Books Dealing with Poverty and Homelessness

Books for Younger Readers

The Hard Times Jar by Ethel Footman Smothers
Emma Turner loves books and dreams of one day having the store-bought kind, but the Turners are migrant workers and money is tight. That means “no extras,” so Emma must be content to make her own stories and books. Emma has a plan, though – she’s going to save all the money she earns picking apples and put it in Mama’s hard-times jar. Then there will surely be enough for extras. But when Mama tells Emma that this year she has to go to school instead of to work, it spoils everything. Now she will never own a store-bought book! But school turns out to have a wonderful surprise in store for Emma.

Cups Held Out by Judith L. Roth
A young girl and her father cross the border into Mexico where the child encounters poverty for the first time. Together they ponder the question, "What can we do about poor people?" Should they put money into every outstretched cup? Will buying a blanket make a difference? What about that shiny bike back home? There are no pat solutions to the problem of poverty, but there is value in asking the question and searching for personal answers. This book opens discussion for parents and children ages 6 to 10 on responsibility toward the poor of the world.

Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
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.

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
Despite the differences between people around the world, there are similarities that join us together, such as pain, joy, and love.

Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier
A young girl's dream of attending school in her small Ugandan village is fulfilled after her family is given an income-producing goat. Based on a true story about the work of Heifer Project.

Sam and The Lucky Money by Karen Chinn
This year Sam gets to spend his New Year's gift money any way he chooses. Shopping carefully in his favorite Chinatown stores, he is disappointed to find that everything he wants is too expensive. Deciding to forgo a tasty sweet or a new toy for himself, Sam donates his money instead to a barefoot homeless man.

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway
Tells a story based on fact of how one African boy gets a small loan to buy a hen so that his family has eggs to eat. This starts a chain of events that lead many people in his community out of poverty.

If The World Were a Village: A Book About the World's People by David J. Smith
Presents statistics from the global village, a metaphor for studying the cultural differences and wealth disparity among the world's population.

Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton
A poor girl delights in her coat of many colors, made by her mother from rags, because despite the ridicule of the other children she knows the coat was made with love.

Books for Older Readers

A Long Walk to Water: a Novel by Linda Sue Park
When the Sudanese civil war reaches his village in 1985, eleven-year-old Salva becomes separated from his family and must walk with other Dinka tribe members through southern Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya in search of safe haven. Based on the life of Salva Dut, who, after emigrating to America in 1996, began a project to dig water wells in Sudan.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
A young African named Kek is separated from his mother and sent to live in Minnesota. He doesn't like the snow and ice but he makes it through the winter with the help of new friends.

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor
Living in the family car in their small North Carolina town after their father leaves them virtually penniless, Georgina, desperate to improve their situation and unwilling to accept her overworked mother's calls for patience, persuades her younger brother to help her in an elaborate scheme to get money by stealing a dog and then claiming the reward that the owners are bound to offer.

The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes
Inconsolable at being separated from her older brother, eight-year-old Paris is apprehensive about her new foster family but just as she learns to trust them, she faces a life-changing decision.

The Way a Door Closes by Hope Anita Smith
A collection of poems about a thirteen-year-old boy whose father abandoned him and his family

We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Pact Led to Success by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt, Sharon Draper
Growing up on the rough streets of Newark, New Jersey, Rameck, George, and Sampson could easily have followed their childhood friends into drug dealing, gangs, and prison. But when a presentation at their school made the three boys aware of the opportunities available to them in the medical and dental professions, they made a pact among themselves that they would become doctors. It took a lot of determination—and a lot of support from one another—but despite all the hardships along the way, the three succeeded.

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
A troublesome twelve-year-old orphan, staying with an elderly artist who needs her, remembers the only other time she was happy in a foster home, with a family that truly seemed to care about her.

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
In New Orleans' Ninth Ward, twelve-year-old Lanesha, who can see spirits, and her adopted grandmother have no choice but to stay and weather the storm as Hurricane Katrina bears down upon them.

Books for Parents and Teachers

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? : A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud
Uses the metaphor of a bucket filled with good feelings show how easy and rewarding it is to express kindness, appreciation, and love on a daily basis.

The Kid's Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference by Barbara A. Lewis
This new edition of Free Spirit’s best-selling youth service guide includes a refreshed “Ten Steps to Successful Service Projects” plus hundreds of up-to-date ideas for projects—from simple to large-scale.

