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This post is the fourth and final in a series of children’s books to use when teaching elementary students about social justice concepts. The first was on books to teach kids about identity, the second was on books to teach kids about diversity, and the third was on books to teach kids about stereotypes and discrimination.
Social justice is a really broad concept. Teaching Tolerance broke it down by creating standards in four smaller topics that each build-up to an understanding of social justice: Identity, Diversity, Justice, and Action. I followed this model in creating guidance lessons about social justice. My book recommendations are broken into those categories as well ending with: Action! Once you have identified an injustice, the next step is taking action to right the wrong.
Social Justice: Real Life People
One part of teaching kids about social justice is giving them examples of activism. Bonus if they are children taking action! There are five great books I found that are about real-life people.
While you probably won’t read this entire book to any classes, you can pick and choose the child activists most relevant to your students and lessons. Some of the people profiled were activists, some were artists, and some showed incredible bravery by being and achieving as themselves.
This one is another compilation of profiles – but with a twist. It talks about famous activists childhoods. In some cases, it’s about how injustices faced as a child lead them to spearhead change as adults. Some show how the people identified inequalities at a young age. And some are about the smaller actions they were able to take as kids.
Malala Yousafzai wrote this book about herself; the hardships she faces, her activism, and perseverance. While many popular stories of activism are about the past, this is a very modern day example. There are several other picture books out there that tell Malala’s story, but this one is extra powerful since she’s the one telling it.
Last but not least in this section is this story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, one of the children who marched for civil rights and was jailed for a week. This story is important for opening a discussion about being brave when taking action
Social Justice: Taking Action
There are also some really amazing books about using your voice, speaking out, and taking action.
While this is about a real life activist, I am putting it in this category because it’s not about a specific issue or act; Barbara Jordan used her voice to stand up for what was right her whole life! It even briefly talks about different career options for someone with a voice and something to say. I love that it talked about learning more and using that knowledge to make your voice stronger. Barbara was Black but some of her advocacy and political work for was for Spanish speaking immigrants; this is important because it shows that sometimes we need to use our voice for others.
Sometimes Reynolds’ books are more beautiful than practical, but this one really nails it for me. It shows how we can use our voices in lots of different ways (loud and quiet, spoken or written, etc. It also depicts some specific examples of saying something to make the world a better place. I also love the emphasis it puts on self-awareness and self-expression.
Okay, this book is a lot like the previous one. BUT it is equally as good so it still needs to be included here. Some differences: Speak Up is in rhyme and focuses more specifically helping others. I would say this one sways just a little younger than Say Something.
This one is super new and I’m so glad it was shared on IG so I could discover it because it’s really wonderful. It talks about lots of different reasons and causes that people may march or protest for/against. It’s very kid friendly without talking down to kids. The text is fairly broad but the illustrations show lots of specific examples (which are listed in the back)
Honorable mention in this category: Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights is really wonderful, but I think is better in a small group setting because you really need to stop and discuss the examples in the illustrations – it doesn’t stand alone as well.
If you’re looking for a complete lesson to use with any of these books and teach your students more about how to stand up for what’s right, I have this lesson on Action and Social Justice. It focuses on defining boycotts, protests, and contacting decision-makers, examples of kids who took action when they recognized injustices, and practicing what to say when you hear someone make a discriminatory or disrespectful comment (being an upstander).
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