We envision a future where people actively work to dismantle injustices and build a more peaceful, equitable world.

Duncan Tonatiuh: Looking at Injustice

Intermediate & Middle School Activity

Meet Duncan Tonatiuh, author of the 2015 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Winning Title for Younger Children, ‘Separate is Never Equal.’ 

Duncan Tonatiuh
Separate is Never Equal

Read a summary of ‘Separate is Never Equal.’

In 1944, Sylvia Mendez’s Mexican American family had recently moved. She and her siblings were not allowed to go to the public school nearest their farm and were instead told they had to attend the Mexican school, which was farther away and had fewer resources. Sylvia’s father found other families willing to join him in suing the school district, whose only explanation had been, “That is how it is done.” During the trial, Sylvia and her family sat through infuriating testimony in which school district officials blatantly claimed that Mexican children were inferior to white children — in their personal habits, their social abilities, and their intelligence. Author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh quotes from the trial as part of this narrative that is grounded in both facts and the emotional experience of young Sylvia. The ample end matter includes a lengthy author’s note with additional information and photographs of Sylvia then and now. A glossary, bibliography, and index round out this distinctively illustrated picture book account of the events surrounding the court case that desegregated California schools seven years before Brown v. Board of Education.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin – Madison, 2015

Learn More

Learn about how Duncan’s illustrations are based in pre-Columbian art and about several of his books including ‘Separate is Never Equal.’

Next, watch a short book trailer for ‘Separate is Never Equal’ that highlights the courtcase at the heart of the story.

Enjoy exploring a gallery of Ducan’s art on his website! Look for an image that particularly speaks to you. Click on an image for a closer look. Once you click on an image, you can then click to watch a slideshow of all the images.

Now Let’s Get to Next Steps!

Guiding questions for your reading, writing, thinking and acting:

Choose an image that speaks to you from Duncan’s gallery. Why did you choose it? What do you especially like about it?

Look at the image for a minute, then close your eyes. With your eyes closed, imagine the image is literally speaking to you. Open your eyes. What does it say? Write down what the image says to you.

You are welcome to share your writing and/or thoughts in our comment section—be sure to include the name of the image you chose– (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo

Duncan says, “Kids connect with [Separate is Never Equal] because they see the injustice in this story and sometimes they see parallels to some of their own experiences.” In the 1940s, children were legally assigned schools based on race and national origin, schools that were not equal in quality in many ways. Now segregation is illegal but yet it persists in the sense that children often got to schools where most of their classmates look like they do and school facilities from one district to the next are not equal in quality.

What about your school? What do you know about schools in other areas of your state? Do you see injustice? Close at hand? Further afield? Write a paragraph of two exploring your thinking and feelings about today’s segregation. What do you wonder about it? What do you wish?

You are welcome to share your experience and thoughts about this activity in our comment section below (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo

We look forward to hearing from you!

Jane Addams Peace Association