General Children’s Literature Dealing With Social Problems


Dr. Ava L. McCall


Collections Of Stories

General Resources For Social Action



Collections Of Stories

Brody, E, Goldspinner, J., Green, K, Leventhal, R. & Porcino, J. (1992). Spinning tales weaving hope: Stories of peace, justice, & the environment. Philadelphia: New Society.


Adult resource. The editors selected stories suitable for story-telling which deal with peace issues; i.e., conflict resolution without violence, better understanding of our neighbors, appreciation of other cultures, and healthier relationships with the earth. They hope stories will empower listeners to clarify their thinking and make informed and compassionate decisions. The story "The Hermit and the Children" retold by Susan Tobin exemplifies this philosophy. The stories are categorized into four main sections. The first section deals with living with ourselves; section two is concerned with living with each other and working together to solve problems; section three is focused on living with each other and problems of working together; and section four deals with living with the earth. Follow-up activities are offered for each story. One editor provides guidelines for telling stories. Another editor suggests a model for readers to develop their own follow-up activities for stories.


Meyers, R. S. & Banfield, B. (Eds.). (1983). Embers: Stories for a changing world. New York: The Feminist Press.


Student's book is upper elementary level. Teacher's edition explains the rationale and approach to reading selected by the editors. The major goal of the text is to increase students' understanding of how inequities based on sex, race, and disabilities function in education and society, and to increase children's proficiency in reading. A teaching/learning plan is described for each story and includes some or all of: majors concepts to be emphasized, equity issue addressed, background information for the teacher, prereading activities, guided silent reading, sharing reactions to and retellings of the text, extending understanding of text, and taking action. Concepts explored through stories include justice and equality, interdependence, family, culture and tradition, disability, racism, and sexism.

Muse, D. (Ed.). (1995). Prejudice: Stories about hate, ignorance, revelation, and transformation. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.


Middle school level/adult resource. The editor collected stories and excerpts from books dealing with racism, sexism, classism, anti-semitism, homophobia, and fat oppression. She encourages readers to use the stories to reexamine their own lives and how they think about and treat others. Stories dealing with racism include: “Only Approved Indians Can Play: Made in USA;” “Carnival Queen;” “Revelation” and excerpts from Finding My Voice; Maizon at Blue Hill; The Sunita Experience; and Betsey Brown while the excerpt from Chernowitz! portrays anti-semitism. Classism is addressed in “White Trash” from The Good Times are Killing Me and “Revelation” while sexism is the subject of “X: A Fabulous Child’s Story.” Homophobia is raised in “So’s Your Mama;” the excerpt from Peter; and “A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune,” which also addresses fat oppression. Ableism is the subject of “American Bandstand,” which portrays the struggles of a young girl with cerebral palsy. The stories provoke thinking about racism, sexism, classism, anti-semitism, homophobia, and fat oppression and the harmful effects of unfair treatment from others.



General Resources For Social Action

Adams, P. & Marzollo, J. (1992). The helping hands handbook. New York: Random House.


Upper elementary/middle school level and teacher resource. This book briefly helps the reader to decide whom to help and ways to help by providing services, donating money, using economic power to influence companies, and affecting others through making posters, writing letters, or telling stories. It also suggests steps in creating a plan of action in order to meet your goals. The authors offer ways to help at school, library, outdoor places, community events, the homeless, and at family shelters. Social action projects for addressing AIDS and creative suggestions for raising money to address social problems are also provided. The book describes how to influence the government through letters, phone calls, and personal testimonies. A list of organizations which help the homeless and provide community service is given at the end of the book.


Children of the World. (1994). Rescue mission planet earth: A children's edition of agenda 21. New York: Grisewood & Dempsey.


