Moving the Race/Culture Discussion Forward with Teacher Read-Alouds

Teaching Social Justice with Picture Books

Because social justice is defined in a variety of ways, on this website we focus on an understanding of oppression and domination between individuals and groups (Young, 2011) as the starting point for teaching. Teaching for social justice often empowers students to critically examine themselves, others, and institutions with goals of building hope within students as they learn difficult truths, and becoming empowered toward action (Bell, 2007). The process of social justice education often plays itself out in classrooms as teachers and students engage in discussions that allow them to examine life experiences that may be similar or quite different from their own, thereby providing a means to consider multiple viewpoints. Although race and culture are not the only considerations of a social justice orientation, they are our focus.

Moving the Race/Culture Discussion Forward with Teacher Read-Alouds

The goal of this website is to provide teachers with concrete ways to begin discussions with students through teacher read-alouds, a strategy many teachers are comfortable with. We have provided discussion questions for the texts selected for this site that are based on a framework for racial healing proposed by Howard (2016). The framework helps guide discussions by allowing teachers and students to look at each story in four ways, through: honesty, empathy, advocacy, and action. Teachers and students are guided to honestly think about the racial/cultural issue present within the story, and to try to understand the limits of their own knowledge. Empathy guides teachers and students into focusing their attention and world view on others. Empathy without honesty can reproduce cycles of oppression through paternalism so teachers are cautioned to take some time in text selection and preparation of lessons. Through advocacy, teachers and students are encouraged to decide on ways to provide others access to places of power where decisions are made. In the action phase of the discussion, teachers and students are encouraged to actively work to ensure that dominance and oppression ends in ways appropriate for elementary-aged children. It is not intended that every lesson will end in active engagement, but we provide interested teachers and students the opportunity, if they so desire. Once teachers and students learn the honesty, empathy, advocacy, and action framework they can apply it to many other texts and situations.

Engaging Readers with Award-Winning U.S. Picture Books

With a large number of quality pieces of children’s literature from which to choose, we were guided by the racial/cultural designations used by Norton (2012). Books on this website received the following awards beginning in 2010 to the present: American Indian Youth Literature Award, Middle Eastern Outreach Council, Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association Award, Caldecott Medal, Coretta Scott King Award, National Jewish Book Award and the Pura Belpré Award. While the groups that award books often have categories for children and adolescents other than picture books, we chose to focus on picture books for several reasons. First, many picture books can be understood and appreciated by a wide range of ages. Stories that are represented by both words and pictures appealed to us due to the depth and complexity of navigating two media in order to appreciate the story (Kiefer, 2015).

Please Note:

Several cautions should be noted. We do not intend to propagate stereotypes by suggesting that there is one culture or set of life experiences for the groups represented on this site. We also caution that teachers ensure that they not leave students with the understanding that any of the cultural/racial groups should be pitied or viewed as “less than” when the truths represented in selected texts depict harsh realities. We support well-balanced representation of all people.

A more-detailed description of this framework appears on this website at the link “More Information.” 


Bell, L.A. (2007). Theoretical foundations for social justice education. In M. Adams, L.A. Bell, & P. Griffin (Eds.), Teaching for diversity and social justice. NY: Routledge

Howard, G. R. (2016). We can’t teach what we don’t know: White teachers, multiracial schools (3rd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Kiefer, B. Z. (2010). The Art of the Picture Book Past, Present, and Future. From The Newbery & Caldecott Awards 2011, by the Association for Library Service to Children (Chicago: American Library Association, 2011).

Norton, D. E. (2012). Multicultural Children’s Literature: Through the Eyes of Many Children, (4th ed).  Boston: Pearson.

Young, I. M. (2011). Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton: Princeton University Press.