I was really excited to be involved from the beginning with our Reading Club unit on social issues. I think discussing the variety of race, ethnic, language, physical, emotional and social differences among kids is critical for elementary school children. And I believe I knew an effective way to introduce these issues.
I had been waiting to fit in some of my favorite nonfiction books into a lesson and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I mean, who has more social issues than famous people? There are many excellent picture book biographies that talk about the struggles well-known people went through as children. As usual, it's better than the stuff people make up.
So I brought in some of my favorite biographies to share with the students. I introduced each book by talking about some of the social issues faced by the boy or girl in the book and then gave their name and what they had accomplished with their lives. It was a very successful strategy to get the kids thinking about these famous people as ordinary kids who all struggled with something. First I read Odd Boy Out by Don Brown, about a young boy named Albert Einstein. He had so many social issues we had a long list before we were halfway through the story. They were excited to see books about people they had heard of like Vincent Van Gogh and Teddy Roosevelt and intrigued by others I introduced to them with names like Dizzy Gillespe and Woody Guthrie.
They asked if we could read one more book. Taking a quick group vote we chose Eleanor by Barbara Cooney. After reading the moving biography of Eleanor Roosevelt's difficult childhood, I could tell the kids and I had a shared respect for her.
The next day I was pleased to hear students speak thoughtfully on both Albert and Eleanor when Mr. B continued the discussion on social issues. Reading about real people had opened the discussion to discrimination and prejudices on a more personal level. In other words, it had started them thinking. Mission accomplished.