The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving by Ellen Sabin
This book is truly a gift for young readers ages 6 to 11 -- inspiring, teaching and engaging them to give back to the world. It is a unique, interactive process that allows parents, teachers or friends to help children understand giving and participate in a stimulating experience. The 64 page, spiral-bound, hardcover book combines colorful illustrations and entertaining narrative with fun learning activities. The book helps them record their ideas, dreams and wishes for the world --making them the authors of their stories and creating a "scrapbook" of their journey into compassion, philanthropy and the power of their actions.

Books for Adults

Ironweed by William Kennedy
Ironweed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is the best-known of William Kennedy's three Albany-based novels. Francis Phelan, ex-ballplayer, part-time gravedigger, full-time drunk, has hit bottom. Years ago he left Albany in a hurry after killing a scab during a trolley workers' strike; he ran away again after accidentally—and fatally—dropping his infant son. Now, in 1938, Francis is back in town, roaming the old familiar streets with his hobo pal, Helen, trying to make peace with the ghosts of the past and the present...

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
Clear-eyed and spirited, Taylor Greer grew up poor in rural Kentucky with the goals of avoiding pregnancy and getting away. But when she heads west with high hopes and a barely functional car, she meets the human condition head-on. By the time Taylor arrives in Tucson, Arizona, she has acquired a completely unexpected child, a three-year-old American Indian girl named Turtle, and must somehow come to terms with both motherhood and the necessity for putting down roots. Hers is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute
The Beans of Egypt, Maine introduced the world to the notorious, unforgettable Bean clan of small town Egypt, Maine—from wild man Reuben, an alcoholic who can’t seem to keep himself out of jail; to his cousins, the perpetually pregnant Roberta, and Beal, a man gentle by temperament but violent in defeat who marries his pious neighbor, Earlene Pomerleau before poverty kills him. Through her story of the Beans’s struggle with their inner demons to survive against hardship and societal ignorance, Chute emerged as a writer of immense humanity and unparalleled insight into a world most of us knew little of—if we’d recognized it at all.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to "Mister," a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister's letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation, The Grapes of Wrath is also the story of one Oklahoma family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.


The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation… As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner and Quincy Troupe
At the age of twenty, Milwaukee native Chris Gardner, just out of the Navy, arrived in San Francisco to pursue a promising career in medicine. Considered a prodigy in scientific research, he surprised everyone and himself by setting his sights on the competitive world of high finance. Yet no sooner had he landed an entry-level position at a prestigious firm than Gardner found himself caught in a web of incredibly challenging circumstances that left him as part of the city's working homeless and with a toddler son… Never giving in to despair, Gardner made an astonishing transformation from being part of the city's invisible poor to being a powerful player in its financial district.

The Soloist by Steve Lopez
The true story of journalist Steve Lopez's discovery of Nathanial Ayers, a former classical bass student at Julliard, playing his heart out on a two-string violin on Los Angeles' Skid Row. Deeply affected by the beauty of Ayers music, Lopez took it upon himself to change the prodigy's life-only to find that their relationship would have a profound change on his own life.

The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
Michael Brock is billing the hours, making the money, rushing relentlessly to the top of Drake & Sweeney, a giant D.C. law firm. One step away from partnership, Michael has it all. Then, in an instant, it all comes undone: A homeless man takes nine lawyers hostage in the firm’s plush offices. When it’s all over, the man’s blood is splattered on Michael’s face—and suddenly Michael is willing to do the unthinkable. Rediscovering a conscience he lost long ago, Michael is leaving the big time for the streets where his attacker once lived—and where society’s powerless need an advocate for justice…

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones…

‘Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt
Frank McCourt’s glorious childhood memoir, Angela’s Ashes, has been loved and celebrated by readers everywhere for its spirit, its wit and its profound humanity… And now we have ’Tis, the story of Frank’s American journey from impoverished immigrant to brilliant teacher and raconteur… The same vulnerable but invincible spirit that captured the hearts of readers in Angela’s Ashes comes of age.

Sources:
All annotations from amazon.com and the Chesterfield County Schools Library PAC (Public Access Catalog): http://www2.youseemore.com/chesterfieldps/

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