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Tip of the Week: How to Find & Use Trade Books to Change the World (and some lists to get you started)

If you aren’t a member, it’s time. Seriously.

If you’re teaching social studies K-12 and not a member of the National Council for the Social Studies, it’s time. Professional organizations in general are a good thing – they support the discipline, provide resources, offer avenues for advocacy, and promote high level conversations between members.

And because the NCSS focuses specifically on social studies, it’s perfect for folks like you and me. There are multiple memberships options available including a digital version. One of the biggest things I get out of my membership are the NCSS journals that arrive in my inbox and mailbox throughout the year. Social Education, Middle Level Learning, and Social Studies and the Young Learner provide a wealth of ready to use resources and teaching strategies.

I’m always finding great ideas to use and share and one of my favorites just showed up. The May / June issue includes their Notable Trade Books pullout and it’s always chock full of hundreds of the latest fiction and non-fiction books perfect for K-8 classrooms. (If you’re High School and are ready to check out seeing that K-8 tag, hang on. Feel free to scroll to the bottom for lists you can use.)

The books that appear are selected by a NCSS Book Review Committee (most of whom are classroom teachers) and assembled in cooperation with the Children’s Book Council. The committee looks for books that emphasize human relations, represent a diversity of groups and are sensitive to a broad range of cultural experiences, present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic, are easily readable and of high literary quality, and have a pleasing format and, illustrations that enrich the text.

So . . . books perfect for use in your classroom. Part of every set of social studies state standards I’ve seen include the integration of reading and writing indicators. Every set of standards encourage the use of fiction and non-fiction books. What better place to find those sorts of resources than a list of the latest from the National Council for the Social Studies?

The latest list is available only to NCSS members – one more reason to sign up – but all of the previous lists can be found online. These go back to 2000, giving you instant access to thousands of books. Each list is broken into different categories such as Biography, Social Issues, Geography, US, and World History.

And each entry on the list includes a few annotations including such things as grade level, brief description, thematic strand, and price.

Almost every issue of the different NCSS journals includes an article or three about ways to use the books found in their Notable Trade Books lists. An example in the current issue shares about a primary level book titled Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights perfect for helping you introduce the ideas and vocabulary of civic action through an engaging alphabet book format.

From “Assemble. Take action. Create allies,” to the final page “Be zealous,” your kids are encouraged to explore complex ideas. Think about the conversations and possible activities that could happen in your classroom with:

  • Educate. Encourage. Endure.
  • Be fearless. Fly a flag. File a lawsuit. Have faith.
  • Inquire. Inform. Imagine. Invite.
  • Ask questions. Never quit. Quietly do what’s right.

The article’s author, Andrea S. Libresco, shares that some of her favorites are those that “juxtapose seemingly contrasting activities:”

  • Stand up. Speak out. Sit down. Sing loud. Be silent.

Think of the academic discomfort, and the resulting discussions, that students may experience as they dig into the meaning of these different activities. Are some activities “better” than others? Do different people engage in different activities? Are some more effective in different places and times?

Libresco suggests using the book as a catalyst for further research by students to help them grapple with what it means to be civically engaged and to help them find ways to get into what Congressman John Lewis calls “good trouble.”

That’s the point, isn’t it? Our job as social studies teachers is to train our kids to change the world. And it’s never too early to start talking about civic engagement.

The cool thing is that while the NCSS Notable Trade Books list should be your first stop, there are lots of other places to find fiction and non-fiction book lists. You might be interested in Every Book is a Social Studies Book  – it’s a goldmine for K-8 folks. Dozens of specific lessons focused on different books that are tied to social studies content and standards. It also has an extensive list of other books. Then head over to this quick post about using trade books to support historical thinking. Then spend some time with these:

Books for teaching diversity, unity, and addressing controversy


I also ran across a number of lists that provide even more options:

  • The Bank Street Children’s Book Committee, the Bank Street College Library, and the School Library Journal got together and developed this list intended to be a starting place to help you create a supportive space to explore these issues and help promote an inclusive, democratic, and just society.
  • The School Library Journal also put together a list they titled Love in Action: Children’s Literature to Promote Hope and Counter Fear that can support your work in “fostering classroom conversations that build compassion and empathy and work toward activism.”
  • Where to Find Diverse Books by a group called We Need Diverse Books.
  • The Skokie Public Library in Illinois created this booklist to offer people of all ages opportunities to dig deeper into the topic of immigration – through fiction and nonfiction – with accounts of historical and contemporary immigration to the United States.
  • The group Social Justice Books curated more than 50 lists of multicultural and social justice books in a variety of topics for children, young adults, and educators.
  • The Anti-Defamation League says that “Books matter. Books have the potential to create lasting impressions. They have the power to instill empathy, affirm children’s sense of self, teach about others, transport to new places and inspire actions on behalf of social justice.” Use this searchable list to find what you’re looking for.

Together with Colorín Colorado, the NEA has compiled several lists focused on diversity:

The Library of Congress has a great sampling of suggested books that spark the imagination and transport readers to new and exciting places. They’ve also provide links to matching online LOC resources.

The American Library Association is an obvious place to find all sorts of book lists:

Need a list of Best Books for Every Year of School? Perfect for finding books by grade level.

How about 19 New Books That Aren’t on High School Reading Lists But Should Be?

And definitely don’t forget graphic novels and comics:

(And don’t forget. It’s time. Join NCSS already.)

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