Our picks for books, videos, websites, and other social justice education resources 26.2

Check out these valuable resources, reviewed by Rethinking Schools editors and Teaching for Change colleagues.

Curriculum Resources

News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media

By Juan González and Joseph Torres
(Verso, 2011)
456 pp., $29.95

This is a people’s history of the media in the United States, written by two journalists through the lens of race. The book documents how the media have played many roles with respect to race and racism—from ignoring institutionalized racism to actually functioning as a key pillar of racism by stirring up hatred and violence against people of color. In addition to the well-researched stories of the media’s oppressive role, there are dozens of inspiring stories of the Native American, African American, Latina/o, and Asian American journalists and news outlets that we rarely learn about in school. Although written for adults, there are vignettes and facts that can be pulled to highlight the role of the media in language arts, journalism, and U.S. history courses.

Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence

By Christian Parenti
(Nation Books, 2011)
295 pp., $25.99 (hardback)

Tropic of Chaos is an important book for teachers, especially because of the wretched treatment of the climate crisis in mandated corporate-produced curriculum materials. Parenti argues that the dimensions of the climate crisis—and how we might address it—cannot be grasped apart from its connection to other global crises. Parenti calls this “collision of political, economic, and environmental disasters” a catastrophic convergence. Problems are not simply added one to another, he argues, but instead they “compound and amplify each other.” Stories from Africa, Asia, and Latin America illustrate Parenti’s thesis. Skilled high school students could read some parts of the book; however, whether or not we share Parenti’s actual words with our classes, we need to devise ways to incorporate his analysis into our curriculum.

Picture Books

Roses for Isabella

By Diana Cohn
Illustrated by Amy Córdova
(SteinerBooks, 2011)
32 pp., $17.95

A young Ecuadoran, Isabella, is the central figure in this book for 1st-grade readers and above. The story’s narrative structure is unusual in that details about Ecuador, flower farms, and fair trade emerge through excerpts of young Isabella’s forays into writing. We learn more about her parents’ experiences working for flower farms as we watch her essays and poems improve in detail and structure. Ultimately, Isabella’s poem “A Better World Is Blooming” is painted above the entrance to the fair trade farm. The illustrations bring color to the story and emphasize the international symbols for fair trade. An afterword by Fair Trade USA activist Lynn Lohr provides background information about the movement. For elementary teachers looking to integrate issues of justice and global perspectives into their literacy blocks, this book is an excellent resource.

Which Side Are You On? The Story of a Song

By George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Christopher Cardinale
(Cinco Puntos Press, 2011)
40 pp., $17.95

Coming on the scene 80 years after the song it commemorates, this book is poised to be a classic for introducing young readers to the history of the U.S. labor movement. Through the eyes of Omie, a miner’s daughter, we learn how the famous union folksong “Which Side Are You On?” was born during the 1931 Harlan County, Kentucky, coal miners’ strike. Under a hail of bullets from anti-union “gun thugs” attacking the family’s home, Omie’s mother, Florence Reece, wrote the song, set to a familiar tune, to explain the importance of the strike and to keep up spirits in the midst of its dangers. Omie’s father shared the song with his fellow union members, and it grew into the multi-verse ballad sung today. The book is a feast for the eyes and ears: striking illustrations, akin to wood-carved graphic novel panels, accompany the rich Kentucky dialect-infused text and interwoven song lyrics. The author’s note at the end of the story adds context for the strike and a detailed bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Elementary Books

Dancing Home

By Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta
(Atheneum, 2011)
147 pp., $14.99

Award-winning author Alma Flor Ada partnered with her son to write this upper elementary chapter book about immigration and identity in a Mexican American family. Chapters alternate between the voices of two cousins, Margie and Lupe. Margie has grown up in the United States and tries to hide her Mexican heritage so that she can be accepted as an “American” by her peers. Lupe has just arrived from Mexico and faces the challenge of leaving her immediate family and struggling with classes in a second language after being a top student at home. The story shows how the teasing of peers and stereotypical beliefs about who is an American can affect the lives and relations of young children. Flor Ada, internationally renowned as a multicultural educator as well as an author, weaves references to other children’s literature, the campaign to save dolphins, and Mexican cultural traditions through the story. All this makes it an excellent text for class discussions and projects. As the title implies, the characters find home—their cultural home—in an affirming, heartwarming ending.


Youth Organizing! Disabled and Proud


This is the website for Yo!, an organization that “connects, organizes, and educates youth with disabilities with youth leadership opportunities, social networks, resources, and more.” The vibrant, dynamic website is also valuable for teachers to find information and resources to combat the invisibility of disabilities in the curriculum.

DVDs/ Films

Maestra (Teacher)

By Catherine Murphy
(The Literacy Project, 2011)
32 min.

This brief and engaging documentary tells the story of 100,000 Cuban teenagers, most of them girls, who participated in Cuba’s 1961 literacy campaign. Historical footage and current-day interviews bring the campaign to life. Most compelling to U.S. students will be the stories of the girls themselves, many of them middle school age, who left their families to take on major responsibilities far away. Fifty years later, the brigadistas reminisce about the independence and self-confidence they gained from the great adventure and the trust the country placed in them—in one year, they taught more than 700,000 people to read and write! (In English with voiceovers.)

And, as long as we’re mentioning literacy campaigns, this is an opportunity to pass along a reminder of one of our favorite books: And Also Teach Them to Read, by Sheryl Hirshon (Lawrence Hill and Co., 1983), a first-person narrative of the 1980 Nicaraguan literacy campaign—filled with humor, insight, and inspiration.

The Story of Broke: Why There’s Still Plenty of Money to Build a Better Future

Produced by Annie Leonard
(Story of Stuff Project, 2011)
8 min.

Short on time to learn and teach about the current economic crisis? If your answer is yes, then check out this viewer-friendly animated film. In just eight minutes the film explains how there really is enough money to fund all the things we need (such as health care, good schools, a clean environment), but “dumb” choices—choices that benefit the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent—are causing the government to say it is broke. The Story of Broke is the latest in the Story of Stuff Series of short films on environmental and economic issues that make complicated issues easy to understand for middle school to adult viewers.

Compiled by Bill Bigelow, Deborah Menkart, Jody Sokolower, and Katy Swalwell.