Main Body

Introduction to this Project

A collection of lesson plans for grades 4-8 based on picture books dealing with social justice. The lessons focus on Literacy but many also connect across subjects to Social Studies (geography and history), Health, the Arts, or Science & Technology

This project is released under creative commons 4.0 share-alike.

This project is made possible with funding by the Government of Ontario and through eCampusOntario’s support of the Virtual Learning Strategy (VLS) and Central Virtual Learning Platform (CVLP). To learn more about VLS and CVLP visit:


two children reading in front of bookshelves at a bookstore


On the most basic level this text is a compendium of social justice lesson plans for classroom teachers of grades 4-8. Each lesson is based on a picture book that deals with an aspect of equity or diversity. The lesson plans have been developed by teacher education students at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. We welcome you to use and adapt any of the exciting ideas presented in over 50 plans that cover at least 9 areas of social justice. Each lesson plan has been vetted by course instructors and is aligned with Ontario curriculum documents.


This project is part of an initiative to foster Connected Educators (Nussbaum-Beach & Ritter Hall, 2012) in the two-year Teacher Education Program. Students in the Junior/Intermediate Language Arts courses focus in Year One on becoming critical curators of digital resources for teaching Language Arts in grades 4-10. They learn to access online resources from sources such as educational blogs, podcasts, websites, and Ministry of Education support documents. These are shared and critiqued within their class on the Learning Management System and discussed in small face-to-face groups during weekly Professional Learning Conversations. Each student selects an online curation tool to save and organize the many resources gathered over the term.

In Year Two, the focus shifts from curating teaching resources to creating them. One assignment is to select a picture book that deals with an aspect of social justice, plan a lesson that could be used in Ontario classrooms, and share the plan with their classroom colleagues using the Brock Teacher Education lesson plan format (see Appendix A). They are then invited to reach beyond the immediate Brock classroom and contribute to a world-wide audience of educators through Open Access Publishing. The lesson plans of students who have given written permission are included in this anthology Appendix C.

Over the two-year period teacher candidates begin to develop Personal Learning Networks to take with them as they begin their teaching careers. They not only become critical users of resources created by others but they engage in professional dialogues with their immediate colleagues and gradually expand their networks by reaching out and sharing with a global community of educators. This text marks an important contribution to that development.


It is often assumed incorrectly that picture books are meant exclusively for younger grades. In fact, students of all grade levels respond to issues and stories raised by picture books. In those dealing with social justice topics, the focus is often on a main character experiencing marginalization. This aspect creates a more personal context that students can relate to. These lesson plans, while incorporating expectations from provincial curricula, are not meant to provide a detailed literary analysis, but rather a jumping off point to classroom discussions and actions that respond to the problems highlighted in the stories. Many also have cross-curricular connections to subjects such as social studies, health, the Arts, and science and technology.

A teacher candidate in my class commented on the importance of students being exposed to social justice issues, and the benefit of doing so through picture books:

Representation is incredibly important. Equity is incredibly important. Inclusion, acceptance, and diversity are incredibly important. As educators, we are not just teaching students how to add and subtract, to name all the provinces, and write in complete sentences. Those facts and skills are important too to be sure. But our bigger and more important job is that we are helping to raise our world’s next generation of human beings. It is our job to make sure we do all we can to help shape well-rounded, empathetic, compassionate, critically thinking members of society. In order to do so, we must address the complex and hard topics of our world. Race, gender, sexuality, ability, Indigenous teachings, diversity, kindness, inclusion – these themes need to be discussed in every classroom. Social Justice texts are how we get there. It is important that every child see themselves represented in the resources in their classroom. It is also important that children see people unlike them represented and celebrated also. This is how we breed understanding and compassion. Since my last placement, I have spent a fair amount of time and money perusing the children’s section of Indigo, looking for and buying picture books that address race, inclusion, kindness, environmental protection, and Indigenous histories, excited by the lessons that begin to formulate in my head when I find them. As J.K. Rowling wrote for Dumbledore in the seventh Harry Potter book “Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.” By utilizing social justice books in our classrooms, we can do so much good for our students and our community.

Morgan Perrotta


The lesson plans are organized into nine chapters, each devoted to an aspect of social justice. The 52 plans cover a total of 51 different picture books and apply to a span of grades from four to eight. Many, however, could be adapted to a wide range of grade levels.

The 9 chapters are as follows:

  1. Anti-bullying
  2. Mental Health
  3. Human Rights
  4. Gender Identity and gender roles
  5. Peace
  6. Anti-poverty
  7. Anti-racism
  8. Environment
  9. Indigenous Perspectives

The Overview of each chapter outlines the topics addressed within the social justice area and the student who contributed each lesson plan. Appendix B provides a chart covering all 52 lesson plans, with links to Indigo and Amazon.


I would like to begin by acknowledging the tremendous support of Giulia Forsythe, Associate Director of the Centre for Pedagogical Information at Brock University. Giulia introduced me to Open Education Publishing and the E-Campus Ontario site. She guided me through each step of the production process and provided the technical support needed to bring this text to life.

My thanks to the 52 teacher candidates who generously gave their permission for the lesson plans included in this compilation. Their names are listed alphabetically below, in the Overview Chart (Appendix B), and in the Overview at the beginning of each chapter.

I would also like to acknowledge Dr. Keri Ewart for gathering and contributing lesson plans from her section of the course, and Gurbinder Kaur, my research assistant who put over 60 hours of time into organizing the material, formatting the files, and keeping track of a myriad details.

I welcome feedback at


Aatiqiha Abdin

Olivia Amorim

Iryna Babiychuk

Amber Bauman

Rosanna Bernardo

Haley Besworth

Karly Bignell

Alessia Bisogni

Danielle Boiago

Nick Bruccoleri

Sarah Castelli

Amber Curry

Mark Diggon

Daniel Du

Alasdair Dunbar

Laura Dusmet

Brooks Ezekiel

Ayda Ghaffari

Laura Harris

Chris Hehenkamp

Christine Henstridge

Stephanie Hinks

Jordan Huffman

Lindsay Jenkins

Nigel Kennedy

Rabia Khan

Meg Krummins

David Laing

Hayley Lukich

Natasha Lundy

Emma MacDonald

Toni Macdonald

Alexandra Markes

Nancy McCrae

Britney Milhomens

Tyler Moreira

Victoria Nestico

Jaabir Patel

Morgan Perrotta

Justin Plant

Daniela Presutto

Kait Principi

Teodora Prostran

Nicole Ruegg

Rachel Sawatsky

Taylor Simons

Anthony Skrinjar

Maicee Sorensen

Teddy Spassova

Emily Stachera

Ceilidh Stidwill

Alexa Talucci

Emily Todd

Brent Vandenheuvel

Andre Walker

Nadine Zahabi


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Social Justice Picture Books Copyright © 2019 by Ruth McQuirter, editor and Gurbinder Kaur, contributing editor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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