Series: Racial Justice

The Power of Books to Support Racial Justice-Centered Math Teaching and Learning

The Power of Books to Support Racial Justice-Centered Math Teaching and Learning
rjem reading

From a racial justice centered perspective, books can be powerful tools to engage children in mathematics learning. The worlds, stories, adventures, characters, and possibilities that are made available through books – explicitly math focused and otherwise – allow teachers and children to wonder, question, make predictions, engage with different ways of knowing, solve problems, organize and communicate complex ideas, and see the world through different lenses. All these are necessary attributes to a robust math learning experience.

Alongside the positive impacts of diverse racial representation in books, a racial-justice centered approach also utilizes books as crucial opportunities to counter deficit-oriented perspectives that position historically marginalized groups as inferior, abnormal, and incapable of complex thinking and knowing. In this sense, books are used to honor, celebrate and learn about people’s history, culture, (math) knowledge, accomplishments, and potentials.

To help incorporate racial-justice centered books in your school and classroom libraries, Donna Johnson – a founding member of RJEM and one of the mentors for the RJEM Teaching Fellowship – has curated a rich list of books that includes math focus and/or sociocultural centered titles. Take advantage of this wonderful resource as you get ready for the upcoming school year.

Beautiful Me by Nabela Noor. Illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

Meet Zubi, a joyful Bangladeshi girl excited about her first day of school. But when Zubi sees her mother frowning in the mirror and talking about being “too big,” she starts to worry about her own body and how she looks. As her day goes on, she hears more and more people being critical of each other’s and their own bodies, until her outburst over dinner leads her family to see what they’ve been doing wrong—and to help Zubi see that we can all make the world a more beautiful place by being beautifully ourselves (From author’s Page). Link »

Count Me In!: A Parade of Mexican Folk Art Numbers in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill. Illustrated by Aguilar Sister

We have written about this book previously numerous times. Check out more information and resources. Link »

Count On Me by Miguel Tanco

A young girl sees the world differently in this beautiful picture book celebration of math. This book is a gorgeous ode to something vital but rarely celebrated. In the eyes of this little girl, math takes its place alongside painting, drawing and song as a way to ponder the beauty of the world. (From author’s Page) Activity Idea »

Counting Kindness: Ten Ways to Welcome Refugee Children by Hollis Kurman. Illustrated by Barroux

Arriving in a new place is stressful for newcomers, especially when the newcomers are little ones. But this beautiful counting book helps readers see the journey of finding a new home and the joys of being welcomed into a new community. From playing to sleeping, eating to reading, celebrating to learning, Counting Kindness proves we can lift the heaviest hearts when we come together. (From publisher’s page)

Counting to Diwali by S. C. Baheti. Illustrated by Rohan Dahotre

Bring the magic of Diwali home with this incredible book. Learn how to count from one to ten in Hindi, all the while sharing in the excitement of the festival of lights. This book is a great way to reinforce language learning, as well as building an integral part of Indian culture with your family, in a fun and colorful way.

Dr. Zola and Daddy Explores Ear Infection by Darrin “1831” Collins. Illustrated by Doran Starks

On this adventure, Zola is suffering from a common childhood ailment-an ear infection! Her father explains the source of her pain by taking her into his high-tech laboratory. Once inside, Zola learns everything about the inner workings of her ear and her ear infection, through an unforgettable virtual tour. Every moment is memorable as Zola and daddy learn from one another!

Dumpling Day by Meera Sriram. Illustrated by Inés de Antuñano

Readers follow ten diverse families as they cook dumplings inside their homes in preparation for a neighborhood potluck. Dumplings are added to plates one by one, encouraging children to count with each new addition. Authentic recipes for all the dumplings and a map showing their regions of origin are included in the endnotes. (From author’s page)

dumpling day

Feast For 10 by Cathryn Falwell

A counting book that features an African-American family shopping for food, preparing a meal, and sitting down to enjoy a festive dinner together. (From author’s page) Activity Ideas »

