Read It! Addressing Hunger and Homelessness

We like to use picture books to teach and learn just about anything. This topic is a particularly good example of just how essential picture books can be for learning. Often it's difficult for adults to wrap their minds around the hows and whys of hunger and homelessness. Explaining it to a child can be even more challenging. I think most of us have encountered someone we assume is homeless. And even more of us have encountered someone who is experiencing food insecurity, though we will never know it.

Hunger and homelessness have many faces and many stories. Here are a few titles that offer various perspectives and situations to help start a dialogue about this topic. Most of these books are still in print and available for free at the library. I like Better World Books for great deals on used titles. I also included an Amazon link. Warning: After reading any of these titles, the hows and whys just might turn into...
Why aren't we doing something about this? How can I help?

DiSalvo-Ryan, 1997 | Fiction | Level 3.3

"A straightforward fictional view of an urban soup kitchen, as observed by a boy visiting it with his 'Uncle Willie,' who works there every day....The difficult lives of those fed (including children)--as well as the friendly, nonintrusive attitude of the kitchen workers toward them--are presented sensitively but without sentimentality."

The Can Man 
Williams, 2010 | Fiction | Level 3.4 

"As Tim ponders how he might earn money for a skateboard, he hears The Can Man down the street collecting empty cans. This gives Tim an idea. By the end of the week, Tim has almost reached his goal—until a chance encounter with The Can Man changes everything. --Told with honesty and respect, this timely story shines a perceptive light on current social concerns. Readers will be encouraged to think beyond themselves and celebrate the simple acts of kindness that make a difference in people’s lives."

Fly Away Home
Bunting, 1991 | Fiction | Level 2.7

"A homeless boy who lives in an airport with his father, moving from terminal to terminal and trying not to be noticed, is given hope when he sees a trapped bird find its freedom." 
Bunting, 1997 | Fiction | Level 2.9

"Simon and his mom don’t have much--the cardboard house they built for themselves, a tiny Christmas tree, and a picture of an angel from a calendar pinned to one wall. The angel’s name is December. Simon’s mom says she sings to them when they’re asleep. On Christmas Eve, Simon and his mom take in an old woman who needs a place to keep warm, and the next morning, Simon wakes early to find that the old woman has vanished. Instead, he sees December, their Christmas angel, with her wings fanned out over their cardboard house. Could she be real?"

The Lady in the Box
McGovern, 1997 | Fiction | Level 3.1

"It is wintertime in the city and freezing cold, but not everyone is inside and warm. Ben and his sister Lizzie know that there is a lady who lives outside in a box over a warm air vent. The children worry about the kind-looking lady, and begin sneaking food and clothes out of their apartment for her. Gently told and powerfully illustrated in rich hues, The Lady in the Box deals candidly with the issue of homelessness."

Marie Plays Homeless
Ross, 2010 | Fiction | Level 5

"Marie wants a new Jeannie doll, but her dad won't give her the money. She has a plan to acquire the money, but she never dreamed that the plan would change her mind. Some things are more important than either money or dolls."

Circle of Friends
Carmi, 2006 | Fiction | All Levels

"In this wordless story, a boy anonymously shares his snack with a homeless man, and inspires a cycle of good will."

I Can Hear the Sun   
Polacco, 1999 | Fiction | Level 3.7

"Fondo's life is sad and lonely until he meets Stephanie Michele. She takes care of the geese who live on the shore of Lake Merritt, and when Fondo shows up there one day, she lets him help. But now the geese are preparing to fly south for the winter, and Fondo says that they've invited him to join them. Is hope enough to accomplish a miracle? Patricia Polacco masterfully intertwines themes of friendship, homelessness, and faith to create a beautiful modern myth."

Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco
Brenner, 2011 | Fiction | Level 5

"In this empathetic tale of hope, understanding, and the importance of family, children face the difficult issue of poverty and the many hardships of being homeless through an inspiring young heroine named Ivy. Ivy is a young girl who finds herself homeless on the streets of San Francisco when she and her father, Poppy, are evicted from his artist loft. Struggling to survive day to day, Ivy and Poppy befriend a dog who takes them to the ramshackle home of quirky siblings Eugenia and Oscar, making the start of some amazing adventures. The story relates a hopeful but realistic representation of homelessness that will appeal to young readers and give adults material to discuss with children." 

The Cardboard Shack Beneath the Bridge: Helping Children Understand Homelessness
Huff, 2007 | Nonfiction | All Ages
*Kindle Only

"This book captures all that Tim has seen in his years working on the street with the homeless in a form children can easily understand. Homelessness has been called one of the greatest tragedies of our time. In an age of prosperity and plenty, hundreds of thousands of people, continue to find themselves homeless. Tim Huff has been called, by several national papers, as 'not just another outreach worker, but a tireless activist for the cause of the homeless.'”

The Lunch Thief
Bromley, 2010 | Fiction | Level 3.1  

"Rafael saw Kevin, a new kid in his class, sneak his lunch bag from underneath his desk and tuck it in his backpack. But how can he do something about the theft without picking a fight? Inspired by his mother's advice to use his mouth before his fists, Rafael bides his time, but other kids' lunches are disappearing, too. Rafael discovers Kevin's family might be one of the families who lost their homes in the recent wildfires."

Just Juice
Hesse, 1998 | Fiction | Level 3.8 

"Realizing that her father's lack of work has endangered her family, nine-year-old Juice decides that she must return to school and learn to read in order to help their chances of surviving and keeping their house."

Rosie the Shopping Cart Lady
Martin, 1996 | Fiction | Level 4

"For any parent, grandparent or friend who has tried to explain homelessness to a child, this book will be an invaluable resource. It paints the picture of Rosie through a child's eyes, and shows the magic power of simple love. Makes a perfect gift for the child who is beginning to examine the world around him or herself and ask intelligent questions." 

A Shelter in Our Car 
Gunning, 2004 | Fiction | Level 3.2 

"Since leaving Jamaica for America after her father died, Zettie lives in a car with her mother while they both go to school and plan for a real home."

The Quiltmaker's Journey
Brumbeau, 2005 | Fiction | Level 4.7 

"Escaping from the protective walls of wealth and privilege, a young girl discovers the harsh world outside, where some people don't have as much as others. When she realizes that she has the power to help them, the young girl finds a strength and peace she never knew before. Making the loveliest quilts in all the land, the young girl decides to give them away."

After I put this list together, I found that A Mighty Girl also offers a list of books that address social issues, including homelessness. Here is that list of additional titles, which feature stories about strong female characters and selections for higher-level readers. 

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