The theme of social justice is an all-encompassing umbrella. Although the picture book section covers a broader spectrum, we are focusing here on three main areas:   Economic inequality, human trafficking, and the impact of climate change on food security. In addition to what is listed here, please see our resources for the Millennium Development Goals and for Human Rights.



My Heart Will Not Sit Down   By Mara Rockliff. Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

What makes this colorful book so touching is that it is based on a true story. Kedi, a young girl from a small village in Cameroon in the 1930’s, hears from her young missionary teacher, about the Depression that New York, his ‘village’ in America, is undergoing. In her compassion for the hungry people in New York, she and the rest of her village get together and come up with the equivalent of $3.77, a sum they can barely afford, to send to the mayor of NYC. This reversal of ‘foreign aid’ highlights the extraordinary generosity of the poor. A discussion of true facts about the Depression follows.

Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure  By Naomi C. Rose. NY: Lee and Low Books, Inc., 2011.

This is another book, written in first person, that beautifully illustrates compassion and the power of friendship. Tashi and her family are immigrants to the US from Tibet. Her grandfather, Popolo, with whom she is very close, is ailing with no apparent cause. Over several Saturdays, Tashi convinces him to go with her and her mother to a local nursery where, surrounded by flowers, they sip tea and eat cookies. Over time, other visitors to the nursery, as well as the owner and his assistants, stop to chat, and, with Tibetan hospitality, are invited to join them for tea. The grandfather begins to perk up with all the attention, and one day, when he is unable to visit the nursery, all his new friends, bearing flowers, come to his home to visit him. The loneliness and homesickness for Tibet fade with the realization that friends, like flowers, come in all varieties.

These Hands  By Margaret H. Mason. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2010.

This book is about overcoming discrimination. “Look at these hands, Joseph,” the elderly black grandfather tells his grandson, and proceeds to show him all the things that “these hands” could once do and those it still can. We then learn that he once worked for the Wonder Bread Company as a janitor, assembly line and truck loader, but was not allowed to touch the bread dough lest white people would refuse to eat it, and how, through collective action, Wonder was forced to change its policy.

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters  By Barack Obama. Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

In a tender “Have I Told You Lately that I Love You?” letter, President Obama pays tribute to several groundbreaking Americans whose ideals have shaped the nation, many of whom, including Jackie Robinson, the Sioux Medicine man, Sitting Bull, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez , and Abraham Lincoln worked on social justice issues.

The books of Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) can be used at any level from kindergarten to the post- graduate, to address social justice issues in an entertaining way. On March 1, 2013, an all-day symposium, entitled “Exploring Civil Society Through the Writings of Dr. Seuss” was held at the NY Law School. It was a fascinating, in- depth analysis of five of Geisel’s books, which are directly concerned with themes of social justice:

  • Horton Hears a Who  Random House, 1961, (original in Redbook 1954), focuses on tolerance, courage to ‘stand up for the right’, distribution of power, aiding the powerless, respect for life, other-ness, marginalization and collective action
  • The Sneetches  Random House, 1961, deals with racism, discrimination, identity, class structure and social hierarchy
  • Yertle the Turtle  Random House, 1958, highlights legitimacy of authority and abuse of power, imperialism, ideology, human rights, equality, fairness, and attempts to maintain the status quo
  • The Butter Battle Book  Random House, 1984, addresses ideological differences, the nature of war, conflict resolution, use of force and nuclear warfare
  • The Lorax  Random House, 1971, ponders environmental responsibility, land use and regulation, business and society, corporate social responsibility, and corporate greed

And it all rhymes! You can order the upcoming (spring 2014) issue of the NY Law School law review featuring articles based on the presentations at this event at  for $10.00 US and $15 international



Slavery in America  By Jean F. Blashfield. Scholastic, 2012.

This is a colorfully illustrated and accessible coverage, in picture book format, of the history of slavery in the US. It includes some little known facts, a glossary, a booklist, websites and places to visit, like the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American history in Detroit, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Grades 3-5.

Kids At Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor  By Russell Freedman. Clarion Books, a Houghton–Mifflin imprint, 1994.  This is both a biography and a b&w photo essay starkly revealing the use of children as industrial workers in the early 20th Century. Hine was a teacher and photographer who became an investigative reporter for the National Child Labor Committee. His work became a catalyst for enacting child labor laws in the US. The photos themselves can be used as teaching tools, and a bibliography of other photo essays are listed at the end. See also the photography of Margaret Bourke-White for other powerful Depression era material.