How Many? by Christopher Danielson

Written by a math educator, this innovative book encourages critical thinking and sparks memorable mathematical conversations. You and your child decide what to count on each page. You have many choices, and the longer you look, the more possibilities you’ll notice. There are no wrong answers in this book. As long as you’re talking about what you see, think, and wonder, you’re talking math! (From publisher’s page)

Just A Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuri Morales

This spirited tribute to the rich traditions of Mexican culture is the perfect introduction to counting in both English and Spanish. The vivacious illustrations and universal depiction of a family celebration are sure to be adored by young readers everywhere. (From author’s page)

Lia & Luis: What Has More? by Ana Crespo. Illustrated by Giovana Medeiros

Twins Lia and Luís argue over who has more of their favorite snacks. Can the siblings use math–and a little sharing–to pick the winner? A playful exploration of measurement, counting, and estimation, featuring Brazilian American characters and a glossary of Brazilian Portuguese words. (from Amazon’s page)

One Sun and Countless Stars: A Muslim Book of Number by Hean Khan. Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

From one sun to countless stars, this gentle introduction to numbers also celebrates the many diverse traditions of the Muslim world, encouraging readers young and old to reflect upon—and count—their many blessings. (From author’ page)

We All Count: A Book of Cree Number by Julie Fleet

We All Count a Book of Cree Numbers provides insight into contemporary Cree life. It teaches Cree numbers and provides pronunciation. This board book is wonderfully illustrated by Canadian based Cree/Metis artist Julie Flett. This book is important in enhancing learning of Cree numbers and making Cree culture accessible to young readers. (From author’s page)

we all count

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed The World by Chesea Clinton. Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

She Persisted is for everyone who has ever wanted to speak up but has been told to quiet down, for everyone who has ever tried to reach for the stars but was told to sit down, and for everyone who has ever been made to feel unworthy or unimportant or small. With vivid, compelling art by Alexandra Boiger, this book shows readers that no matter what obstacles may be in their paths, they shouldn’t give up on their dreams. (From author’s page)

Sometimes We Do by Omo Moses. Illustrated by Diego Chaves

Modeling ways for fathers to teach math to their small children in everyday interactions. Johari loves Daddy days, when he and his father make pancakes and play with trains. Together Johari and his father chat about size, number, amount, recipes, and family chores. Playful illustrations allow a glimpse of Johari’s fantasy world and invite further discussion of the book’s early math concepts. (From publisher’s page)

10 Gulab Jumans by Sandhya Achayra. Illustrated by Vanessa Alexandre

Idu (Ee-doo) and Adu (Aa-doo) want to eat the Gulab Jamuns Mama has made, but Mama has asked them to wait for the guests. But how does one stay away from soft, sticky, melt-in-your-mouth Gulab Jamuns? Before long… 1, 2, 3… slurp! How many Gulab Jamuns do you think are left? This sweet story combines STEM elements, sibling love and fun characters. (From author’s page)

Think Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison

Featuring 18 trailblazing women artists and scientists, Think Big, Little One is the irresistible board book adaptation of Vashti Harrison’s second book Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World. (From author’s page)

Up to My Knees by Grace Lin

Mei is so excited about her new garden! Discover the foundations of measurement and comparison with her as she waters, tends, and harvests her carefully-cultivated crop. Yum! Math is delicious. (From author’s page)

Usha And The Big Digger by Amitha Jagannath Knight. Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

When sisters Usha and Aarti look up at the stars, they see different things. Aarti sees the Big Dipper, but Usha sees the Big DIGGER. And cousin Gloria sees the Big Kite! Could they all be right? A playful introduction to geometry and spatial relationships, featuring Indian American characters and a note about cultures and constellations. (From author’s page)

We Are One by Susan Hood. Illustrated by Linda Yan

This book offers a mind-expanding look at early math concepts like part/whole relationships, fractions, and addition. Underlying themes of cooperation, peace, and unity make this visually stunning volume one to be enjoyed by anyone at any age. (From author’s page)

Zero by Kathryn Otoshi

Zero is about a big round numero, Zero. When she looks at herself, she just sees a hole right through her center. She admires the other number who can count. She wants to count too, but wonders who can a number worth nothing become something? Thus, begins the story of Zero’s research to find value in herself and in others. (From author’s page)