It’s hard for most kids to imagine being poor. For those kids who don’t know what it’s like, you can build empathy and understanding about poverty and homelessness by stories. Here’s a list of children’s books about being poor and homeless.
Books That Facilitate Empathy: Poverty
Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel (ages 4+)
Sofia finds out that Maddi’s fridge has no food but Maddi doesn’t want Sofia to tell anyone. Sofia really wants to help Maddi but how can she?
Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (ages 4+)
Callie’s family must sell everything to move to a smaller home. It’s sad but this family faces the change with courage and love.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (ages 4+)
CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town and CJ notices differences about the neighborhoods. Caldecott winner!
The Can Man by Laura E. Williams, illustrated by Craig Orback (ages 4+)
Tim starts collecting the cans that the Can Man normally collects. Tim’s taken the homeless man’s only way to make money and he realizes some big truths. It’s a powerful story that shows Tim realizing the world doesn’t revolve around him and that his actions have consequences.
Almost Home by Joan Bauer (ages 8 – 12)
A great teacher, a rescue dog, and a love of poetry help Sugar face the challenges of homelessness.
How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor (ages 8 – 12)
Georgina thinks that she can help get them out of living in their car if she can get the reward money for a lost dog. Now she just has to steal a dog. . . It’s a sweet story with an unexpected friendship that comes to mean the world to Georgina.
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (ages 6 – 9)
Classmates including Maddie tease the poor girl in their class, Wanda, who says she has 100 dresses at home. When Maddie visits Wanda’s house, she discovers the bittersweet truth. One of my favorite books EVER to teach kindness and empathy.
The Junction Between Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler (ages 8 – 12)
Auggie worries that her town’s beautification committee will condemn her grandpa’s unusual house of repurposed objects.
Trash by Andy Mulligan (ages 8 – 12)
Survival means picking through trash. Until Raphael finds something and determine to fix the corruption and injustice in their city.
The Same Stuff as Stars by Katherine Paterson (ages 8 – 12)
Angel’s mother abandons Angel and her brother at their ancient great-grandmother’s run-down trailer home. Making things more bearable is a mysterious neighbor who teaches Angel about constellations, sparking a passion for astronomy. Another amazing story from Paterson.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (ages 8 – 12)
They’re dirt poor, her mother dies, her father is sick, and the constant dust storms cover the world. Billie Jo narrates it all in free verse and manages to find the grit to keep going.
Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt (ages 12+)
I read this series in high school & love that it still is relevant today. Dicey’s mom abandons she and her three siblings at a mall forcing the kids to forage for food, hide, and keep going onward as they try to get to a safe place, their great-aunt’s home.
The Dogs of Winter by Bobbie Pyron (ages 8 – 12)
Abandoned at age five, Ivan’s forced to live on the streets. He lives with a pack of dogs, becoming almost as feral as his pack. Like many books on this list, this is pretty sad to imagine how hungry his days are, and how much he has lost, but very worth reading.
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate (ages 8 – 12)
After having lost their home and living in their van for 3 months, the family is now about to lose their apartment. It isn’t until his imaginary friend Crenshaw shows up and pushes Jackson to speak the truth to his parents that Jackson learns that he’s not facing these challenges alone.
Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (ages 8 – 12)
Gage and his little sister, Ari, are moving from one friend’s couch to another, trying to save up enough money for their own apartment. Ari wants to stay with her brother, go to school, do homework, and have enough to eat. But will they make it on their own? Bittersweet and heart-wrenching.
No and Me by Delphine de Vigan (ages 12+)
Lou meets No in Paris while researching homeless teens and No moves in with Lou’s family. Their friendship provides an insightful look into family, homelessness, and friendship.
Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick (ages 12+)
Amber and her alcoholic mom live in the yellow school bus that her mom drives. Usually Amber is a rock star of hope but after a fatal tragedy, Amber loses hope and faith.
Tyrell by Coe Booth (ages 12+)
He’s living at a homeless shelter and feeling worthless. Certainly he’s not worthy enough for his girlfriend or staying on the straight and narrow.
Are there any other children’s books about poverty that you recommend for this list?