In The Streets Are Free, readers become enveloped in a tale that describes how “For the children of the barrio of San José de la Urbina in Caracas, their only playground is the busy streets. Where once there were fields and streams, the landscape is now defined by local towers, sewers, and highways” (Zinn Education Project). The book begs the obvious question of “are our streets free?” If not, where can our children go to play if they do not have access to formal, public infrastructure like parks and playgrounds?
A children’s book written by Kurusa (pseudonym for a Venezuelan anthropologist and editor, according to the Zinn Education Project) and illustrated by Monika Deppert, this is a book for teaching about social justice. And it’s not a pie-in-the-sky effort to do so. Based in real events, it depicts a realism bordering on optimism. A review from Library Thing tells us that “This delightful and empowering book is my favorite storybook in my extensive multicultural library that I’ve grown over the decades for my innercity classroom. It tells the true Venezuelan story of children who, with the help of the librarian, organize themselves a play space. Remarkably, it relates the two needed strands of organizing: pressuring the government (or other power structure) to do its job, and bringing the community together to do what the government can’t.”
If you’re interested in using literacy to introduce social justice topics to your classroom, and to empower your students to think about their own agency, consider this book. It’s beautifully illustrated and really does a remarkable job of conveying how young children (most suited for ages 4-9) can be at once respectful and defiant of the power structures that overlay their lives.