85 Picture Books or Graphic Novels that Support Social Justice Teaching

A few weeks ago I was informed that I had been awarded a $1,000 impact grant from the EdCamp Foundation.  If you are not aware of this incredible grant opportunity, hurry over to their website and find out more, they are truly trying to help all educators reach their dreams!  While my heart nearly leaped out of my chest at the incredible news, I was not just thrilled because of the money, but because of the purpose of the grant; to get more picture books and graphic novels focusing on social justice issues into the hands of our students.  I have, therefore, spent the last few weeks researching which books to purchase and with the help of many incredible colleagues and resources shared, tonight I submitted my wish list with 85 titles on it.  I gladly shared the news on Twitter and then was asked to share it on here.

So what was my emphasis for this grant?  To broaden my students’ understanding of the world and to help them become more informed citizens.  We already incorporate lots of picture books, to see some of our favorites go here, and my students love graphic novels so it was a natural fit to focus on these two formats as a way to increase conversation, understanding, and also empathy.  While I know this list really only scratches the surface, it is a further commitment to the titles we already have, and so combining these books with all of the chapter books, picture books, and graphic novels we already have can only bolster the journey that our students are on; to become better human beings who understand the world more fully.

What does this list have?

An emphasis on #OwnVoices authors

An emphasis on typically marginalized populations

An emphasis on historical knowledge from a non-dominant narrative lens

And an emphasis on traditional roles being lived in non-traditional ways

I really tried to only purchase literature that has been vetted by others for authenticity, quality, and also non-harmful portrayal, however, I have not read all of these books myself yet, so if you see one that slipped through, please let me know.  Instead of doing the typical post here with all of the titles, I decided to instead just link to the list itself.  So here you are:  My list of 85 titles to promote a more empathetic world

 

Books That Teach Us About the Experience of Refugees and Immigrants

This year in English we have really been focused on learning about others.  Others whose life experience may be so very different from our own.  Others who have so much to teach us. Others who some may tell us to fear.  So our collection of chapter books and books have grown with a focus on breaking down biases and broadening understanding.  I, therefore, thought that it would be helpful for others to see which books have helped us do just that.  Many of these books have been on other lists that I have posted, but there are a few new ones.

Picture books

What’s in a name?  As educators, we know the inherent power of pronouncing a child’s name correctly to make them feel accepted and included.  This picture book from 2009 shares the story of Sangoel, a refugee from Sudan, and what happens when he comes to America.  A must add as we try to break down walls and build understanding for others in our classrooms.
One of the most powerful picture books to be published in 2016, The Journey is about a family as they flee from war and the decisions they have to make as they search for safety.  Beautifully illustrated this picture book packs a punch.
Also a picture book about a family that has to leave their country in search of safety, the artwork is all done by stone.  With both English and Arabic text, I am so grateful for the vision of this picture book.
Why would a child set out on foot toward America, knowing that there were thousands of miles filled with danger ahead of them?  This picture book illustrates the journey that more than 100,000 children have taken as they try to reach safety in the United States.  Told in poetry, this picture book helps us understand something that can seem inconceivable.

A Piece of Home written by Jeri Watts and illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Fitting in. Feeling lost.  Appreciate differences.  What happens when a family chooses to move to the US and all of a sudden does not fit in anymore?

The Name Jar by Yanksook Choi (Having a name that no one pronounces correctly in the USA really makes me love this book even more).

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat (Author), Leslie Staub (Illustrator) brings us the story of a little girl’s longing for her mother as they are separated.  The mother has been sent to a detention center and does not know what will happen to her.

Sharing the story of Oskar, a young boy who has escaped the horror of the Jewish persecution in Germany and arrives in America with only a photograph and an address of an aunt he has never met.  He must make his way through the streets of NYC, but rather than being afraid, he sees the blessings he meets along the way. Another must add as we discuss refugees, and not being afraid of others in our classrooms.
Taken from his own life; this story of having to hide in a planetarium as the government looks for his activist father is one sure to get students talking.  What happens when you speak up but the government does not want you to.  Reminding us that even when it is scary, we should still stand up for what is right, and sharing the story of why some people have to flee, this is another must-add to your collection.

