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This post is the third 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 and the second was on books to teach kids about diversity.
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 continuing with: Justice! At the elementary level, I think it’s best to teach about stereotypes and injustices separately, but I’m combining my book recs here.
Stereotypes, Justice, and Injustices
This book is short, sweet, and to the point. It illustrates and writes about common gender stereotypes related to toys, clothes, and interests then adds “except when they don’t” and illustrates some kids who aren’t adhering to that stereotype. The book rhymes but doesn’t feel overly young – I would still have used it up to 4th or 5th grade. The focus is on being yourself despite the stereotypes and norming the fact that lots of kids don’t fit gender stereotypes (so it’s okay if you don’t either!).
Red is the story of a crayon who just does not fit the mold and vision that others have of him. When he doesn’t act exactly how the others expect, they assume there is something wrong with him. In the end, he discovers he’s actually blue and that is his best, true self! While the story is less about (not) stereotyping others and more about being true to yourself despite stereotypes, I think it’s still a great book to use when talking about how the assumptions people have about others can be wrong.
While this (true) story is about the past, students can absolutely relate to it because it’s all about school and education. It tells about segregated schools in California and how Hispanic students weren’t given as good of an education. The story includes both Sylvia Mendez’ personal experience as well as the fight in court for the right to a (truly) equal education. It’s a little on the longer side because it includes so many actual details, so I recommend it for 2nd grade and up.
This story gives several specific examples of segregation in the 1950’s and how separate was NOT equal. Clara Luper was a teacher who showed her students that the country could be better. She taught them about the four steps of non-violent resistance and lead them in sit-ins to push for change and true equality. While students sometimes struggle to connect as much to history as they do to present day issues, I think the context of this (true) story being a teacher and her students makes it feel extra relevant.
The final book on this list is also a true story – this one about the Loving family. Mildred and Richard are arrested for breaking the interracial marriage law of Virginia and were forced to move away in order to stay together as a family. I think this book is a great one for addressing justice and injustices because it’s an incredibly clear example of how a law can be unjust and hurtful.
This book is used often to discuss kindness and empathy for good reason – the author does an amazing job of getting the reader to really care for the main character, and the not-so-tidy ending is really compelling. It fits as a good read on the topic of discrimination because the story tells about the new girl, May, being excluded and treated meanly because of her poor/impoverished appearance. While a lesson about injustice and prejudice needs to include race, ethnicity, religion, and gender as well, I think this is a great example of how kids might discriminate against their peers.
I admit that the book I really want for this topic doesn’t exist, or I can’t find it. I would love to find a book that shows a modern day kid being treated unfairly or in a prejudiced way due to their identity. Each Kindness rocks but isn’t as direct as I want. There are some great books out there that have this as a small piece of the story or that focus on someone being teased for a different reason, but I haven’t found one yet that quite hits the mark. Let me know if you know of one!
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