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Finding Justice-Minded Books for Kids

Depending on where you live, the new school year is either quickly approaching or has already begun! After noticing that some of the books we grew up reading were less than inclusive and made for attitudes about our neighbors that had to be unlearned, we started do parents and educators find books that both explicitly and implicitly support a cornerstone of our theology--that all people are made in the image of God? We've asked a number of justice-minded parents and educators for their thoughts. Today we start off the series with Alyssa VanErden, a 3rd grade teacher from Grandville, Michigan. 

1) What are the questions you ask yourself when deciding what books to read to your students?

What questions will it pose which we can apply to our own lives? Who are the characters and what struggles are they facing? Can I connect this story to another story/unit/scenario that we have already studied?  Is there new vocabulary/grammar structures that can be introduced/practiced/reinforced?

2) What are some of the challenges you've faced when trying to incorporate justice into your curriculum, especially when searching for books?

It is sometimes difficult to find appropriate content for my third graders, age 8-9.  They are old enough to learn about social justice issues, yet I find the books that tackle the most relevant questions are far too mature.  I have found many children’s biographies that have served that purpose well, as far as historical content  goes, but when I want to teach current events, especially since I teach in Spanish, I have a very hard time finding the resources.

3) Where do you see racism and injustice most prevalent in curriculum and "conventional" (or widely used) children books?

I see it primarily in books which were published in the 90’s or earlier.  I don’t often encounter blatant racism or injustice being promoted, rather stereotypes and gender roles being reinforced.  Also, much of it does come from the educators themselves, unfortunately.

4) How can parents and teachers support each other in teaching solidarity and social justice principles to their children?

We need to promote open-mindedness. Teaching in a traditional conservative community, we can sometimes shy away from topics which are seen as controversial. As educators, we must model tolerance of opinion, but an intolerance of injustice of any kind.  When we foster a just community within our schools, students will better be able to discern for themselves out in society where injustice is happening. We can tend to accept certain things as being fixed, but when we disrupt the status quo, our students will also be motivated and empowered to stand up for what they believe.

5) As teachers are preparing for the school year, what are a few social justice oriented books that you could recommend for them to share with their students? What are some of your favourite books that are especially inclusive of different races and cultures?

Harvesting Hope, the story of Cesar Chavez, is hands-down my favorite book to read to my students. I also really enjoy other biographies of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. The “Who Was”/”Who is” series is a great and appropriate series for middle elementary grades.

[Image: Flickr user Duc Digital]

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