Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice resources 33.4

Picture Books

The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives

By Eloise Greenfield
Illustrated by Daniel Minter
(Alazar Press, 2019)
32 pp.

Renowned children’s book author Eloise Greenfield opens her latest title with a note to readers: “I want to take you back only as far as the Africa of a few hundred years ago. That’s when millions of Africans were forced from their homelands, brought to America, and enslaved. Some of the enslaved were midwives.” This unique picture book begins with historic background on the work of midwives, written in prose that is accessible to young readers and accompanied by archival photographs. The book then switches to poetry and stunningly beautiful illustrations — with vignettes from lives of midwives during slavery, emancipation, and today. Greenfield closes with a poem about the midwife who “caught” her when she was born, Miss Rovenia Mayo of Parmele, North Carolina.


Sing a Song: How “Lift Every Voice and Sing” Inspired Generations

By Kelly Starling Lyons
Illustrated by Keith Mallett
(Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019)
32 pp.

We should all know the story and words of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and now thanks to this picture book, we can. Author Kelly Starling Lyons tells the 120-year history of the song through generations of her family who have passed it on — starting with a young girl who learned it in 1900 in Jacksonville, Florida, from her principal (James Weldon Johnson) and his brother. They wrote the song and music that have given strength and inspiration to African Americans through many of the trials and celebrations described in the book — the Great Migration, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, graduations, and the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).


Carter Reads the Newspaper

By Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by Don Tate
(Peachtree, 2019)
36 pp.

One of the most important advocates for teaching the full story of African Americans in U.S. history was Dr. Carter G. Woodson. He founded Negro History Week in 1926 (which grew into Black History Month), the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), and the Journal of Negro History. He is quoted as saying, “This crusade [to teach Black history] is much more important than the anti-lynching movement, because there would be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom.” Carter Reads the Newspaper chronicles Woodson’s early life. As the child of parents who had both been enslaved, it infuriated Woodson that their lives were not included in school books. While working in the coal mines in Appalachia, Woodson was asked to read the newspaper to his fellow miners who were illiterate. They asked lots of questions that led Woodson to conduct research and eventually to pursue higher education, including earning a doctorate at Harvard University. He was the second African American to do so. We hope that this picture book will lead students and teachers to read Woodson in his own words, in particular The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933), which is sadly still relevant today.



Amazing Iowa Women

Katy Swalwell
(Raygun, 2018)
67 pp.

You don’t have to be from Iowa to find this short book to be an excellent teaching resource. Rethinking Schools contributor and Iowa State University professor Katy Swalwell scoured Iowa history to find women who “shared their skills and talents with others to overcome obstacles and help make the world a better place.” There is Judy Herron Hoit, “amazing inventor,” whose work helping people with disabilities led her to invent Pakkie, a lightweight sling that allows someone to be lifted more easily. Edna Griffin, “amazing civil rights activist,” led sit-ins and other protests against racial segregation. In 1948, the Des Moines Katz Drug Store refused to serve Griffin along with two friends and her young daughter. Fifty years later, the building was named in honor of Griffin. Each biography is brief and lively. Of course, there are “amazing women” everywhere, and this book can prompt similar projects by teachers in every state. Swalwell’s amazingiowa.com website offers additional curriculum ideas and more resources.


Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything American History Textbooks Get Wrong, Young Readers’ Edition

By James W. Loewen
Adapted by Rebecca Stefoff
(The New Press, 2019)
282 pp.

The Young Readers’ Edition of James Loewen’s classic text Lies My Teacher Told Me not only imparts vital history left out of textbooks, it also prepares the next generation to be critical readers of the media. What better place for students to develop critical literacy skills than with the textbooks that fill their backpacks every day. Loewen alerts students to the particular types of lies and silences that permeate textbooks and the mainstream media in narratives about race, land, the climate, foreign policy, war, political leadership, and economics. Countless teachers have tossed their textbooks aside after reading Lies My Teacher Told Me. Now younger readers will join the ranks, insisting that they should learn the truth about history and current events outside the textbook.


Repair: Redeeming the Promise of Abolition

By Katherine Franke
(Haymarket, 2019)
181 pp.