Upper elementary/middle school level and teacher resource. This book gives background knowledge on sexism, poverty, violence, and AIDS as they affect people in different parts of the world. The text suggests ways to address these problems by purchasing products from third world shops, spending less money on products we do not need, speaking out against the harm of war, and becoming friends with former enemies. Brief vignettes of young people all over the world who are doing something to make the world better are included. The text emphasizes the importance of youth contributing to solving social problems.


Cobblestone (December, 1993). Special issue "Kid power: Changing public policy."


Upper elementary level. This issue of Cobblestone focuses on children and youth who have made a difference in the world today. One example includes Ryan White's efforts to increase awareness of how AIDS is contracted and the harm of discrimination against those who have AIDS. Others are Trevor Ferrell's campaign to help the homeless in Philadelphia and Raymi Dyskant's efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The issue includes names and addresses of organizations which address such social problems as hunger, homelessness, violence, and racism.


Duvall, L. (1994). Respecting our differences: A guide to getting along in a changing world. Minneapolis: Free Spirit.


Middle school level, adult resource. This book provides background information on diversity among people due to race especially and gender to a certain extent which sometimes can lead to prejudice, bias, or racism/sexism. The book strives to inform the reader about diversity in order to reduce fear, develop self-confidence and comfort in different situations, and make life more interesting. The book also explains discrimination against those who do not speak standard English and homosexuals. It provides a history of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups. Each chapter portrays students from across the country who are working to promote tolerance in their schools and communities. Suggested books, music, films, organizations, and events dealing with diversity are included.


Goodman, A. (1994). The big help book: 365 ways you can make a difference by volunteering! New York: Pocket Books.


Middle school level, adult resource. This book is based on The Big Help, Nickelodeon's campaign of kids united in community service and volunteer efforts nationwide. The author suggests steps in starting a volunteer group and offers ideas in improving your community, helping other kids, helping the needy, and helping other people in the world. The book offers procedures and creative activities for raising funds. Social action projects to address violence, poverty, and AIDS are suggested.


Hammond, M. & Collins, R. (1993). One world one earth: Educating children for social responsibility. Philadelphia: New Society.


Adult resource. The authors suggest appropriate learning activities to help children understand violence. Three lessons on war and peace are described and social action projects addressing violence are explained. The authors encourage the reader to offer social action strategies to children when they feel strongly about an issue. Such social actions include writing letters, participating in protests, attending marches, or joining sit-ins.


Henkin, R. (1998). Who’s invited to share? Using literacy to teach for equity and social justice. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Adult resource. The text is an inspiring resource to encourage teachers to teach for social justice. In chapter 5 “Talk, Diversity, and Gender: Trying to Communicate” the author describes strategies for addressing sexism in the classroom and using literature for promoting equity. A few social action strategies are suggested for ways elementary and middle school students can address sexism. In chapter 10 “The Inclusive Inquiry Cycle” the author portrays how she introduces social issues such as the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps, homelessness, and slavery to graduate students through literature. Similar strategies may be used in elementary and middle school classrooms. In addition, the author emphasizes possible social action projects young students may engage in to deal with inequities they encounter. Chapter 11 “Using Literacy to Create Social Justice Classrooms” provides numerous examples of teachers exploring such social problems as homelessness and violence, and encourages social action to help their families, neighborhood, and communities. A bibliography of literature addressing homelessness, the Holocaust, aging, gay and lesbian families, and different cultures is included in an appendix.


Hoose, P. (1993). It's our world, too! Stories of young people who are making a difference. Boston: Little, Brown.


Middle school level, adult resource. This book contains stories about youth activists who helped to address social problems in U.S. history. It also contains profiles of young people taking a stand today against racism, sexism, crime, homelessness, and war. It offers suggestions for developing social action projects and explains ten tools for making changes: writing letters, using petitions, speaking out, using the media, asking for money, boycotting, lobbying, helping elect candidates for public office, protesting/demonstrating, and negotiating.


Kaye, C. B. (2004). The complete guide to service learning: Proven, practical ways to engage students in civic responsibility, academic curriculum & social action. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit.


