Historypalooza 2019 – Promoting civic engagement through children’s lit (And links to 1000s of books)
It comes but once a year. The National Social Studies Supervisors Association and National Council for the Social Studies combined conference. For a history nerd, it’s the winter holiday break, the Final Four, and fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies all rolled into one event.
For three days, it’s about conversations that focus on social studies, tools, resources, evidence, and best practices. So what did I learn?
I’ve noticed that I’m on a bit of an early childhood kick today. It’s probably a good thing – there’s so much more I need to learn about social studies in the elementary classroom.
Dr. Christine Beaudry from Nevada State College is sharing ways to encourage civic engagement through ELA and trade books.
She starts the conversation by asking:
- What do “good” citizens know and do?
- What would our students say?
What kind of citizen? Christine highlighted a structure of different citizen types:
- personally responsive
- justice oriented
We can think of the structure like this:
- a personally responsive kid brings cans of food for the food drive
- a participatory kid organizes the food drive
- A justice oriented kid asks questions about why others are hungry
How are the three types connected? Similarities and differences? Overlaps?
Christine demonstrated a hook activity she uses with students. “Evaluate each statement to determine whether it’s true or false:”
- We can make our lives better by thinking and then changing what we do
- Good citizens create positive changes in their communities
- Good citizen obey the rules
- Children can be active citizens
These are great conversation starters to help move students towards the idea of civic involvement. She also uses photos and analysis questions to jumpstart student thinking about specific topics.
This can lead to great conversation during and after a read aloud with a book such as That’s Not Fair / No Es Justo by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Teneyuca.
- What made Emma protest?
- What was she working for?
- Was what she was working for worth?
- What can cause someone to protest against an official or rule?
- So good citizens protest? Why or why or not?
You could also ask students to use art or photograph primary source analysis worksheets to help them find the nuances in the book’s illustrations. I
Following the read aloud, ask kids to do a quick write / quick draw that encourages them to reflect and record ideas about examples about the three levels of civic participation by identifying specifics actions in the plot.
Christine shared a resource list that provides both great trade book titles as well as some teaching tools.
A similar primary level book is 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
- Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development by Enid Lee
- Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms by H. Richard Milner
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- For White Folks Who Teach In the Hood by Christopher Emdin
- Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon
- March Trilogy by John Lewis
- Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Morris
- We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Futureby Deepa Iyer
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
- #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women by Charleyboy & Leatherdale
- The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu
- Citizen by Claudia Rankine
- Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
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:
- African American Booklist
- Asian Pacific American Booklist
- Hispanic Heritage
- LGBTQ Recommended Reading
- Native American Booklist
- Spanish/English Bilingual Booklist
- Books for Kids Representing Cultural 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:
- 2019 Notable Books
- Past Notable Books
- Best New Fiction for Young Adults
- Newberry Award winners
- Caldecott Award winners
Need a list of Best Books for Every Year of School? Perfect for finding books by grade level.
And definitely don’t forget graphic novels and comics: