Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Social Justice Booktalks, a guest post by Cindy Shutts

Two weeks ago, when I was doing my bi-monthly booktalks for a sixth grade class, I was booktalking Because they Marched by Russell Freedman. This book focuses on the fact that it was nearly impossible to register to vote if you were black before the Voters Rights Act. One of the 6th graders asked me, “Are things better now?” I had to stop to think about what to say. I told him, “There has been some improvement, but in fact the Voters Rights Act has been overturned in part recently by the Supreme Court.  I do not know what will happen in the future, but I recommended learning more about the Voters Rights Act.” This conversation inspired me to focus my next booktalk session on social justice.  My resolve to use this topic for my booktalk also grew from waiting for the release of the decision on whether to indict from the grand jury in Ferguson. It was something I could do while I dealt with the helpless feelings of waiting.


My first choice for this booktalk is the classic, One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia. One Crazy Summer tells the story of Delphine and her two sisters when they go visit their mother who left them when they were little. They do not know what to expect and at first their mother is not sure what to do with them. Delphine and her sisters are sent to a summer camp run by the Black Panthers and they realize that the Black Panthers are not exactly like they are portrayed in the media.



I choose to include Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh. This is a non-fiction picture book that I think they will enjoy. I had never heard anything about this case before. I knew about Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, but I was un familiar with the case of Mendez V. Westminster School District. Sylvia Mendez’s parents fought to have her placed in the school closest to her instead of the out of date and decrepit school for Mexican-American children and won.



Black &White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Conner by Larry Dane Brimner is another book that I must talk about. It concerns the epic struggle for civil rights in Birmingham between Reverend Shuttlesworth and “Bull” Conner. The Ku Klux Klan was all over Birmingham during the fifties and sixties. “Bull” Conner was a city commissioner and did not believe that there were problems in his city and he thought Shuttlesworth was wasting his time. Conner opposed desegregation and ordered the arrest of many civil rights protestors.


Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights is another great title by Larry Dane Brimner. This discusses the Filipino farmer workers who stood up along with Cesar Chavez to get better working conditions and fairer wages.





Of course, I will include Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, this book that just won the National Book Award and is my personal pick to win the Newbery. Jacqueline Woodson’s writing is so powerful when talking about her childhood during the civil rights era that when I read it, I felt transported to her childhood. You see the changes going on in the South when she is living with her grandparents.



The most current book I will talk about is Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth. In this book, Jarett’s mother becomes a foster mother to a teenage boy and his little sister.  I am including it on the list because of the powerful conversation between Jarrett and his mother’s boyfriend when they talk about what to do when a young black man is approached by the police. This is very timely with everything going on in Ferguson and around the country.



Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.


  1. Great piece. And thank you for helping young middle schoolers to become more aware of the world around them and how they can make it a better place. I’m glad you added Kinda Like Brothers because I was thinking of that book when the grand jury in New York City failed to indict the police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner. Kinda Like Brothers is a wonderful book overall, and that scene (which I quote from in my own blog post about Ferguson and NYC) is worth the price alone.

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says:

      Cindy wrote this piece shortly before the findings of the Eric Garner grand jury were released and we had no idea at the time that another (and now many more) heartbreaking and maddening stories would come out. You are right though in that you can’t help but think of the book Kinda Like Brothers when we keep hearing repeatedly about the violence being done to unarmed black boys and men in our country.

Speak Your Mind