Many wonderful new resources exist to introduce issues of social justice to even very young children. There are a wealth of picture books that can help us educate students, their parents, and ourselves to be socially responsible in our communities. Teachers can call attention to the ways in which people are different, and the ways that people are the same — honoring individual and group identity. Here are some of my favorite new books.
Wake Up, World!: A Day in the Life of Children Around the World by Beatrice Hollyer is one I like to present to children in elementary school classrooms. It’s about the lives of children in eight countries — Ghana, India, Russia, Brazil, Vietnam, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States. Filled with contemporary photographs, the book shows Cidonha from Brazil washing herself with a bucket of water outside. In India, Shakeel’s job is to feed and milk the goats. Lihn goes to school only in the afternoon, because there are not enough schools or teachers in Vietnam. Some children in the world sleep on mats on the floor — others in hammocks or in beds. Children in our classrooms can learn that in other countries children eat, learn and play, just as they do. But how they do those daily activities may look very different. Developing this understanding and empathy is an important first step in appreciating cultural differences.
A wonderful companion book published by UNICEF is A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World. It’s based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The book shows children from around the world, with striking images of children who struggle for basic water rights, food, shelter, protection, and education. This text can inspire children to be active in taking steps to help others.
First Steps in Taking Stands
You don’t have to wait to be a grown-up to make a stand — and make a difference. Reading about other children and young adults who “speak truth to power” shows children they are part of larger communities, and their words and actions matter.
For example, one book published recently is Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Pinkney (illustrated by her husband Brian). Fifty years ago, four young black men decided to take a stand against the injustice of integration. They began a sit-down strike at Woolworth’s luncheon counter, where “Whites Only” was the rule. It’s not easy to tell their story simply, but the Pinkneys write clearly, poetically, and with energetic illustrations to show how these young people peacefully protested and changed communities in the United States forever. At the end of the book, there’s an informative “Civil Right Timeline” that shows how these four friends’ bravery was the beginning of a groundswell of support.
One of my favorite new social justice picture books is Ryan and Jimmy: And the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together by Hern Shoveller. When Ryan Hreljac’s first-grade teacher in Ontario, Canada told his class about countries where people did not have access to clean drinking water, Ryan became determined to change things. To earn the $70.00 for one well, he began doing chores and saving money to send across the world. What began as one child’s dream to bring drinking water to one village became an international network. When Ryan’s well was built in Agweo, Uganda, he was able to meet and become fast friends with Akwana Jimmy. The story of their enduring friendship is an incredible tale of survival, compassion, and activism.
I hope at least one of these books inspires your classroom and school community with what is possible when people of any age take action to make the world a better place.