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Regardless of your political preferences or perspectives, it is undeniable that we are entering into a time of great economic distress. More and more of our students are going to be dealing with poverty, hunger, and housing insecurity. The financial difficulty often leads to additional stresses at home, including parents working multiple jobs and domestic abuse.

The thing about poverty is that it is not always readily apparent, and it usually brings with it a great deal of shame. 

Many families will be entering into a time of true need for the first time ever. They may be wearing the nice clothes they had before their parents lost their jobs, they may be picked up in a nice vehicle that they still own, and they may still have a fancy cell phone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to a secure home with a fully stocked kitchen.

As poverty increases, more of our students will be latch-key children with no one at home to care for them until late at night, much less reinforce their learning or make sure they do their homework. Many of them will now be babysitters, filling in for parents while they are at work.

For other students, this is nothing new. 

But now community resources are stretched even more thin than they have been previously.

While reading can serve as an escape, it can also be very discouraging to only see characters who are privileged in movies, TV shows, and books.

It can be incredibly comforting and liberating for students to read about young people who are experiencing similar struggles but manage to survive or even overcome. If it hits a little too close to home, consider teaching stories that take place in a different setting or in which a character dealing with poverty is just one of the many characters in the story.

Another benefit is exposing students who are privileged to the experiences of living in poverty. They may never have considered the shame and pain that they are causing by talking about their most recent grand vacation, showing off new clothes, or bragging about birthday and Christmas presents. 

Not to mention snide comments about off-brand shoes, generic lunches, or stained and holey clothing.

If nothing else, add some of these titles to your classroom.

As with all content, you should make sure that you have properly vetted, studied, and received approval for any piece before teaching it or even adding it to your classroom library.

Please add your favorite titles in the comments!

Children’s Books

A Different Pond, Bao Phi

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, Susan Hood

Coat of Many Colors, Dolly Parton

If the Shoe Fits, Gary Soto

Maddi’s Fridge, Lois Brandt

Malaika’s Costume, Nadia Hohn

Still a Family: A Story about Homelessness, Brenda Reeves Sturgis

The Can Man, Laura Williams

The Hard-Times Jar, Ethel Footman Smothers

The Magic Beads, Susin Nielsen-Fernlund

Those Shoes, Maribeth Boelts

Yard Sale, Eve Bunting

Chapter Books

Crenshaw, Katherine Applegate

Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan

Front Desk, Kelly Yang

Hold Fast, Blue Balliett

How to Steal a Dog, Barbara O’Connor

Just Under the Clouds, Melissa Sarno

Okay for Now, Gary Schmidt

Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse

Paper Things, Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Seedfolks, Paul Fleischman

The Bridge Home, Padma Venkatraman

The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes

The Same Stuff as Stars, Katherine Paterson

Towers Falling, Jewell Parker Rhodes

Trash, Andy Mulligan

Junior High

Discovering Wes Moore, Wes Moore

Free Lunch, Rex Ogle

Genesis Begins Again, Alicia D. Williams

Homecoming (series), Cynthia Voigt 

Lizzie Flying Solo, Nanci Turner Steveson

No Fixed Address, Susin Nielsen

No and Me, Delphine De Vigan

Sorta Like a Rock Star, Matthew Quick

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!, Jessica Kim

The Benefits of Being an Octopus, Ann Braden

Tyrell, Coe Booth

High School

1984, George Orwell

A Love Hate Thing, Whitney Grandison

Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J. D. Vance

Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain, James Bloodworth

How to Build a Heart, Maria Padian

Inventing Victoria, Tonya Bolden

Jackpot, Nic Stone

On the Come Up, Angie Thomas

Ordinary Girls, Blair Thornburgh

Pemmican Wars: A Girl Called Echo (graphic novel series), Katherena Vermette

Roam, C. H. Armstrong

Surviving the City (graphic novel series), Tasha Spillet 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie

The Other Wes Moore: One Man, Two Fates, Wes Moore

This Place: 150 Years Retold (graphic novel), Kateri Aklwenzie-Damm & 20 others

Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

When My Heart Joins the Thousand, A. J. Steiger

Where the Heart Is, Jo Knowles

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