the First Amendment: Selected Readings for Elementary and Middle
and fiction books are included on this list, organized roughly by
reading level; note that the more challenging books could be read
aloud to fourth- and fifth-graders.
can be used in many ways. For example, students could nominate characters
from the books as "First Amendment Heroes" and add them
to classroom displays. Students also could create a timeline showing
examples of the use of First Amendment rights throughout U.S. history;
a different color marker could be used to designate each right.
All the books could be used as the basis for whole-class or "book
group" discussions. Dilemmas posed in books could be presented
to the class as skits; students could then work in small groups
to role-play solutions to the dilemmas.
Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair,
by Patricia Polacco (New York: Philomel Books, 1996). This charming
book highlights what happens when a city sacrifices its right
to read books. Aunt Chip was a librarian in Triple Creek when
the town fathers decided to close the library and started using
books to repair potholes, buildings and a leaking dam. Aunt Chip
took to her bed for 50 years but reemerges when young Eli and
his friends show interest in reading. The result is comical; it
also affirms the importance of free expression and a free press.
Pilgrim, by Barbara Cohen (New
York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1983). Molly is a turn-of-the century
girl whose family emigrated from Russia because they were persecuted
for their religious beliefs. When Molly's mother makes a Pilgrim
doll that looks like a Russian Jew rather than a New England Puritan,
Molly's class learns a lesson about the importance of religious
Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate,
by Janice Cohn (Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman, 1995). When a
rock crashes through the window of a Jewish family's home in Billings,
Mont., the family informs people in the community about what happened.
Christian ministers, community leaders and friends of the family
decide to take action to show they oppose such hate crimes. Organizing
a campaign to place menorahs in windows all over town, they make
a powerful statement for religious freedom and against intolerance.
the Presses, Nellie's Got a Scoop: The Story of Nellie Bly,
by Robert Quackenbush (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992). This
informative and amusing look at the work of the famous journalist
in the late 1800s could prompt a discussion of how stories Nellie
wrote helped make a difference in the lives of people of the time.
by Peter Golenbock (San Diego: Gulliver Books, 1990). The story
of Jackie Robinson's difficulties as the first African-American
to play major league baseball describes courageous words and actions
of a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers team. Pee Wee Reese speaks
out on behalf of Robinson in the face of hostile ballplayers and
at Grade Level
on the Moon, by Jenny Davis (New
York: Orchard Books, 1991). Cab Jones and her older brother spend
a summer with their grandmother, in a town near Pittsburgh. Crime
on the street becomes an issue and neighbors band together to
combat it, through neighborhood walks and a vigil.
Like Martin, by Ossie Davis (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1992). A young African American boy
wants to emulate Martin Luther King Jr. The child's father, who
served in Korea, feels nonviolence won't work and fears his son
will be hurt if he participates in the march on Washington. Despite
the restrictions placed on him by his father, the boy finds ways
to help his community.
Long Way to Go, by Zibby O'Neal
(New York: Puffin Books, 1990). Young Lila must struggle with
her parents' and brothers' restricted views of what girls can
do while learning about her grandmother's efforts on behalf of
women's suffrage. In the story's climax, Lila takes part in a
suffrage march, a classic example of exercising the right to “peaceably
Up to Mr. O., by Claudia Mills
(New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1998). Seventh-grader Maggie
McIntosh is a favorite of science teacher Mr. O. until she refuses
to participate in dissections. Readers see her thinking develop
as she works on an essay about the topic. When Mr. O. prevents
her from winning a prize and she protests, Maggie experiences
some of the negatives that can occur from giving voice to unpopular
beliefs. At the same time, however, friends and classmates gain
respect for Maggie and, although they don't agree with her, think
more seriously about their own ideas.