Droughts: Witness to Disaster  By Judy and Dennis Fradin. National Geographic, 2008.  This is part of the Witness to Disaster series, which also includes four other titles: Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Hurricanes and Tsunamis. Amply illustrated in Nat’l. Geographic photography, it covers the causes of droughts, deadly droughts worldwide, and drought mitigation, including a list of 10 things everyone can do to conserve water. It also contains a glossary and a list of books and websites for further research.



Right to Food: Making It Happen.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011. Reprint 2013.  Addresses food as a Human Right, the report on the Right to Food Forum of 2008, and case studies of work done in Brazil, Guatemala, India, Mozambique and Uganda. (adult)

The Time of Our Lives  By Tom Brokaw. Random House Trade Paperback, 2012.    Traces the changes in modern life –in values, education, public service, housing, the Internet etc. that have transformed our society in recent years, and portrays inspiring Americans who have become change agents in their communities, along with a number of innovative ideas, including a call for expanding national service.

World Poverty and Human Rights   By Thomas Pogge. Polity, 2nd edition,2008. Called brilliantly original, and one of the best books on global economic inequality available, this is an intellectually rigorous combination of moral argument and relevant fact that shows convincingly that the existing global order is ethically indefensible.  It also makes practical, clear and inventive suggestions on what we can do to make it less unjust. Available on

“Thomas Pogge on the Past, Present and Future of Global Poverty”–   a feature interview with Keane Bhatt of Truthout, an organization which works to spark action through investigative reporting and critical analysis to reveal systemic injustice and provide a platform for transformative ideas.   In this shorter version of the ideas presented in his book (above) Dr. Pogge points out that social rules imposed by countries and corporations with vested interests are susceptible to moral analysis, and that we who elect and fund these governments are not just innocent bystanders. (See also a summary of Dr. Pogge’s presentation at our 2013 conference at the UN.  The Report is on our website)

The Blue Sweater  By Jacqueline Novogratz, Acumen Fund, 2010. This is a wonderful memoir by the founder of the Acumen Fund, which works to make poor people in Africa and South Asia self-sufficient. Includes a video telling the incredible story that sparked her work – of how a sweater she had worn for years was donated to Good Will and how 10 years later she found it on a young boy in Eritrea. There is also a downloadable Teachers Guide to the book on the website

The Price of Civilization  By Jeffrey Sachs, Random House, 2012. Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and advisor to Secretary-General Ban Ki–moon on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. His latest book is an impassioned diagnosis of our country’s economic ills, and an urgent call for Americans to restore the core virtues of fairness, honesty and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity. It has been rated one of the year’s best books by Publisher’s Weekly and the Guardian, and he was called by the NY Times Magazine, “probably the most important economist in the world.” See also his The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. (Both are available on Amazon.)

Girls Like Us: Fighting For a World Where Girls Are Not For Sale: A Memoir.   By Rachel Lloyd. Harper Perennial, 2011. Ms. Lloyd’s riveting survivor story is the true tale of her hard-won escape from the commercial sex industry and her bold founding of GEMS, New York City’s Girls Education and Mentoring Service, to help countless other young girls escape “the life.” (See also the conference report on this website of her presentation at our 2013 CTAUN conference at the UN.)

The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine   By Somaly Mam. Spiegel and Gran, 2009.  A riveting and beautiful memoir by a woman named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Somaly Mam was sold into sexual slavery by her grandfather when she was twelve years old. She suffered unspeakable acts of brutality until, in her early twenties, she managed to escape. Unable to forget the girls she left behind, Ms. Mam became a tenacious and brave leader in the fight against human trafficking, rescuing sex workers–some as young as five and six–offering them shelter, rehabilitation, healing, and love and leading them into new life.



UNICEF High School Clubs –are student-driven, and partner with the US Fund for UNICEF to educate, advocate and fundraise for children in 150 countries in the world. Clubs produce benefit concerts, write letters to elected officials, participate in Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF and UNICEF Tap Project campaigns and write school newspaper editorials. Club members can also attend national conferences to share ideas about child survival and human rights issues. To join or start your own club visit or e-mail

The Invisible Children –a short lesson plan module produced by the International Labor Organization’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) to raise awareness of the life of a child laborer. Best used at the intermediate level.

