“School is a place where many issues facing our nation rise to the forefront. As teachers, how do we best prepare our students to face and discuss social justice concerns? For many of us, books offer a solid place to start.” – Katherine Bassett, National Network of State Teachers of the Year

Teaching social justice opens doors for students to think critically and actively about many of the issues facing our world today. The following social justice books for elementary readers provide opportunities for students to recognize and act on social inequalities and help build empathy and compassion by examining oppression and privilege. 

Social Justice Books for Elementary Readers

1. Unsung Heroes of Social Justice

Social Justice Booklist: Unsung Heroes

 

Todd Kortemeier’s collection of brief biographies of lesser-known advocates for social justice is great for introducing students to a wide-variety of individuals and causes. From Frank Bowe’s protests to gain civil rights for those with disabilities to Bayard Rustin’s organizing the March on Washington, these unsung heroes made the world a better place.

Interest Level: Grades 3-6

Lexile Level: 710

Guided Reading Level: S

 

 

2. Sylvia & Aki

social justice books for elementary readers: Sylvia and Aki

Based on the groundbreaking Mendez v Westminster desegregation lawsuit, Winifred Conkling’s historical novel tells the true story of two young girls who experienced the injustices of internment camps and school segregation. 

Interest Level: 4-7

Lexile Level: 760

Guided Reading Level: S

 

 

 

3. Give A Goat

social justice books for elementary readers: give a goat

 

This nonfiction book tells the story of a class that was moved to work together to donate a goat to a family in need. Students and teachers may even be inspired to start their own philanthropic cause!

Interest Level: 3-5

Lexile Level: 810

 

 

 

4. Pride: Celebrating Diversity & Community

Social Justice Booklist for Elementary Students: Pride

This beautifully done Stonewall Honor Book by Robin Stevenson is about celebrating and understanding the LGBT+ community. From the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969 which led to the Pride celebrations to the laws in other countries that offer no protection to the LGBT+ community, the fight for LGBT+ rights is far from over.

Interest Level: 4-12

Lexile Level: 1170

Guided Reading Level: Z

 

 

5. Free? Stories about Human Rights

free

Geared towards older elementary readers, this anthology from Amnesty International features short stories from top children’s authors from around the globe. Each entry focuses on one or more of our human rights. The back of the book also contains a simplified version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Interest Level: 6-12

Lexile Level: 750

Guided Reading Level: Y

 

 

6. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Cessay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

Social Justice Books for Elementary Readers: One Plastic Bag

At first glance, this may seem like a simple story about enterprising women who turned trash into treasures. But in Katie Cunningham’s review of the title for School Library Journal, she reminds educators how easily social justice discussions can stem from this book:

“In Njau, we see the ways plastic bags were thrown on the ground when they broke littering the streets as mosquito-infested waters pooled in them and animals’ lives were threatened. Ask students to consider these actions from a social justice perspective. Specifically, you can support students to think about the lack of local resources in Njau for trash disposal and compare it with resources in your students’ local community.  Do they, for example, have local recycling centers and grocery store collection of used plastic bags? What should the global response be to help parts of the world with fewer internal resources?”

Interest Level: K-3

Lexile Level: AD480

Guided Reading Level: P

 

7. How To Raise Money For A Cause

Social justice books for elementary students: How to Raise Money for a Cause

 

This informational text helps students find ways to raise money to support causes they care about. It emphasizes the role that even students can play in making the world a better place.

Interest Level: Grades 4-6

Guided Reading Level: U

 

 

 

 

 8. Grandmama’s Pride

Social Justice Books for Elementary Readers: Grandmama's Pride

With a focus on family relationships, tolerance and the Civil Rights Movement, Becky Birtha’s work of historical fiction allows students to see into a time in our nation’s history when prejudice was common. Possibilities for classroom discussions of social justice based on the story of six-year-old Sarah-Marie’s eye-opening visit to see her Grandmama in the South in the summer of 1956 are endless.  

Interest Level: P-3

 

 

9. Social Activism Online: Getting Involved

Social Justice Books for Elementary Readers: Social Activism Online

 

Show students how to get involved in worthwhile causes via social media and other online platforms with this comprehensive guide to fighting for a cause in the digital age. 

Interest Level: 5-8

Guided Reading Level: Z

 

 

 

10. 10 Things I Can Do To Help My World

Social Justice Books for Elementary Readers: 10 Things I can Do to Help My World

 

This charming picture book by Melanie Walsh features die-cut pages highlighting simple ways even young students can impact the world for the better.

Interest Level: P-1

Guided Reading Level: K

 

 

 

 

11. Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Stormy Seas

 

Aimed at middle grade students, this nonfiction title features five true refugee stories, along with rich text features like sidebars, fact boxes and suggested resources for further reading. Students can gain new insights into the global refugee crisis and better understand the plight of refugees risking everything for the chance at a better life. 

Interest Level: 4-8

Lexile Level: 890

 

 

More Social Justice Booklists and Resources

Social justice is an important topic, and one that can be easily woven throughout your curriculum. To learn more, or to discover more social justice books for elementary readers, check out the following links: 

Social Justice Book ListNNSTOY (National Network of State Teachers of the Year)

Creating Classrooms for Social JusticeEdutopia 

A Collection of Resources for Teaching Social JusticeCult of Pedagogy

Multicultural and Social Justice Early Elementary Chapter BooksSocial Justice Books: A Teaching Project for Change

Children’s Books That Incorporate Principles of Restorative JusticeEducators for Social Justice

 

Booksource Social Justice Collections 

social justice books for elementary students: grades K-2 social justice books for elementary students: grades 3-6 social justice book for elementary readers grade 5
Social Justice Grades K-2 Social Justice Grades 3-6  Social Justice Grade 5 Comprehensive Library