takes the reader on a journey of the very important purpose of letters. The author explains how we use the English alphabet with 26 letters to create millions of words. The creation of words is essentially in the hands of the beholder. With all of this power, why not use it for  something good? Through her writing the author offers self-reflective moments for students to digest the material and relate to her story. The text in this book is large, and easy to read. Additionally, Verdick uses a plethora of sight words making this book an ideal purchase for a P-2 classroom setting.

Action Plan
Have a discussion with your students about communication. Explain the different ways in which we communicate: body language, words, facial expressions. Have students offer up the different ways they communicate to different people: caregivers, family, teachers, waitress/waitor, mailperson. After having this discussion you can then move into how you show respect to these people and what respect looks like to them. **Do NOT push your own image of respect onto the children**

This activity should be a follow up after the discussion. Have students choose from: skit or poster. Students will create a scenario depicting respect. It can be an encounter with a friend, teacher, parent. They will have full creative power to show respect through their eyes by utilizing action as a means of expresssing this word. For the poster students will draw a scenario of a visual representation of respect. It can be a collage, drawing, words, anything that gets their point across- one student can be the artist and one can be the presenter but all students must work collaboratively.

Element 2
Respect looks different to each of us, and the word "kind" is very subjective. What is "kind" to one, may not register as "kind" in another mind. Element two focuses on respect for others. This book can be used as a way to get students to think about the ways in which they show respect, and what they identify to be respectful actions. Here, we want students to understand that kindness and respect comes in all shapes and sizes. One way we can show respect for one another is by using our words.

Talking with Mother Earth/ Hablando con Madre Tierra

Book Title: Talking with Mother Earth Poems/ Hablando con Madre Tierra Poemas

By: Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by: Lucia Angela Perez

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Summary: Talking with Mother Earth/ Hablando con Madre Tierra, written in English and Spanish, tells the story of a boy, Tetl, who goes through constant racism because of his Native American appearance. Because of his different features such as his brown skin, black eyes, and long hair, his classmates always taunt him. They call names such as "Cracked-foot Indian", "Flea bitten Indian", and pull on his long hair while laughing at his bare feet. From his grandmother, Tetl has learned about the spirituality of his Aztec ancestors and about how they viewed the earth as being alive with sacred meaning. From these teachings, Tetl is able to move away from the doubt and fear created by the taunts of the other children, to self-love and acceptance of his culture.

Element 1: Self Love and Knowledge: In this book, we read about the constant bullying Tetl receives from his peers because he is different then them. Tetl is able to change the negative energy given by those peers and change it into a positive one by reflecting on the teachings of his grandmother. His grandmother has taught him about his Aztec ancestry and how he can reflect on it through mother earth. Tetl understands he's different but accepts it because of how proud he is of his Nahuatl heritage. Mother earth allows him to build on to his self confidence by providing him with the strength to put the negative taunts aside.

Activity: This book can first be used as a read loud and then be extended other activities. Because this book is written into short poems, this is great for helping children understand how to write poems. Argueta openly describes the hurtful experiences that Tetl went through from the interactions with other students. Students can look into their own hurtful experiences, such as with bullying, and write it into a poem. Like Tetl does, they can relate their experiences to mother earth, and learn to love themselves more. In the end after every student has written a poem, the teacher can gather all poems to create a classroom poetry book. Students can even illustrate pictures for each of their poems.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Princess Hair

Book Title: Princess Hair
Author & Illustrator: Sharee Miller
Ages: 3-6 years

Element 1: Self-Love and Knowledge: Princess Hair is all about the different types of hair you may see dawned by women of color, in particularly Black women. It visualizes those hairstyles complementing the beauty of each and every one. It brings about the beauty in one's self and all that they can be capable of. This book can be used to build the self-confidence  and self-affirm within students of color and see the beauty and power that their hair brings. 

Summary: In this book, there is no main character, instead on each page you see different princesses with different hairstyles, varying from princesses with braids, kinks, and so many more. The princesses on these pages wear their crowns, reassuring the fact that this is the only thing they have in common because underneath their crown they are all different. It details the beauty of black hair and affirms the idea of things young black girls can do. 

Activity: I would the resource "5 Things I Love About My Hair" on Sharee Miller's website. This would allow for any child to take the message from the book and personalize it for themselves. It also would give the child time to reflect on their hair and the beauty within it. I may even ask students to have one of the things rhyme, as it did in the book, building upon that skill.

Places To Purchase book:


Hey Black Child

Image result for hey black child book             Hey Black Child
                                                                              by Useni Eugene Perkins

Illustrated by: Bryan Collier

Grade Level: Pre-K to Grade 3

Buy It Here!

Additional Resources:
Have students watch some recitations performed by children

4th Grade Presentation with Comments by Michelle Obama

This book adaption of Useni Euguene Perkin's 1974 poem of the same name brings this motivational piece to life for today's child. To accompany the renowned poem, Bryan Collier provides moving collages of present-day children, beautifully depicting a blend of their rich legacy and potential. His layered imagery brilliantly complements the repetition and pure rhythm of Perkin's words. The text is easy to read, repetitious and powerful in its simplicity. Readers will develop a sense of self esteem and pride in their people and history. Perkin's inspirational message of pride juxtaposed with Collier's empowering imagery lays a perfect groundwork for the work of self love to happen.

Element 1: Self Love and Knowledge Hey Black Child keeps self-love at the
 forefront of the poem and images and avoids a deficit lens. Useni Eugene Perkin’s 
words coupled with Bryan Collier’s powerful collages encourage pride in the 
rich history of black children as well as confidence and empowerment towards 
a bright future. Educators looking to facilitate the work of self-love and
knowledge in the classroom can use this powerful poem and imagery symbolizing 
the rich history,present and potential of black children to help readers develop
that sense of self-esteem and self-love through a beautiful understanding of their 
own legacy and potential.

An ELA class using Hey Black Child as an anchor text can examine the powerful tool of  repetition as a literary, rhetorical and poetic device. Students can begin by underlining/highlighting repeating words and phrases during independent or whole group instruction and discussing the purpose and effectiveness of repetition. Videos of other children performing recitations of the poem can be used to provide examples of the power of repetition and rhythm as a rhetorical device.
 There is a lovely interview with illustrator Bryan Collier in which he walks through the process and purpose of collage-making in his books. This interview would serve as a great supplement to a lesson which includes this book. Students can watch the video here and then create collages which reflect the uniqueness and beauty of themselves with this poem (or one of their own writing). Students can also prepare their own rehearsed recitation of those poems for the class or other assembly.


Soñadores or Dreamers

Soñadores or Dreamers was written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales and translated by Teresa Mlawer. It is the story of a mother and child whose journey from home brought them to a foreign land where they were met with both challenges and inspiration. Their story is as much about the gifts of love, discovery and creativity that they brought along with them. This poetic narrative offers the reader an authentic perspective on migration and immigration while at the same time promoting the transformative power of diversity, literacy and imagination. Morales seamlessly pairs her words with vivid illustrations, packed with cultural references to Latinx heritage and activist motifs. An excellent choice for addressing social justice element 3, Exploring Issues of Social Injustice, Soñadores or Dreamers offers an entry point for discussing themes surrounding immigration such migration, the idea of boarders, access and human rights. Most importantly, this book stays away from a deficit lens and keeps social justice element 1, Self-Love at the forefront.

By clicking on the language of your choice, a new tab directing you to alibris, an online retailer for independent bookstores, where you can purchase the book online in Spanish and/or English

For lesson ideas from PK- 8 and other book suggestions that support similar topics, along with several links to additional research for enhancing teacher content knowledge visit, The Classroom Bookshelf. Additionally, I highly recommend checking out American Indians in Children's Literature, which "provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society.”