Last term, I worked with the two grade seven classes at my school exploring different Global Justice issues. Using historical picture books, students explored and responded to a variety of global justice issues including: colonization, emancipation, segregation, discrimination, persecution, dictatorship, censorship, immigration, racism and civil rights. As I have come to believe about everything I teach – and to quote my friend Carrie Gelson’s blog – there’s a book for that! Each week, I read a picture book which focused on one of these issues. Each week, there was rich conversation as the students “filled their fact pockets” and did a whole lot of deep learning and deep thinking!
Here are my top 10 books to teach global justice issues:
1. Colonization Encounter – Jane Yolen
This powerful picture book shows an alternative perspective of Christopher Columbus’s first landfall in San Salvador in 1492. The story is narrated from the point of view of a native Taino boy and readers learn how the Taino eventually lost their culture and language because of this encounter.
2. Emancipation The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom – Betty Stroud
This is an excellent book about the underground railroad, that helped slaves escape from slavery to freedom in Canada and the coded quilts that were used. Students are captivated by the story, which really explains how the quilt squares were used to help After reading it, we review what each of the quilt squares was called and what its code indicated to the runaway slave. Beautiful illustrations.
Alternative choice – Underground – Christopher Evans
3. Segregation A Taste of Colored Water – Matt Faulkner
This thought-provoking story is set in the early 1960s and tells about segregation from the viewpoint of a young white girl, Lulu and her cousin Jelly. When taking a trip to the “big city”, they are excited to take a drink from the “colored fountain” that their friends have been talking about. They imagine this water is going to be many colors with many wonderful flavors. When they finally get to the city though, they discover the water is clear and they witness a march for civil rights. I love how this book gives a glimpse of this difficult time in history to children in an appropriate and accessible way and promotes a lot of discussion.
Alternative Choice: White Socks Only – Evelyn Coleman
4. Assimilation I Am Not a Number – Jenny K Dupuis (residential schools)
Based on the true story of the author’s grandmother, this heart-wrenching picture book captures the experience of First Nations people in Canada being sent to Residential Schools. Under threat of fines and jail time, First Nation parents were forced to give their children up to the government. When Irene is taken to her new “home”, she is forced to forget her name, her home, her family, her culture, and her language. A powerful and important picture book.
Alternative Choice: When I Was Eight – Christy Jordon Fenton
5. Dictatorship Sparrow Girl – Sarah Pennypacker
In 1958, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, dictator leader of China, declared war on the sparrows because they were damaging the crops. Chairman Mao made an irrational decision to order everyone in China to drive away or kill all the sparrows by going outside and making as much noise as possible. After three days, the sparrow population was eliminated, but his thoughtless disruption of the food chain resulted in locusts doing more damage to the crops than the sparrows had done. The famine that followed lasted six years and killed more than 40 million Chinese people. This fictional account of the story has young Ming Li and her brother rescuing 7 sparrows and hiding them in the family barn. This is a powerful, true story combining social studies (dictatorship), science (food chain), and Reading Power(questioning).
Alternative Choice: The Composition – Antonio Skarameta
6. Censorship The Stamp Collector – Jennifer Lanthier (freedom of expression)
This is picture book about human rights violations in present day China was inspired by two writers: Nurmuhemmet Yasin and Jiang Weiping. Weiping spent 6 years in prison for exposing govt. corruption. Yasin is serving 10 yrs for writing a short story called “The Wild Pigeon”. In the story, a young boy from the country who loves words and a young boy from the city who loves stamp eventually meet. The stamp collector becomes a prison guard; the writer is imprisoned for a story he wrote. Eventually, they connect through the power of words and stories.
Alternative Choice: Secret of the Dance – Andrea Spalding (banning of The Potlatch)
7. Civil Rights Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged – Jody Nyasha Warner
Viola Desmond, known as the “Canada’s Rosa Parks” was arrested and thrown in prison for sitting in the wrong section of the Roseland Movie Theater in Nova Scotia in 1946. Her actions gave strength and inspiration to Canada’s black community and she became the pioneer for Canada’s Civil Rights movement. The new ten dollar bill featuring Viola Desmond will be released in 2018, making her the first Canadian woman to be celebrated on Canadian currency.
Alternative choice: Rosa – Nikki Giovanni
8. Persecution The Harmonica – Tony Johnston (Holocaust)
Based on the true story of a young boy who survived the Nazi concentration camp in Poland during the Holocaust by playing Schubert on his harmonica every night for the commandant of the camp. This is a chillingly effective and hauntingly beautiful written historical fiction. Gorgeous writing with many wonderful examples of similes and metaphors.
Alternative Choice: Baseball Saved Us – Ken Mochizuki (Japanese Internment Camps)
9. War Sami and the Time of the Troubles – Florence Parry Heide
“My name is Sami. I live in the time of the troubles. It is a time of guns and wars. It is a time that has lasted all my life, and I am ten years old.” This story depicts the Lebanon Civil War from a young boy’s point of view. The “time of the troubles” refers to the many times when bombs are being dropped outside young Sami’s home. During the many hours they hide in the basement for safety, they pass the time by thinking about happier times they shared. A wonderful book with amazing pictures to help depict life in a war-torn country.
10. Immigration Gleam and Glow – Eve Bunting
This amazing story is based on the true experience of a Bosnian family forced to flee their country during the recent civil war. Because they had to flee their home, their fish, Gleam and Glow, were left behind in a lake behind their home. When the family returned years later, they found that the fish had not only survived but thrived over the years. Gleam and Glow creatively retells this story and weaves in the trials and suffering of a family surrounded by the danger and destruction of war who are forced to flee their home. Stunning illustrations.
Alternative choice: Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey – Margriet Ruurs
What are your favorite Global Justice picture books?