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In August 2017, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) released its Social Justice Book List, containing over 200 titles spanning all levels of education. Over sixty educators hand-selected these books, nominating those that they have successfully used in the classroom to teach social justice skills and concepts to their students. We are proud to report that over a quarter of the books that appear on the list are published by Penguin Random House. Click here for a compilation of all PRH titles featured on NNSTOY’s list.

The list’s Co-Editor and the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year, Brett Bigham, wrote on the reason NNSTOY created this resource and the importance of teaching social justice in the classroom:

“I went to high school in rural Oregon in a community that was very white. We had one African American student, and I often wonder who her role models were. The staff at the school was all white as was much of the community, including her parents. She was truly a student who had no friends or peers of her own race.

“I think I may have understood how she felt. As a gay youth living in that same community, I too felt alone much of the time. It wasn’t until the end of my senior year of high school—when a teacher warned us about AIDS—that I ever heard an adult mention gay people.

“Students like us live all over the country. They are small islands unto themselves who lack for peers and friends who look or act like them.

“As Oregon’s Teacher of the Year, I have had amazing opportunities to meet teachers from all fifty states and some of our territories. As I have travelled, I have heard similar requests from one educator after another. What books can I use to reach those alienated kids? How can I teach empathy to a majority who do not understand the minority?

“I get it. There are resources out there, but they seem spread out and sometimes hard-to-find. Just because a book features a gay boy does not mean that it is an appropriate tool for me to teach social justice and empathy. I also found myself reluctant to recommend books to students and parents that I had not read or that had not been vetted.

“So I teamed up with some of those great teachers that I met—State Teachers of the Year and Finalists for State Teacher of the Year. Together we compiled exemplary books into a Social Justice Book List. Teachers can use these texts in school and recommend them to students and parents without fear. Because these teachers teach every grade level and subject, and they live in different parts of the country, we were able to provide a rich resource that covers an array of social justice issues for every grade level.

“These teachers know their students, and they have met all kinds. They know the African American child who has never read a book with a character like him. They know the reservation kid who wants to read about people like him. They know the lesbian girl who struggle to find a book that affirms, ‘You are awesome just the way you are.’

“Our teachers work with the descendants of slaves, the grandchildren of Japanese Americans who were interned by their country. They’ve taught the Vietnamese whose parents fled their country at the end of the war. And they have located more than 200 good books for all of them. We are grateful to Penguin Random House for publishing over a quarter of the books on free Social Justice Book List. We are thankful that there is a publishing house responsible for supporting to young people all over the country.”

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Brett Bigham

Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). He co-edited the Social Justice Book List released by NNSTOY this year.

Two NNSTOY members and contributors to the book list wrote for RHI Magazine about their favorite selections: Click here to read why Abdul Wright chose Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and click here to read how Katherine Bassett used I Never Saw Another Butterfly in a school-wide project.

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