In The Seeds of Friendship by Michael Foreman a boy is not sure how to make a connection with others.  That is until he is given seeds and he has an idea of how to make this new gray city more like home.

What happens when a father and his young daughter set out toward the border?  In 

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood speaks to how hard moving is, but also about finding a new friend.  This is all about finding the beauty in someone else’s culture.

 Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh.  This allegory tells the tale of Pancho who is waiting for his father’s return from the north.  When Papa doesn’t show up as expected, Pancho is determined to find him.  The author, Duncan Tonatiuh, is a Global Read Aloud contender for picture book study.
 In Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say I am reminded of how split we can feel when we belong to two countries.  Beautiful and still relevant more than twenty years after its release, this is a wonderful way to discuss what it means to feel home.
 Sometimes the books that tell us the most do not even have words.  The Arrival by Shaun Tan wordless graphic novel/picture book is one that will mesmerize readers.

Chapter books

Some Favorite New Picture Books – Part 1, 2017

As I have been busy sharing favorite books on my Instagram account, I realize that I have not shared many new finds on here.  This quiet Saturday morning, where I am up much too early thanks to my kids, is, therefore, the perfect day to catch up.   So grab a cup of tea or coffee, make your list, borrow from your library or add them to your classroom, I promise you won’t regret it.

 Deborah Freedman has been on my list of amazing authors and overall human being for awhile now.  Het latest picture book is simply breathtaking.  Telling the story of a house and the parts it is made up of, it made me think of how to speak to our children about the birth of ideas and how it takes many different parts to make something beautiful.  What a beautiful message for us all right now.  This is released February 28th.
 I was unsure about a picture book that tells the story of the Manhattan Project, the creation of the atomic bomb, and yet the beauty of this book is exactly in how hard of a topic this is.  Powerful and moving with an author’s note that is sure to generate discussion, what a book this is.
While technically not a picture book but rather an early reader, we are obsessed with Charlie & Mouse in our household.  This brand new series from Laurel Snyder is laugh out loud funny and a must for anyone with younger children.  My eight year old loves it as well and reads it on her own.  This first book in a new series comes out in April, it is definitely worth the wait.
I had certainly heard of Lena Horne, however, I honestly knew very little about her.  This picture book has set me straight; her inspiring life not only as an entertainer but also a civil rights activist is one every child should know of.
A first for this blog; a recommendation of a board book, but Peep and Egg deserves to not only be read aloud to our littlest ones but also in our classroom.  The story of an egg that does not want to hatch made me laugh but could also lead to conversations about fear and how it holds us back.
While we have all heard the famous I Have A Dream speech seeing a collection of photographs from the days leading up to it and the march itself, really made me contemplate once again this immense moment in history.  These pictures coupled with the text are sure to bring a deeper understanding of the significance of the speech.
If you ever have to teach onomatopoeia then this is the picture book for you.  With gorgeous illustrations this book follows a fox as it tries to find shelter in a rainstorm.  I would whisper Caldecott but alas the illustrator does not fit the criteria.
A picture book about death not meant to frighten but meant to help children understand the beauty of a life well lived, this Danish picture book, is truly one to add to your collection.  Picture books can help us broach such difficult conversations in our classrooms and this one certainly does.
What’s in a name?  As educators we know the inherent power of pronouncing a child’s name correctly to make them feel accepted and included.  This picture book from 2009 shares the story of Sangoel, a refugee from Sudan, and what happens when he comes to America.  A must add as we try to break down walls and build understanding for others in our classrooms.
Sharing the story of Oskar, a young boy who has escaped the horror of the Jewish persecution in Germany and arrives in America with only a photograph and an address of an aunt he has never met.  He must make his way through the streets of NYC, but rather than being afraid, he sees the blessings he meets along the way. Another must add as we discuss refugees, and not being afraid of others in our classrooms.
Taken from his own life; this story of having to hide in a planetarium as the government looks for his activist father is one sure to get students talking.  What happens when you speak up but the government does not want you to.  Reminding us that even when it is scary, we should still stand up for what is right, this is another must add to your collection.
One of the most powerful picture books to be published in 2016, The Journey is about a family as they flee from war and the decisions they have to make as they search for safety.  Beautifully illustrated this picture book packs a punch.
Also a picture book about a family that has to leave their country in search of safety, the artwork is all done by stone.  With both English and Arabic text, I am so grateful for the vision of this picture book.
Why would a child set out on foot toward America, knowing that there were thousands of miles filled with danger ahead of them?  This picture book illustrates the journey that more than 100,000 children have taken as they try to reach safety in the United States.  Told in poetry, this picture book helps us understand something that can seem inconceivable.
There you have it, a few new favorites, I hope this list is helpful.  To see all of our other favorites through the year, please go here. 