A Day in Your Life: Touched By Modern Slavery– A fact sheet detailing every two hours in a typical day, from 6:00 AM to 11 PM –from morning coffee to the sheets on the bed at night  -the food you eat, the products you buy and the consumer items you use, all of which may have been produced by someone in involuntary servitude. The tag line is “How many slaves work for you?” Produced by the US Dept. of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons –June 2012. You (or your students) can also work out your own slavery footprint at which contains much more information.



What I’ve Been Through Is Not Who I Am is a 21 minute documentary collaboration of the Witness Video Project and End Child Prostitution and Trafficking, available on either website via YouTube.  Through the story of one young girl, it documents how children from broken homes, as well as abused or immigrant children at any socio-economic level can be targeted and lured into “the life” through what appears to them initially as love, and how virtually impossible escape can be. It also discusses programs in Minnesota and other places where law enforcement personnel are being re-trained to view trafficked children as victims rather than as prostitutes. Rachel Lloyd’s GEMS program is also highlighted.

Bitter Seeds –2011, the 3rd in a trilogy by Teddy Bear Films, (the 2nd, China Blue 2008, investigated sweatshop conditions in the clothes we buy) is an emotionally  powerful documentary that sheds light on the crisis in India created by Monsanto’s genetically engineered cotton, their false promises and ruthless monopolization. The result was that ¼ million farmers over a sixteen-year period committed suicide (approximately 1 every 30 minutes), most by drinking pesticide. This film, which has won multiple awards, was shown in the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in June, 2012, and is available on DVD. For screenings in theatres around the country see their website

Food for 9 Billion, a collaboration of Homeland Productions, the PBS NewsHour and the Center for Investigative Reporting, is a yearlong look at the challenge of feeding the world in a time of social and environmental change. Includes film and transcripts dealing with the impact of China’s current demand for meat and toxicity in many of their products, changes in the Greek diet away from healthy Mediterranean to fast food which takes less time to cook, and attempts to change America’s food choices as obesity leads to ever greater heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

KQED: Heat and Harvest-the documentary, along with two transcripts addresses the effects of climate change on California’s farm belt – looking specifically at cherries, almonds and potatoes. Rising temperatures, volatile storms, rising sea levels which increase the salinity of water, killing tree roots, the diminishing availability of fresh water and more abundant pests who can now survive year round are only some of the challenges. Resultant need for greater pesticide use negates the environmental gains made in recent years, and increases costs, which ultimately will find their way to supermarkets.

A Place at the Table, by filmmaker Lori Silverbush, which opened in theatres March1, 2013, and is also on itunes and On Demand, highlights the problem of childhood hunger in America. Approximately 1 in 4 children, some 17 million, go to bed hungry. This is especially problematic in school situations, where it is usually unrecognized as a cause of lethargy and poor work. Ms Silverbush spoke on the NewsHour about a National Action Center, where anyone interested in activism can plug in his or her zip code and locate a hunger group with whom they can volunteer at any level.

Makers: Women Who Make America –in three parts tells the history of social justice for women from the beginnings of the women’s movement in the early 1970’s to today’s efforts to globalize the fight to protect women worldwide. Aired on  February 26, 2013.

Half The Sky –documentary based on the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn, follows their journey through 10 countries to document and support victims of gender-based violence and maternal mortality. Includes a view of the work in Cambodia, of Somaly Mam, who spoke at our most recent CTAUN conference. Several clips related to the film can be seen at

The Invisible War –a 2013 Academy Awards nominee for Best Documentary, this film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and the Human Rights Watch Festival at Lincoln Center in NY in June 2012, and has made the rounds of the Obama Administration and been acted on by Leon Panetta before stepping down as Secretary of Defense. It documents the most shameful and best-kept secret in the US military-the epidemic of rape and sexual assault on 20% of women, serving in the ranks, as well as the lack of prosecutions, and the systemic isolation of women-and men- who have dared to report the crimes. The film is available on DVD and clips may be seen on

For students in Intermediate grades, Middle and High School see also What’s Going On? – a wonderful series of videos from a child’s perspective, described in our resources on the United Nations



The Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs Global Ethics Network- connects students, teachers and professionals digitally to re-imagine international relations, using blogs, forums, videos etc., and invites participation in constructing an open, collaborative curriculum in teaching global ethics. Bibliographies, syllabi, lesson plans and other interactive pedagogical tools are welcome.

The Polaris Project  named after the North Star that guided American slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad, envisions, as its mission, a world without slavery. It does so by successfully pushing for stronger federal and state legislation, operating the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline 888-373-7888, conducting training programs and providing vital services to victims of trafficking.