Read-alouds are a powerful tool for infusing social studies concepts into the daily routine of elementary classrooms. If you’re an elementary school teacher, you know that it’s not uncommon for important social studies topics, like citizenship and geography, to get pushed aside in favor of math and literacy instruction. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Or maybe you’ve reached to your library media center only to come up short on the perfect book to compliment your social studies instruction. No matter the case, a classroom library full of books with strong social studies connections can be the perfect solution.
In this book list, we highlight eight children’s books, all recommended as Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, that will help set a foundation of global citizenship in your elementary classroom. All books have been matched to the relevant thematic strands in the NCSS Curriculum Standards.
Must-Have Children’s Books About Civic Action and Civic Ideals
1. Sometimes People March, written and illustrated by Tessa Allen
In this gentle introduction to civic engagement, even the youngest students will learn that activism is for all ages. Watercolor drawings portray a diverse group of people engaging in diverse forms of protest – including marching, writing, and art. By touching on contemporary movements like Black Lives Matters and the March for Our Lives, this book is a great way to integrate current events and issues related to social justice. Matches NCSS themes 10, 6, and 5
2. Stand up! Speak up! A Story Inspired by the Climate Change Revolution, written and illustrated by Andrew Joyner
This charming book has simple prose but will deliver a hefty dose of inspiration for students of all ages. After attending a climate march, a young empowered girl focuses on making a positive impact in her own community – organizing volunteers to clean a lake, plant trees, host a clothing swap, and make compost bins. The book also includes short biographies of real youth environmental activists from around the world. If you’re searching for a book that will highlight the power of youth activism, look no further. Matches NCSS themes 1 and 10
3. The Sad Little Fact, written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Pete Oswald
In this clever book, the message is clear, “a fact is a fact.” But that doesn’t always mean that facts are believed… After being locked away with other facts (pictured as fuzzy blue dots) for refusing to spread lies, the sad little fact is released by “fact-finders” and able to restore light to the world. This is a simple and delightful book with a big message about the importance of truth. A perfect introduction to media literacy for elementary students. Matches NCSS themes 6 and 10
Favorite Children’s Books About Global Issues
4. Back to School: A Global Journey, written by Maya Ajmera and illustrated by John D. Ivanko
Colorful photographs give students a window into the lives of school children around the world. With 38 countries illustrated and different aspects of the school day portrayed, your elementary students will see a broad range of education experiences and will enjoy comparing and contrasting with their own lives. This is a perfect book for the beginning of the school year and for exploring the similarities of lives around the world. Also, don’t miss Come Out to Play: A Global Journey, also written by Maya Ajmerea and illustrated by John D. Ivanko. Matches NCSS themes 1, 3, and 10
5. The Heart of Mi Familia, written by Carrie Lara PsyD and illustrated by Christine Battuz
The narrator in this sweet picture book is a bicultural girl who explores what biculturalism looks like in her family. She explains visiting the homes of two grandparents, her Latinx abuela and her white grandmother, and her descriptions highlight the many similarities between the two homes. This book will uplift the experiences of multicultural students and help all students explore their own unique cultural identities. Matches NCSS themes 1, 4 and 3
6. What is a Refugee?, written and illustrated by Elise Gravel
The author of this timely children’s book answers young students’ basic questions about refugees – who they are and why they leave their home countries. The book successfully humanizes the refugee experience and closes with refugee children around the world sharing stories about their lives and interests. Matches NCSS themes 3, 9 and 10
Children’s Books About Real-Life People Helping the Environment
7. Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood, written by Tony Hillery and illustrated by Jessie Harland
This picture book tells the inspiring true story behind the Harlem based non-profit, Harlem Grown. After visiting an elementary school, a man named Tony Hillery springs into action. He invites students to help transform a vacant lot across from the school, known to the children as the ‘haunted garden,’ into a garden that bursts with healthy fresh food. The kids are the farmers – planting, watering, and weeding. In the end, students in the book bring the food they’ve grown home to their families. Matches NCSS themes 3 and 7
8. The Boy Who Grew A Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng, written by Sophia Gholz and illustrated by Kayla Harren
Jadav Payeng lives on the banks of India’s Brahmaputra river. Worried about the forest destruction and the soil erosion around him, he begins to plant trees. What starts with just a small patch of 20 bamboo seedlings eventually grows into a 1,300 acre forest that is home to diverse wildlife. Jadav protects the forest every step of the way, from watering the infant trees and to protecting the animals from poachers. Matches NCSS themes 3, 7 and 9
These eight books will enhance any K-5 classroom library with inspiring stories that encourage global citizenship and civic action. But, the truth is, they just scratch the surface of high quality children’s books that are beloved by social studies teachers. For many more titles that will boost your read-alouds to the next level, check out these lists of Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, put together in collaboration with NCSS. Happy reading!