Excellent Children’s Books About Poverty

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Affiliate Links Children’s books about poverty are important. For one, kids need to see themselves in stories. Reading about someone who is poor like you are is affirming. Additionally, for those kids who don’t know what poverty is like, these stories build empathy and understanding about poverty and homelessness.

Here’s a list of excellent children’s books about being poor and homeless.

Books That Facilitate Empathy: Poverty

Madde's Fridge 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 Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy For Poverty
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 Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy For Poverty
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 Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy and Understanding About Poverty
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.

The Hundred Dresses Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy and Understanding About Poverty
The Hundred Dresses
by Eleanor Estes (ages 6 – 9)
Classmates including Maddie tease a girl in their class, Wanda, who says she has 100 dresses at home. When Maddie visits Wanda’s house, she discovers the bittersweet truth — she might not have real dresses but she has drawings of 100 dresses. This is a book that will teach kindness and empathy.

Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy and Understanding About Poverty
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 Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy and Understanding About Poverty
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.

books about poverty
Front Desk
by Kelly Yang  (ages 9 – 12)
Mia and her parents have struggled ever since moving to America from China. When her parents take a new live-in job at a motel, they end up working around the clock for very little pay. Mia helps out by working at the front desk. She befriends the weekly tenants and uses her English skills to write letters advocating other people in tough spots— like her uncle whose sweatshop boss has taken his passport and weekly, Hank, who needs a letter of recommendation to get a job. This book is more than a memorable coming-of-age immigrant story, it’s also about tolerance and diversity and as the author says at the end, “what happens when you include [others]…despite all your suffering and heartache…I loved this story— the writing, the characters, the plot, and the messages of inclusion and determination. Added to: Best Middle-Grade Chapter Books of 2018

 

chapter books about poverty
No Fixed Address
by Susin Nielsen  (ages 9 – 12)
Felix doesn’t want to tell anyone that he’s been living in a van for months and months. His mom, Astrid, is worried about social services taking him so he keeps quiet even though he really wants a bathroom. His hope is that he can win his favorite TV game show so they’ll finally have enough money to get an apartment. One of the things I loved about this story is how it shows a child’s love for a parent despite all the parent’s flaws–and his mom has many like lying and not holding down a job. It also depicts homelessness as circumstances beyond a child’s control — which is something most kids don’t know or think to consider. This well-written book is beautiful, important, and highly recommended.

 

chapter books about poverty
The Benefits of Being an Octopus
by Ann Braden (ages 9 – 12)
This is a well-written story with an emotional poignancy about poverty and unhealthy relationships. Zoey is trying to stay hidden to survive her life but it’s not easy. She and her siblings are living with their mom’s newest boyfriend in his trailer. She’s required to care for her siblings while her mom works …all the while avoiding making a mess or any noise. A kind teacher at school persists with a reluctant, non-participative Zoey, encouraging her to try debate club. It’s that activity that eventually gives Zoey the courage and perspective to talk to her mom about everything — from her mom’s boyfriend’s belittling to her own friend getting threatened with a gun. That conversation changes everything for their family for the better…

books about poverty
Okay for Now
by Gary D. Schmidt (ages 9 – 12)
One of the best chapter books I’ve ever read whose characters I felt deeply connected to… The main character, Doug, is struggling to read while living in poverty with an abusive dad and older brother. What saves him is connecting to a librarian who shows him Audobon’s bird paintings and how to draw. It’s excellent!!!!

chapter books about poverty and homelessness
Just Under the Clouds
by Melissa Sarno (ages 9 – 12)
This is a coming-of-age story about what makes a home, family, and friends. Cora is responsible for her little sister, Adare, while her mom works. Cora loves climbing and trees but doesn’t love not having a home or any friends. When their mom takes them to stay with an old friend, it finally feels like a home. And she makes a friend at school, one who understands what it’s like to not have a permanent home because she lives in a houseboat. Moving and well-written.


The Bridge Home
by Padma Venkatraman (ages 9 – 12)
Set in India, Viji writes this story as letters to her little sister Rukku who has intellectual disabilities starting with when they run away from an abusive father and sick mother to the big city. There, they meet kind brothers and live with them under a bridge, scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. Their days are hard but Viji learns how much more capable her sister is then she previously thought. Unfortunately, her sister Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever. Viji might need to trust someone to get Rukku help. It’s an honest, eye-opening story that reveals the plight of many homeless children in India.

Tune It Out
by Jamie Sumner
I think you’ll love Lou’s story as much as me — it’s a beautiful character arc, the most authentic portrayal of SPD in middle-grade literature that I’ve read, and an un-put-downable, heartfelt story. 12-year-old Lou and her mom live in a truck. While her mom works as a waitress, Lou hangs out or sings for money, living her mom’s dream even though Lou dreads performing, it makes her extremely anxious. One evening, underage Lou drives in a snowstorm to pick up her mom from work and gets into an accident and Lou gets out in foster care with an aunt she’s never met. In her new home, Lou goes to a fancy private school where, after a fire drill meltdown, she’s assessed with Sensory Processing Disorder. She starts to get help with an occupational therapist and a sensory diet, understanding herself better, and learning to trust her kind aunt and uncle. Her situation is complicated and imperfect which feels completely authentic.

Junction of Sunshine and Lucky Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy and Understanding About Poverty
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.

Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy and Understanding About Poverty
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 Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy and Understanding About Poverty
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 Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy and Understanding About Poverty
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 Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy and Understanding About Poverty
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 it is very worth reading.

 

Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy and Understanding About Poverty
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
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.

Trash Children's Books That Facilitate Empathy and Understanding About Poverty
Trash
by Andy Mulligan (ages 8 – 12)
Survival means picking through piles of trash. Until Raphael finds something making him determined to fix the corruption and injustice in their city.

No and Me
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
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
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?

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27 Responses

  1. Ok… I grew up in poverty. We didn’t know whether we were going to eat. We didn’t have money for medications. I rarely saw my parents because they worked every spare moment. I never knew where I would live from.one day to the next as we could rarely make the rent. When we were finally able to settle down in a rundown trailer, I was so happy.

    That being said, I do not like some of these books. Some of them are great. Yet, some teach children, in my opinion, that poverty is inescapable. It is not inescapable for most Americans. Hard work and a disciplined approach to money management can get most families in the United States out of poverty. Not all, and that certainly isn’t the case in every country. But here, in the US, we are extremely fortunate. My parents worked themselves silly and they are now solidly in the middle class. As a parent, it taught me that money management is crucial. Accepting help while you need it is important. Learning the difference between true needs and wants is also crucial for breaking the cycle of poverty.

    I have not read all of these books and some of them are fantastic for teaching the complexities of poverty (The Yard Sale is a great one). However, if you want to truly show inescapable poverty, you really need books about children growing up in poverty in cou tries with corrupt governments and limited opportunities for work. Those are the situations which are truly dire.

    I don’t know… I am not trying to be argumenative, but something just doesn’t sit well with me while reading books like The Can Man.

    Pair these books with books on saving, making wise money choices, and world cultures and maybe I would be more comfortable with it. But as someone who grew up not habing money to even wear underwear, I am a little uncomfortable with the idea that some of these books are teaching.

  2. As a new teacher I wish that you had put the age categories with each of the books because I hadn’t heared about any of these books, unfortunately. Some you can some what tell what age group they would be for. But with adding the ages it would definitely help lead me in the right direction.

  3. Jean Marie Walker says:

    I recommend the revealers and all boks by Doug Wilhelm and reaching dustin by Vicki Grove for middle school students.

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    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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