The Portals We Create – A Guest Post for The Nerdy Book Club

I have loved The Nerdy Book Club for many years.  How can you not?  To find a community online of such amazing people is not something that happens often.  So I am honored to share part of the guest post that they featured yesterday, a day that marked marches all over the world standing up for our rights.   Please make sure you go to the site to see the rest, subscribe to the blog (it gets delivered right in my mailbox) and then sign up to be a guest blogger.  They are always looking for stories…

I don’t remember the first time someone told me I should be fired as a teacher in response to work my students had done.  I know it was several years ago.  I remember the fear though, how it felt like a bucket of water was thrown in my face.  Here I thought we were doing good work, and yet others vehemently disagreed.  I was not fit to be a teacher, couldn’t my district see that?

I do remember the most recent time I was told I should be fired.  The internet has a way of bringing hate into our lives, whether we ask for it or not.  It was in response to a video that Microsoft had produced surrounding an exploration we had done as a class.  For several weeks we had investigated the refugee crisis all in an attempt to come up with our own opinion on what the role of the United States should be in it if any.  My 7th graders had dug in with gusto, using the skills that we incorporate on a regular basis to disseminate the information they were uncovering.  They used all of those skills we teach our students when we ask them to read closely, to questions, to clarify, and to create opinions all of their own.  Microsoft created a short two minute video about our work and highlighted how we had reached out to a refugee, an amazing woman named Rusul Alrubail, who is an Iranian refugee living in Canada and changing the world herself.  She had graciously shared her story with us via Skype, the students had had so many questions.  She happens to be Muslim, as are many of the refugees from Syria, a fact that many commenters could not get past.

As the video was posted I saw the comments roll in.  Some were grateful to the learning opportunity my students had had, but some were not.  I was an example of everything that is wrong with our society.  I was indoctrinating.  I should be fired.  How dare I expose them to Islam?  I felt fear for the first time in a long time; even though the logical part of me knew I had done nothing wrong, but what if “they” came to my school?  What if “they” came to my house?  When people hate they do it to hurt, they do it to make others afraid, and for a brief moment in time, they succeeded.  I was afraid for my job, for my family, for myself.  But then I scrolled further down and a comment caught my eye.  It was from one of my students telling someone that they had no idea what they were talking about.  That they would know if they were in our classroom that I do not tell my students what to think, but instead just ask them to think, to have an opinion, to figure out the world because this is the world they will inherit.  In that moment, I stopped being afraid, because if my 7th grader could have that courage.  If my 7th grader could find the words to push back.  If my 7th grader felt that they had the right to educate, then I certainly did too.

To read the rest of the post, go here

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

3 Questions to Ask for a Critical Re-Evaluation of Your Classroom Library

“Really, Mrs. Ripp, another book about Civil Rights?” Spoken by one of my African American students as I pulled out the picture book I intended to use in our mini lesson.

Another book about Civil Rights….

His words followed me all of the way home.  Not because I was worried he didn’t know enough but because of what had followed those first words.

“You always pick those books…”

And he was right.  In my eagerness to embed more knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement into our mini lesson on advice from older characters, I wasn’t thinking about his representation to the rest of our mostly white class.  How once more what I showcased only supported a familiar narrative.  His words prompted a realization that seemingly the only picture books I used or that we even had in our classroom library featuring African Americans in them had to do with either slavery or Civil Rights.  Not every day life.  Not non-famous African Americans.  Just those two topics.  This realization has shaped a lot of my book purchasing decisions as of late and just how much work I still have to do.

