Our picks for books and other resources for social justice teaching 30.3

Picture Books

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music

By Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Rafael López
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)
48 pp.

Millo Castro Zaldarriaga not only loved the sound of drums, she wanted to play them. Persistent in her pursuit of this dream, Zaldarriaga, who was Chinese African Cuban, broke the gender barrier in the early 1930s at the age of 10. She went on to become a world-famous musician. Author Margarita Engle’s true story of Zaldarriaga and Rafael López’s gorgeous illustrations make Drum Dream Girl engaging and informative for all ages. Not only is it a beautiful book in and of itself, it is also one of the all too rare picture books about a person of color who is not on the short list of well-known figures. We need many more books like this to introduce young readers to unsung heroes. Early childhood and up.

Freedom in Congo Square

By Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
(Bonnier Publishing, 2016)
40 pp.

Freedom in Congo Square introduces children to the brutality of slavery and the role of culture in resistance. The award-winning team of author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator R. Gregory Christie describes the life of those enslaved on a plantation, using the days of the week to introduce types of labor, punishments, escapes, religion, and more. Exuberance fills the pages for Sundays when people held in slavery are allowed to gather in Congo Square to rest for a half day, exchange news, play music, and experience “freedom’s heart.” One critique, and something that can be addressed in a read-aloud, is that “slaves” is used throughout, instead of “enslaved Africans” or “enslaved people.”

Last Stop on Market Street

By Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
(Putnam, 2015)

Matt de la Peña’s picture book Last Stop on Market Street, illustrated by Christian Robinson, tells the story of a young boy, CJ, riding the city bus with his grandmother and finding the beauty in their community. When CJ complains about not having a car and getting wet in the rain, Nana turns each grievance into a lesson to help her grandson notice what’s right and good in their world. They don’t need a car because, as Nana tells CJ, “We got a bus that breathes fire and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you.” When CJ questions her about a man who can’t see, his grandmother says, “Boy, what do you know about seeing? Some people watch the world with their ears.” Last Stop reminds children to find beauty all around them, while also taking note of and questioning inequity.

Middle School

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse

By Joseph Marshall III
Illustrations by Jim Yellowhawk
(Amulet Books, 2015)
176 pp.

In children’s literature, Native peoples are too often depicted as peoples of the past. They ride horses, their dark hair flowing in the wind as they chase down a buffalo. Joseph Marshall III’s book, in contrast, is about a present-day Native American youth. At the heart of the story is Jimmy, a young Lakota boy whose mixed ancestry means that, unlike his peers, he’s got light hair and blue eyes. He gets teased for his appearance. His grandfather decides to take him on a road trip. Along the way, Jimmy learns about Crazy Horse, who had light-colored hair, too. Most stories about military leaders emphasize their heroism, but Jimmy’s grandfather also provides much-needed context about the grim realities of war. Mutilations, he tells Jimmy, are horrible, no matter who inflicts them. Jimmy and his grandpa visit a monument that marks the site of a battle. To Lakota people, it is the Battle of the Hundred in the Hand. In U.S. history books, however, it is the Fetterman Massacre—who tells history matters. The story of this warm and engaging road trip ought to be taught in every classroom.


When We Fight We Win!

By Greg Jobin-Leeds and AgitArte
(The New Press, 2016)
186 pp.

In this beautiful book, Greg Jobin-Leeds and AgitArte set out to articulate lessons from the emerging 21st-century “social movements and the activists that are transforming our world.” In his introduction, Jobin-Leeds explains that for five years he asked activists—from the LGBTQ, environmental justice, education, immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter, and economic justice movements—what lessons they would like to pass on to future activists. The book’s six chapters are built around the insights he gleaned. Each chapter features a core narrative, along with interviews, short classroom-friendly readings, photographs, and startling posters (some created by Rethinking Schools contributors Favianna Rodriguez, Meredith Stern, Julio Salgado, and Ricardo Levins Morales). At this moment in history, it’s more important than ever that young people recognize how their futures are tied to the vitality of social movements. When We Fight We Win! is a valuable resource for educators as we help students come to see themselves as activists. High school.

Teenage Rebels: Successful High School Activists from the Little Rock 9 to the Class of Tomorrow

By Dawson Barrett
(Microcosm Publishing, 2015)
159 pp.

Teenage Rebels features short, accessible stories—beginning in colonial times, but most focusing on the past 100 years—that show the imagination and diversity of young people rebelling against injustice. Stories include Native American children resisting the oppressive Carlisle Indian Industrial School in the late 1800s; Chicana/o students organizing and walking out during the 1968 “blowouts” in East Los Angeles; 2013 protests against the Greenwich, Connecticut, high school dress code; and the 2014 demonstration against the Keystone XL Pipeline led by students at Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School. One striking omission is the lack of stories about resistance to the institution of slavery. We hope the author will address this gap in future editions. This absence notwithstanding, Teenage Rebels is helpful and timely.

This Changes Everything Study Guide

By Cari Ladd
(This Changes Everything, 2016)

58 pp.

Last year, when we reviewed Naomi Klein’s important book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, we wrote that the book offers “an analysis of our world that needs to shape the entire orientation of the school curriculum.” Now the This Changes Everything folks have produced a teaching guide that draws on Naomi Klein’s book and the excellent film by Avi Lewis that accompanies it. The eight lessons in the guide highlight key themes in the book and film, and offer book excerpts, film clips, discussion questions, and teaching ideas. For example, Lesson No. 5, “Reinventing a Clean and Just Economy,” features the work of Henry Red Cloud, who trains First Nations people in solar energy installation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota: “Spirit of the sun is out there giving warmth, bringing everything back to life. And we’re just part of that. We’re part of bringing our nation back to life.” More than ever, students need to be exposed to alternatives to the “extractivism” that is destroying life on Earth. High school.

Reviewed by Bill Bigelow, Deborah Menkart, Debbie Reese, and Linda Christensen.