Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice resources 23.2

Policy Matters

Advocating for English Learners: Selected Essays

By James Crawford
(Multilingual Matters, 2008)
$24.95, 193 pp.

Writer and advocate James Crawford has assembled 18 of his essays that deal with issues ranging from how the No Child Left Behind law hurts English language learners to the “Ten Common Fallacies about Bilingual Education.” In these essays, Crawford blends research, history, and knowledge of what’s really happening in classrooms. This collection will help all those who advocate for rights and quality education for English learners.

Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right

By Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, Tamara Wilder
(Economic Policy Institute, 2008)
$19.95, 268 pp.

“No Child Left Behind has backfired on the very children and schools we set out to help,” write the authors of this comprehensive critique of the federal law. According to the authors, NCLB undermines essential components of public education, denies students the opportunity to develop in non-tested subjects, and distorts the teaching of reading and math. In addition to the NCLB critique, the authors offer commonsense proposals for resetting educational goals to include critical thinking, physical and emotional health, citizenship, and appreciation for arts and literature. The authors argue that such goals cannot be measured primarily by standardized tests and suggest a variety of alternatives, including on-site observations and “expert” evaluation of student work. They also maintain that accountability systems should be school-based and state-administered, taking the federal government out of the picture. While it’s doubtful one will agree with every proposal, the framework present in Grading Education could provide the basis of a much-needed conversation as Congress moves to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Children’s Books

*Hip Hop Speaks to Children: a Celebration of Poetry with a Beat

Edited by Nikki Giovanni
(Sourcebooks, Inc., 2008)
$19.99, 72 pp.

This “read-and-play-it-to-me-again” collection of poetry with a beat entertains and educates all ages. The introduction by Nikki Giovanni recounts the history of rhythm, rap, and hip hop, emphasizing stories of resistance and creativity during enslavement, including the funding cutbacks in the 1970s that led young people to invent their own sound in the absence of school bands and arts programs. The collection starts with Eloise Greenfield and includes Gwendolyn Brooks, Gil Scott-Heron, Gary Soto, Langston Hughes, the Sugarhill Gang, Queen Latifah, Mos Def, Tupac Shakur, W.E.B. Dubois and many more. An accompanying CD with 30 performances, many read by the author, makes this book a lovely gift.

*Little Brother

By Cory Doctorow
(Tor Teen Books, 2008)
$17.95, 384 pp., Hardback

Set in the very near future, Little Brother goes to technological places that Orwell’s Big Brother couldn’t. Shortly after the government crackdown, a group of high school kids figure out how to circumvent the authorities’ surveillance techniques and launch a movement to jam the system. The author deftly weaves in history lessons on related topics such as the Free Speech Movement and Emma Goldman. Just watch what happens to the teacher who dares to teach about past mass citizen movements.

Teenagers will love Little Brother and adults will also have a hard time putting this book down, even if it is geared toward the more tech-savvy generation. 


By Kathryn Otoshi
(Ko Kids Books, 2008)
$16.95, unpaginated

An engaging story for very young children based on colors and numbers about “blue, a quiet color,” who gets bullied by “hot head red.” The other colors feel sorry for blue, but never stand up to red. Then “One” comes along. He — would have been nice to have some more female characters — tells the other colors that they count and encourages them to take a stand. They do, introducing readers to not just the power of “one” as the book’s title suggests, but more importantly to the strength of numbers and collective action.

Oranges in No Man’s Land

By Elizabeth Laird
(Haymarket Books, 2008)

Ayesha, a young girl whose life has been forever changed when her mother dies in the Lebanese civil war, lives in a battle-scarred building with her grandmother and dozens of other displaced persons.

The girl’s quest for life and normalcy amidst a war she doesn’t understand is challenged when she must go out and find medicine for her ailing grandmother. A simple story of courage that doesn’t try to explain the complexities of the civil war, shows both the havoc of any war and how children learn to cope. Educators who use this book should educate themselves about the background of the war, including its colonial legacy, to be able to answer children’s questions.

Free to Be You and Me

By Marlo Thomas
(Running Press, 2008)
130 pp. & CD sampler, $19.95

The classic children’s anthology originally published 35 years ago with support of the Ms. Foundation has been re-released with additional material and new artwork. Over two dozen poems, stories, and songs inspire children to be themselves and to respect everyone for who they are. The CD includes songs that young children will love. The strong emphasis on gender equity and stereotypes is done creatively. This beautifully crafted book is an excellent resource for teachers and parents.

Curriculum Resources

*Lessons from Freedom Summer: Ordinary People Building Extraordinary Movements

By Kathy Emery, Linda Reid Gold and Sylvia Braselmann
Foreword by Howard Zinn
(Common Courage Press, 2008)
$24.95, 456 pp

A well-organized collection of readings and suggested questions on Freedom Schools and some of the historical events that preceded them. Lessons from Freedom Summer invites middle and high school students to not only study this core yet often ignored story from the Civil Rights Movement, but also to rethink the purpose and possibilities of schooling today. Part history text, part curriculum, part invitation to activism, Lessons from Freedom Summer is enormously useful and inspirational.

The Path of Most Resistance
A U.S. Radical History Tour 2009 Peace Calendar

Edited by Judith Mahoney Pasternak
(War Resisters League, 2008)
$14.95, unpaginated

It’s winter: time to look for a new calendar for the coming year. But The Path of Most Resistance is more than a calendar, it’s a celebration of social justice resistance throughout U.S. history: sharecropper organizing in the Great Depression, Native Americans’ struggles at Wounded Knee, Chicano activism in the 1960s, anti-nuclear civil disobedience, an 1811 slave rebellion in Louisiana, and many more. These short readings could be used as classroom prompts to spark further research, as the basis of a radical history “tea party,” or simply as an inspiring reminder that history is not made just by politicians and generals.

*The Real Cost of Prisons Comix

Edited by Lois Ahrens
Comix by Kevin Pyle, Sabrina Jones and Susan Willmarth
(PM Press, 2008)
$12.95, unpaginated

Between the 1920s and 1960s, about one out of every one thousand people in the United States were incarcerated. By 2000, about five out of every thousand people were incarcerated. With compassion, insight, plain language, and compelling images, The Real Cost of Prisons peels back this startling statistic to explore the human stories it hides. Student-friendly comic chapters examine prison towns; the so-called “war on drugs” and prisoners; and women prisoners and children. The U.S. prison-industrial complex deserves a bigger place in the curriculum. This slim volume is an excellent start.

Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan
Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations

Edited by Iraq Veterans Against the War and Aaron Glantz
(Haymarket Books, 2008)
$16, 237 pp.

Over the course of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we’ve heard a lot from George Bush, Dick Cheney, congresspeople, senators, and pundits. But we’ve heard very little from the people who have fought in and lived through these wars. The eyewitness testimonies in Winter Soldier speak honestly and graphically about the nature of war, and what it does to people. This is an essential book for anyone wanting to teach about the impact of U.S. military intervention around the world. The short personal statements make this an especially helpful classroom resource.