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!
A Different Pond, Bao Phi
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
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
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
1984, George Orwell
A Love Hate Thing, Whitney Grandison
Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover
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