Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice resources 28.3

Elementary School

Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

By Gretchen Woelfle
Illustrated by Alix Delinois
(Carolrhoda Books, 2014)
32 pp.

Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence gives young readers a slavery-to-freedom narrative that is clever, honest, and age-appropriate. Gretchen Woelfle’s recounting of Elizabeth Freeman’s true story of resistance and liberation is smartly written and beautifully illustrated. Readers are introduced to Mumbet, a black woman enslaved in Massachusetts in 1776, at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Mumbet, believing the promise of freedom belongs to her as well, successfully brings a lawsuit against her owners and chooses the name Elizabeth Freeman. Kids will root for this intelligent, brave heroine who confronted the terrible nature of slavery in the United States and set the precedent for black people to be free in Massachusetts.

Before We Eat: From Farm to Table

By Pat Brisson
Illustrated by Mary Azarian
(Tilbury House, 2014)
32 pp.

This simple, lovely children’s book begins: “As we sit around this table / let’s give thanks as we are able / to all the folks we’ll never meet / who helped provide this food we eat.” Brilliant full-color illustrations honor the labor that brings food “from farm to table.” Before We Eat might prompt children to illustrate books on people and processes behind other things we take for granted.


House of Purple Cedar

By Tim Tingle
(Cinco Puntos Press, 2014)
328 pp.

Giving voice to characters is perhaps Tim Tingle’s greatest strength. His House of Purple Cedar opens with Rose, a young Choctaw girl, saying: “The hour has come to speak of troubled times. It is time we spoke of Skullyville.” Through her, we see horrific racism in the late 1800s in Oklahoma. A Choctaw boarding school is set afire, the girls inside burned to death. Two years later at the train station, the town marshal—drunk and enraged about arriving too late to greet the new Indian agent—takes his rage out on Amafo (Rose’s elderly grandfather) by striking him on the side of his head with a plank. But we see goodness, too, in the townspeople who, along with Amafo, choose to stand against racism. Tingle’s story is characterized by the persevering humanity of the Choctaw people at a time when they were under assault by those driven by greed and racism. Grades 9 and above.


Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds

By Sonia Nieto
(Heinemann, 2013)
179 pp.

For this accessible book, renowned scholar and educator Sonia Nieto asked 22 teachers from around the country how they thrive in these tough times. The answer emerges in their stories: love and social justice. At a moment in history when it’s so easy for educators to become discouraged, this volume offers wisdom and hope grounded in the day-to-day reality of school life.

The Right to Stay Home: How U.S. Policy Drives Mexican Migration

By David Bacon
(Beacon Press, 2013)
309 pp.

This well-researched and story-rich piece of investigative reporting fills an important hole in most teaching about immigration: Why do people leave their homes for the United States? And does the United States have responsibility for why they can’t stay at home? The first chapter, which would work for many high school readers, takes on the impact of NAFTA and the role of Smithfield Foods in destroying the Perote Valley in Veracruz, Mexico. Bacon catches up with members of the community, forced to emigrate and now working at a slaughterhouse in North Carolina. Oral history narratives follow each chapter.

Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap

By Paul Gorski
(Teachers College Press, 2013)
216 pp.

This book is a powerful tool for educators trying to resist the “culture of poverty” deficit thinking embedded in so many schools’ practices and policies. Rather than trying to “fix” poor kids and their families, Gorski provides a deep understanding of the complexity of poverty and its causes, as well as clear and practical suggestions for how best to create and sustain equitable learning environments for students from low-income and working-class families. Written in accessible language, this invaluable resource should be required reading for all teachers, and could be the cornerstone for professional development related to working with kids in poverty.

Middle/High School Curriculum

Yes! We Are Latinos

By Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy
Illustrated by David Diaz
(Charlesbridge, 2013)
96 pp.

Through poetry and nonfiction, Yes! We Are Latinos introduces middle and high school readers to a wide range of Latina/o heritages and histories. Each chapter begins with a poem about a specific person, followed by a sophisticated yet reader-friendly historical essay. Topics include indigenous roots, migrant farmworkers, immigration, the Spanish Civil War, African Latina/o identity, Chinese and Japanese history in Latin America, and many more.

Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War

Edited by Fred Branfman
Essays and drawings by Laotian villagers
(University of Wisconsin Press, 2013)
176 pp.

In his foreword, Alfred McCoy notes that “by April 1973, the [U.S.] Air Force had dropped an estimated 2.1 million tons of bombs on Laos, which was the equivalent to the entire tonnage the United States dropped on industrialized Germany and Japan during the whole of World War II.” Through poetry, songs, drawings, and other first-person testimony, Laotian villagers tell the story of the incessant U.S. bombing—a secret war brought to light by Fred Branfman, who collected these accounts for the first edition of Voices from the Plain of Jars in 1972. This is an essential teaching resource for a unit on the “American war” in Southeast Asia.

Lawrence and the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike

By Robert Forrant and Susan Grabski
(Arcadia Publishing, 2013)
127 pp.

This collection of hundreds of photos and primary documents brings to life one of the pivotal strikes in U.S. history—the 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts, “Bread and Roses” textile workers strike. Robert Forrant and Susan Grabski painstakingly compiled this collection and included detailed captions for each image. The chapters include life and work in Lawrence, the outbreak of the strike, the children being sent away, congressional hearings, the court trial, and the strike in popular memory. The introduction quotes a mill worker who says at the end of the strike: “We are a new people. We will never stand again what we have stood before.” Thanks to Forrant and Grabski, we can now see and understand that jubilation.

Reviewed by Bill Bigelow, Deborah Menkart, Allyson Criner Brown, Debbie Reese, Jody Sokolower, and Katy Swalwell