Adult resource. The author opens the book by defining service learning, addressing frequently asked questions about it, and explaining the process of service learning (preparation, action, reflection, and demonstration). She clarifies the steps in carrying out a service learning project (decide on one or more different points of entry, map out the plans, clarify partnerships, review plans and gather resources, begin the process of service learning in action, and assess the service learning experience) with many examples and addresses the importance of advancing student learning, offering opportunities for students to make choices in the project, encouraging students to develop a sense of civic responsibility, and developing partnerships in the community. The text contains planning sheets to guide educators in organizing service learning projects and descriptions of recommended nonfiction, picture books and fiction for various service learning topics. There are separate chapters focusing on different service learning projects, including AIDS education and awareness, hunger and homelessness, immigrants, and social change and action.


Kielburger, M. & Kielburger, C. (2002). Take action! A guide to active citizenship. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The authors are young adults who are leaders in youth activism. Craig Kielburger founded the Free the Children organization which works to help free children from exploitation and abuse. They suggest steps for children and youth to become involved in social issues; recommend communication, media, fundraising, and research once they decide to take action on a social issue; and make suggestions for becoming socially involved at school, in the community, and working with government. As a way to help children and youth get started, they provide information on several social issues, such as children’s rights, hunger, and poverty, that need attention. Finally, the authors offer the names and contact information for several organizations that are addressing the social issues discussed in the text.


Knudsen, M. (2005). Carl the complainer. New York: Kane.


Picture book, elementary level. The focus of the book is a simple, clear explanation of how children can make changes in their communities through petitions. It illustrates how a group of children used a petition to keep the town park open later. The book also clarifies some of the challenges for children to get people to sign petitions, then make a convincing case for their change to the town council. Overall, the book encourages children to use petitions to make changes rather than complain about problems in their communities.


Lewis, B. A. (1995). The kid's guide to service projects: Over 500 service ideas for young people who want to make a difference. Minneapolis: Free Spirit.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The author addresses young people in this book and provides general guidelines for them to have successful service projects including: research your project; form a team; find a sponsor; make a plan; consider the recipient; decide where you will perform your service; get needed permissions; advertise; fundraise; and evaluate project at its completion. Lewis offers ideas for projects to improve neighborhoods including assisting low-income individuals and families, to promote tolerance and understanding of ethnic and racial differences, ways to assist low-income children during holidays, ways to address the needs of homeless people, ideas for fighting hunger, and activities to keep unsupervised children safe after school.


Lewis, B. A. (1992). Kids with courage: True stories about young people making a difference. Minneapolis: Free Spirit.


Upper elementary/middle school level. This book portrays stories of several youth who engaged in social action. Rena and Jeanna Duncan testified before the Utah legislature about the importance of naming the busts of two Ute leaders on display at the state capitol. Joby Shimomura fought for kids' rights including lower bus fares, more money for children's programs, removal of curfews for teenagers, availability of teen dance clubs, and attention to youth concerns.


Lewis, B. A. (1992). A teacher's guide to kids with courage: True stories about young people making a difference. Minneapolis: Free Spirit.


Adult resource. This book gives questions to stimulate lively conversation about stories in Kids with courage. It suggests additional resources such as organizations concerned about the theme of the story.


Lewis, B. A. (1991). The kid's guide to social action: How to solve the social problems you choose--and turn creative thinking into positive action. Minneapolis: Free Spirit.


Upper elementary/middle school level, adult resource. A frequently quoted book written by a teacher whose students engaged in social action. The author is encouraging kids everywhere to engage in social action. She describes ten steps for carrying out successful social action projects. The author proposes suggestions for making phone calls, writing letters, interviewing, making speeches, conducting surveys, writing and circulating petitions, creating proposals, raising funds, getting media coverage and advertising, preparing proclamations, gaining representation on local boards and councils, campaigning for officials, registering voters, incorporating organizations, parading, picketing, and protesting, initiating or changing laws, lobbying, preparing resolutions, and amending the U.S. Constitution. Also included are stories of youth who have engaged in social action projects to address hunger and violence. This book contains telephone numbers and addresses for state, federal government, youth, and other nonprofit agencies.