I have been focused a lot on diversity of books, it’s hard not to when our world seems to need understanding, empathy, and fearlessness more than ever.  While our classroom library has been ever expanding with more diverse picks, I have realized through the help of my students that diversity is not enough.  That simply placing books that feature anything but white/cisgender/Christian characters in them is not enough.  It is a start, sure, but then how do we go further than that?

We ask ourselves; how are characters represented?

Prompted by the comment from my student, I now look for how characters of any race/skin color/culture are represented in all of our books.  Is everyone represented?  Even sub-groups that my students may not even be aware of?  Are we only showcasing one experience?  Are we only highlighting the famous people of that sub-group?  Are we only representing one narrative of a group of people that live a myriad of narratives?  My own ignorance has often led to blunders, such as the one described here, but I can do better. I can make sure that the books I bring in lead to realizations and understanding about others, not more of the same.

So don’t just ask who is represented, but ask how are they represented?  How would I feel if my own children were represented in this way?

We ask ourselves; do we have #OwnVoices authors represented?

The #OwnVoices hashtag is one I have been paying attention to as I look at the diversity of our classroom library and even on my own reading experiences.  Started by Corinne Duyvis the hashtag focuses on recommending books written/illustrated “about marginalized groups of people by authors in those groups.”  That is why I know Google who the author is and what their background is as I decide on placing a book in the library.  That is why I read blogs like Disability in Kidlit  (soon to be shut down which breaks my heart), follow Reading While White which had an entire month dedicated to OwnVoices books,  and also try to educate myself on what is out there.  If we want true representation in our classrooms then we have to do the legwork to make sure all marginalized groups are represented in the books we share with students.

So don’t just ask do I have broad representation in characters, but ask do I have broad representation in authors/illustrators?

We ask ourselves; how are books highlighted and selected?

Gone are the days where I haphazardly selected books to put on display or book talk.  Now my displays and selection process takes a little bit more time; which books are put out to grab for students?  What do the covers look like?  Who are the stories representing?  I also do not “just” put African American books on display for February to celebrate Black history month, but have them out all of the time.  My students should be immersed in a diverse reading experience at all times, not just in carefully selected months.

So don’t just grab a few books to put out because they are new; grab books that will offer students a wide reading experience and will expose them to new authors/titles that will broaden their own world.  Do not reserve diverse texts for a few months but have them on display at all times.

While I have grown, I have a long way to go.  My wish-list of books right now are a few hundred titles deep, especially as I focus on the sub-groups that are severely underrepresented in our library.  I am still educating myself, seeking out new titles, and seeking out those that know more than me.  If you want to see books that are getting added to our classroom library, follow me on Instagram as I share all new titles there.

One picture book that I urging every one to read and buy is this one

when-we-were-alone

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson and Julie Fleet.  

From Amazon:

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Our Mock Caldecott Winners 2017

For the past week my students have been busy dissecting, discussing, and loving picture books as we tried to select the one winner and three honors books for the 2017 Caldecott.  This is the second year I have done this exploration with 7th graders and as one student told me, “This is one of my favorite units” and I agree.  Picture books allow all of my students to access tough issues, complex ideas, and also to gain a new appreciation for this artform.  They are a constant companion of what we do in our classroom and in our reading journey.  They form the ties of our community.  Delving into these books have allowed my students to think deeply about their own opinions and also worked on their debating skills.  While our exploration was short, I used some ideas from Jes Lifshitz’s longer Caldecott unit and then meshed my own ideas with it.  To see her post go here.

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Some of our Mock Caldecott potentials

 

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Love these beginning thoughts from my students.

I asked each class to come up with one winner and three honors books.  Here are our choices:

 

1st Hour

Honor:  Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Honor:  They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:  Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead

 

Winner:  The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

 

3rd Hour

Honor: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Honor: 

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Winner: A tie between 

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

And

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

5th Hour

Honor:

Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe

Honor:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Winner:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

6th Hour

Honor:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:

Ada’s Violin – The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Honor:

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman illustrated Beth Krommes

Winner:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

7th Hour

Honor:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

Honor:

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Honor:

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman illustrated Beth Krommes

Winner:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Now we wait until January 23rd to see how right or wrong we were