Reparations has finally made it into the mainstream. In 2019, Democratic presidential candidates field questions about whether African Americans should receive compensation for the injustice of slavery, Jim Crow, and their modern legacies. So far, these public discussions have been vague, mealymouthed, and unsatisfyingly ahistorical. Not so with Katherine Franke’s short-but-powerful book calling for reparations. Three of Repair‘s four chapters take a deep dive into Reconstruction, the era following the Civil War, a key turning point when African Americans were freed, but not yet free, and struggling to be the authors of their own liberation. These chapters emphasize the power and promise of Reconstruction while reckoning with white supremacy’s success in thwarting full emancipation. Franke lays out this history of freedom-lost, finally, to make the case that it levies “moral demands on the present.” Those who have been the beneficiaries of massive transfers of intergenerational wealth, she writes, have “an obligation to disgorge what is truly an unjust enrichment.” Franke writes in refreshingly readable prose that can be easily excerpted for use in high school classrooms.



Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology

Edited by Melissa Tuckey
(University of Georgia Press, 2018)
460 pp.

We don’t have a language to describe the infinite horror of the environmental collapse we are facing. But: “Poetry has a lot to offer a world in crisis,” writes Ghost Fishing editor Melissa Tuckey. “For centuries poets have given voice to our collective trauma: they name injustices, reclaim stolen language, and offer us courage to imagine a more just world. In a world out of balance, poetry is an act of cultural resilience.” It’s impossible not to find poems in this fine volume that could be used across the curriculum. This is not an “Isn’t nature beautiful!” book. It begins with colonial dispossession, and includes chapters on the environmental crime of war, food and culture, resource extraction, resistance, and the Global South. Although the book features great stylistic diversity, the link between people, power, and nature weaves through the book, as in June Jordan’s “Focus in Real Time”: “Who grew these grains/Who owned the land/Who harvested the crop/Who converted these soft particles to money/Who kept the cash . . .”



By Eve L. Ewing
(Haymarket, 2019)
73 pp.

Eve L. Ewing’s latest book of poetry opens with the declaration “This book is a story.” The story is the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, one episode in a national epidemic of white mob violence known as Red Summer that happened 100 years ago. Ewing surfaces the riot’s causes, consequences, perpetrators, victims, and bystanders — with the city of Chicago itself a main character — through photographs, poetry, and excerpts from a 1922 report, “The Negro in Chicago: A Study on Race Relations and a Race Riot.” In “Jump/Rope,” Ewing adopts a classic jump rope rhyme to share the story of Eugene Williams, the Black teenager who drowned after white onlookers threw rocks at him while swimming in Lake Michigan, and whose murder sparked the riot. She writes:

Little Eugene Gene Gene
Sweetest I’ve seen seen seen
His mama told him him
Them white boys mean mean mean

He didn’t listen listen listen
To what mama say say say
Went to the lake lake lake
That July day day day

By the end of the book, the reader has indeed been told a story, one that our students deserve to know and one that our classrooms would be the richer for sharing.

Teaching Issues

We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom

By Bettina L. Love
(Beacon Press, 2019)
192 pp.

Bettina L. Love’s new book is uncategorizable in the best way possible. It is memoir, history, indictment, textbook, guide, and manifesto. All of these flesh out Love’s central proposition: that those who care about education and social justice would do well to model themselves after 19th-century abolitionists by “demanding the impossible.” She writes, “Abolitionist teaching is the practice of working in solidarity with communities of color while drawing on the imagination, creativity, refusal, (re)membering, visionary thinking, healing, rebellious spirit, boldness, determination, and subversiveness of abolitionists to eradicate injustice in and outside of schools.” Love moves back and forth from specific educational injustices (the glorification of “grit” and other forms of “character education,” for example) to models of activism (Lewis and Harriet Hayden, Ella Baker, Black Lives Matter at School) to her own experiences as a Black student, teacher, and now college professor. Educators who aspire to activism will find inspiration in the pages of this book.


About Becoming a Teacher

By William Ayers
(Teachers College Press, 2019)
86 pp.

William Ayers is an always-astute writer on the relationship between teaching and society; he is critical, funny, philosophical, poetic, warm. In this compact volume, Ayers takes on essential questions confronting preservice and early-career teachers — for example, Should I become a teacher? How can I get to know my students? What is my role in curriculum-making? How can I create some productive classroom arrangements and a bit of positive forward motion with a group of energetic (or disruptive!) kids? What commitments should I bring with me into the classroom? Ayers asks teachers to figure out “what you’re teaching for and what you’re teaching against.” About Becoming a Teacher would pair wonderfully with Rethinking Schools’ The New Teacher Book.

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Reviewed by Bill Bigelow, Deborah Menkart, and Ursula Wolfe-Rocca