Lewis, B. A. (1998). The kid's guide to social action: How to solve the social problems you choose--and turn creative thinking into positive action. Minneapolis: Free Spirit.


The revised version contains new examples of youth engaged in social action addressing hunger, homelessness, violence, child labor and as advocates for Hmong families who do not speak English and Native youth. It includes new guidelines for writing letters by fax and e-mail, completing internet research, and working with the government through the courts (holding mock trials, establishing youth or school courts, or developing conflict resolution programs in schools). New print and on-line resources are also given.


Makler, A. & Hubbard, R. S. (Eds.). (2000). Teaching for justice in the social studies classroom: Millions of intricate moves. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Adult resource. The chapters contain descriptions of curriculum units and projects done at the middle school, high school, and college levels dealing with such social problems as gang violence, child labor, and hunger and responding with social action. At times the action is to educate others about the problem and other times it involves working at a soup kitchen. In the chapter “Peer Mediation and the Color of Justice,” the authors focus on how peer mediation illustrates the concept of justice and empowers high school students to solve conflicts rather than resort to violence. The chapter “Collective Action: Speaking Up and Standing Together–the Story of Rachel and Sadie” provides an innovative method of encouraging students to speak up collectively against injustice.


Meltzer, M. (1994). Who cares? Millions do. New York: Walker.


Middle school level. Meltzer describes many individuals and organizations who have shown altruism or the concern for and devotion to the interests of others through volunteer work, activism, philanthropy, and through full-time employment. He also gives a cursory review of the history of philanthropy in the United States, including the significant contributions of ordinary people in comparison to the wealthy. In addition, Meltzer reviews the dual approaches to meeting human needs in world history--through individual service and social reform. Finally, Meltzer provides many examples of ways people have helped the homeless, the poor, and the Jews during the Holocaust.


Pelo, A. & Davidson, F. (2000). That’s not fair! A teacher’s guide to activism with young children. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf.


Adult resource. The authors describe their experiences in encouraging and supporting young children’s recognition of and response to injustice and bias in two different early childhood settings. They emphasize children’s readiness to become activists and speak out against bias as well as the benefits for children when doing so. When addressing issues of sexism, racism, hunger, and homelessness with young children, the authors stress the importance of keeping such topics and projects developmentally appropriate, connected to children’s interests, and only part of the overall curriculum. Their specific recommendations for how to engage in activism and social action projects with young children are especially valuable, but they also acknowledge that such efforts need to be supported by the children’s families. Teachers themselves need to identify individuals and groups who support their activism work with young children and the authors offer suggestions as to who might provide this encouragement.


Roberts, P. (2002). Kids taking action: Community service learning projects, K-8. Greenfield, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.


Adult resource. The author summarizes the benefits and steps for community service learning projects. She highlights several projects which address such problems as poverty, bullying (a form of violence), sexism, and racism. As part of various community service learning projects, elementary students reduced the amount of bullying on school buses; raised money for poor children in different parts of the world through Trick or Treating for UNICEF; bought a heifer for a Honduran family through Heifer Project International; made baby quilts for women in homeless shelters; grew vegetables for a neighborhood food co-op benefitting senior citizens; recorded books on tape for low-income families with little time to read to their children; and developed a pamphlet to help kids identify racial and gender biases in books.


Roche, J. M., Rodriguez, M. & Schneider, P. (1993). Kids who make a difference. MasterMedia Limited.


