I have been working diligently over the past year to develop a social justice curriculum for elementary students that uses reading and writing as a process for interpreting this information. Last year was our first year of implementation, and as I work to refine what we have put into place I find my mind buzzing with ideas to raise an awareness that will make our students activists in their communities. We often find it difficult and intimidating to bring these issues into the classroom, especially when the minds are so young and the life experiences so limited. These books have made issues accessible in a way that allows our kids to learn and grow in a safe place, and they have been pivotal in my brainstorming sessions. I’m excited for what’s being developed, and want to thank these authors for putting their words and ideas in the hands of our youngest learners. Now, we just have to make sure they are heard and ignite fires in their little bellies!
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
The Other Side tells the story of Clover and Annie, two young girls who live next to each other but are separated by the literal and figurative fence between them. In an era of racial divide both girls have been warned by their mothers to “not cross the fence to play.” As the story unfolds each girl watches the other from a distance, longing to connect. Annie watches as Clover jumps rope with her friend, and Clover watches as Annie dances alone in the rain. When Annie finally comes to the fence and asks Clover her name, a friendship forms and they find a way to overcome the “fences” that separate them.
Courage of the Blue Boy by Robert Neubecker
This colorful tale follows the blue boy and his blue cow, Polly, on an adventure to find other lands that aren’t just blue. Along the way they come across a purple village, orange hills, and a great green ocean until they land in a place so vibrant the blue boy can hardly believe his eyes! The streets are checkered, he hears maroon sounds, sniffs olive scents, and stumbles upon lavendar mosques. But, he notices, there is no blue. Frightened, he runs home and wonders how to put himself in this world where it seems he shouldn’t exist. He finds a way, and realizes that no matter where he goes he belongs, and that place belongs to him, too.
Chocolate Me! and Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs
Chocolate Me! and Mixed Me! help readers learn about stereotypes that face people of color and multi-racial families. From funny names, to “dirty” skin, big hair and wide noses, the boys in these two books have to learn to love themselves for who they are and help their friends to do the same.
The Skin I’m In: A First Look at Racism by Pat Thomas
This book introduces the terms ‘racism’ and ‘racist’ in a way that helps students to see that people’s differences should be embraced, not as a judgement against them. While these heavy issues can be difficult to discuss, this nonfiction text addresses them in a way that students can understand and think differently about the their world by considering their words and actions. The ultimate message is that of understanding and honoring differences to create a world of peaceful humanity. Getting to know each other is really what it’s all about!
The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler
This playful, poetic story dances through each page as the reader considers all the things activities and shades our skin is accustomed to. Your skin has nothing to do with being rich or poor, smart or dumb, weak or strong. “It’s not any of this, ‘cause you’re more than you seem. You are all that you think and you hope and you dream.” Our skin holds inside the true people we are each day. That’s all that matters, and we should each be grateful for this.
One Family by George Shannon
If one ideal has changed the most over the past generation it is certainly that of which makes a family. One Family, a book of numbers and so much more, depicts families of one all the way to ten, and how wonderfully unique each one is. Who’s a part of your family does not matter. We are still one–one individual, one family, one world.
Real Sisters Pretend by Megan Dowd Lambert
This endearing tale reminds us all that even though we may not be blood related we are still family, still “real sisters.” Tayja and Mia love to play pretend and when Mia mentions they have to pretend to be sisters too, her older sibling Tayja tells her there is nothing pretend about being sisters. “We are sisters. Real sisters.” As the book plays out the girls recall all the things they do and say to one another just like real sisters and families do. Even though others from the outside might not see them this way, they know in their hearts this is true. The two girls are adopted by two mothers, also of different races, one again reminding us that families come in different shapes and sizes.
Shades of People by Shelley Rotner
This nonfiction text shows pictures of children with skin color of all shades. The shade of their skin is described using food items and hue adjectives. From “almond, pink, and rose, copper, bronze, or brown, the skin we are in is just like wrapping on a candy’–it’s what’s inside that counts. We see new and different shades everywhere we go because that is the beautiful world we live in.
Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester
This book reminds the reader that each of us is a story waiting to be told and there are many aspects of life that make up our story. It’s not just about race. Our stories overlap and connect in innumerable ways. But some people think their story is better than someone else’s because of their hair, the color of their skin, or their gender. Let’s Talk About Race helps us remember that beneath all of those external characteristics we have bones, and my bones look like your bones. When we imagine a world where all of us exist just as our bones we must decide which story we want to believe–the one that says I’m better than you or the one we just discovered beneath our skin, the one where we see we all look the same.
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
Karen Katz does a beautiful job correlating the many shades and colors of our skin to yummy, delicious foods. As you read The Colors of Us you wonder how could anyone think that any skin color is ugly or less than? Each of us represents a wonderful, rich color that brightens the world. We are wise to notice the different hues of color that surround us each day.