Dancing to America,
by Ann Morris (New York: Dutton, 1994). This photo essay
tells the story of young Anton Pankevich, whose family emigrated
from the Soviet Union to gain both religious freedom and greater
freedom of expression (through dance) for Anton. Students who
have not thought of dance as a form of expression can learn about
how the First Amendment applies to the arts.*
Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Stories,
edited by Ellen Levine (New York: Avon, 1993). Levine presents
powerful excerpts from interviews with 30 African Americans who
participated as young people in the civil rights movement of the
1950s and 1960s. These stories stand as evidence that young people
can make a difference by exercising their First Amendment rights.
After reading the book, students might conduct oral history interviews
with people in their community who have used First Amendment rights
to petition the government, whether through peaceful protests,
letters, official petition campaigns, or other means. The oral
histories could be edited and published as a class book.
V. Des Moines: Student Rights on Trial,
by Doreen Rappaport (New York: HarperCollins, 1993). This book
on the landmark free speech case includes narrative text about
the case, newspaper clippings, excerpts from trial transcripts
and the judge's decision, and interviews with major "players"
in the case 27 years later. The author provides questions to help
students think through the case. This book could easily be used
to structure a mock trial or moot court simulation activity.*
by Jerry Spinelli (New York: Knopf, 1996). In this funny young
adult novel, Crash — John Coogan — is a seventh-grade athlete
who disparages his sister Abby and a neighbor, Penn, when the
two friends protest the construction of a new shopping mall. As
a series of adventures take Crash and his family and friends through
the school year, he begins to respect values that Penn and Abby
practice — and eventually begins to express himself about issues
of concern. In the story, Penn wears buttons and T-shirts to express
his values, which could lead to a button- and shirt-making follow-up
activity with students.
Last Safe Place on Earth, by
Richard Peck (New York: Delacorte, 1995). This young adult novel
shows what can happen when rights conflict. Church members protest
books that are assigned in the local junior high, claiming the
books violate their religious beliefs. A young girl is frightened
by stories told to her by a babysitter who belongs to the church;
the girl’s parents believe the babysitter has violated their trust.
A student reporter on the school paper is frustrated by the editor's
refusal to carry stories on topics she believes are important;
when she takes her stories to the local newspaper, however, she
angers the school’s editor. All the characters and situations
make for a gripping and thought-provoking story.
Small Civil War, by John Neufeld
(New York: Atheneum, 1996). The town of Owanka erupts in controversy
when a group of parents protest inclusion of The Grapes of
Wrath in the 10th-grade curriculum. The controversy divides
families, as eighth-grader Georgia Van Buren discovers when her
father supports removing the book from the schools. Georgia becomes
a leader in the group "Freedom Is Reading Is Freedom"
and her older sister Ava struggles with whether to remain an objective
reporter or take a stand on the issue.
Weirdo, by Theodore Taylor (Orlando,
FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991). Samantha Sanders and Chip
Clewt work together to solve two murders and extend a federal
ban on hunting bears in a national wildlife refuge. Their efforts
include preparing posters, discussing their views at a public
meeting and providing testimony before government officials.
Lilacs, by Carolyn Meyer (Orlando,
FL: Harcourt Brace, 1993). Based on a historical incident, this
book recounts the 1921 struggle of a black community in Texas
when their white neighbors decide to take the black families'
land for a city park. The central character is 12-year-old Rose
Lee Jefferson, who watches her brother become involved in organizing
to protest the community's actions. After a march to the town
square, some white citizens retaliate, reminding readers of the
courage required to exercise one's rights amid intolerance.
by Patricia Byrnes (Minneapolis, MN: Profiles, 1998). This book
offers profiles of eight environmentalists, including John Muir,
David Brower, Rachel Carson and Rosalie Edge. Students could analyze
the ways in which these activists used their First Amendment rights
to further their causes.
v. United States: Restrictions on Free Speech, by Karen
Alonso (Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1999). This book presents a comprehensive
examination of the history of free speech in the United States,
with special attention given to the Schenck case, in which
the “clear and present danger” test was first applied. Questions
for discussion are provided.
= Books that may not be available in bookstores, but should still
be available through public libraries.