Middle school level, adult resource. This book is a collection of stories of youth who have engaged in social action projects addressing poverty, violence, and AIDS. Linda Warsaw began "Kids Against Crime" an organization which provides speakers for schools and crime prevention fairs and has workshops on crimes against children telling them how to protect themselves and how to get help if they are victimized. Organization volunteers fingerprint children at schools, malls, and fairs. Joey DiPaolo contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion as a young child. After being discriminated against at his school, Joey appeared on news shows and national talk shows to educate other people about kids with AIDS. After Ryan White died, Joey wanted to carry on the work of AIDS education. The book lists addresses and phone numbers of national organizations addressing such social problems as poverty and AIDS.


Rodger, E. & Field, J. E. (2010). Get involved! Social justice activist. New York: Crabtree Publishing.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The authors inform readers about the meanings of social justice; activists; and the differences among the concepts of social justice, human rights, and civil rights. The text describes different forms of oppression which social justice activists fight against, including gender inequality, racism, poverty, homelessness, war and violence, and environmental degradation. The authors profile activists who have fought for social justice and encourage readers to become involved by becoming informed, getting organized, gaining support from others, and taking action.


Schwartz, H. E. (2009). Political activism: How you can make a difference. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press.


Upper elementary level. The authors provide step-by-step directions for how readers can become activists to make the world better. First, they must brainstorm problems they see in their immediate environment, then they should brainstorm possible solutions to those problems. Next they should select a problem they most care about and complete research to learn all they can about the problem, including library research, internet research, and talk with organizations and experts who are also concerned about the problem. The fourth step is to map out a plan of action with specific actions to take while considering any risks with each action; finally, put the plan into action, get others involved, and inform others about the problem and solutions. The authors encourage readers to respect others’ opinions and remain positive while fighting for changes. The end of the text includes resources for political activists, including websites and organizations.


Terkel, S. N. (1996). People power: A look at nonviolent action and defense. New York: Lodestar Books.


Middle school level, adult resource. The author provides a broad overview of different avenues people can use to exert their power to create social and political changes. This text explores the meanings, principles, and methods of nonviolence action with examples to illustrate these ideas. The author clarifies the distinguishing quality of principled nonviolence as holding respect for the "enemy" or those who oppose one's efforts to create changes. In exploring the meamings and examples of civil disobedience such as those used in the civil rights movement, the author deals with advantages as well as dangers of breaking the law to take a moral stand. Various training programs for learning methods of nonviolence action are also described. The nonviolent actions of well known people such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. who invested their lives in working for social and political changes are related as well as efforts of less well known people.


Wade, R. C. (Ed.). (2000). Building bridges: Connecting classroom and community through service-learning in social studies. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies.


Adult resource. Rahima Wade, the editor, first provides a definition of service-learning, rationale for incorporating it in the social studies curriculum, and important elements of service-learning. Students benefit academically, personally, socially, and in increased political efficacy. Although service-learning is a broader concept than social action, they share similar characteristics. Service-learning involves an action component in its community service element, but also includes academic learning and structured reflection on the community service component. Several different teacher-authors describe service-learning projects they have done with students at the elementary or middle-school level dealing with AIDS, hunger, poverty, and homelessness.


Wade, R. C. (Ed.). (2007). Community action rooted in history: The CiviConnections model of service-learning. Silver Spring, MD: National Council for the Social Studies.


Adult resource. Rahima Wade clearly explains the importance of service-learning in helping educators achieve the ultimate goal of social studies instruction, to create informed and active public citizens. She describes the six steps of the CiviConnections program: (1) choose an issue and guiding question; (2) investigate the issue within the local community’s history; (3) explore the issue within U.S. history; (4) examine government documents related to principles of democratic living and social justice which provide a basis for how students might change or improve their community; (5) plan and implement ways to improve the local community; (6) hold a community-wide celebration of students’ learning and service. The editor includes the stories of 10 CiviConnections projects, including several examples of how middle school and high school students addressed the issue of poverty, hunger, and homelessness in their local community.

Social problems/social action

Annotated bibliography list