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Middle School Books on Homelessness

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Gracie's Girl - Ellen Wittlinger
ISBN: 9780689849602
Publication Date: 2002-04-01
Sixth grade is about to begin, and Bess Cunningham is gearing up to be cool. With a bunch of wild new outfits and an important job in the school play, Bess is convinced she'll get a lot of attention--at least more than she gets from her overbooked parents. With a lawyer dad and a teacher mom, both of whom are passionate about volunteering for a soup kitchen, Bess sometimes feels like she would have to eat out of a Dumpster before they'd notice her. But when she meets an elderly woman named Gracie who actually does eat other people's discarded food, she begins to realize there are real human faces on the scruffy people her parents serve at the soup kitchen. Soon she and her best friend, Ethan, are deeply entrenched in Gracie's life, and in helping establish a shelter for homeless women. Bess is amazed to discover that even without her crazy wardrobe, she has managed to make new friends and make a difference.

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How to Steal a Dog - Barbara O'Connor
ISBN: 9780312561123
Publication Date: 2009-04-27
One day Georgina has a home, a best friend, and plenty to eat. The next, she's living in a car with her mother and brother. Carrying on as usual isn't possible: washing up in a restaurant bathroom, doing homework by flashlight, losing her friend. Mom works two jobs, but it's not enough, so impatient Georgina decides to steal a dog, hoping to collect a reward. She picks her furry victim and makes careful plans--but she doesn't count on her conscience. In stripped-down, unsentimental prose, Georgina tells her own story, her words making clear her vulnerability and heartbreak as well as her determination and pride. It's puzzling why Mom doesn't seek outside help for her desperate family, and the appearance of wise Mookie, a sort of transient deus ex machina, verges on excess. Yet in the end, this is truly Georgina's story, and to O'Connor's great credit, it's Georgina herself who figures out what's right and does it. The myriad effects of homelessness and the realistic picture of a moral quandary will surely generate discussion

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The Lady in the Box - Ann McGovern; Marni Backer (Illustrator)
ISBN: 1890515019
Publication Date: 1997-06-02
t is wintertime in the city, and Christmas decorations are everywhere. But in Lizzie and Ben's neighborhood, a woman lives in a box, grateful for the warm air that escapes through a vent in the sidewalk. After watching this "lady in a box, ' the brother and sister decide to help her, despite their mother's admonition to never talk to strangers. Full color.

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Our Gracie Aunt - Jacqueline Woodson; Jon J. Muth (Illustrator)
ISBN: 0786806206
Publication Date: 2002-04-01
Illustrations by Jon J Muth. Johnson and his sister, Beebee's mama has gone away many times before, but something tells them that this time she won't be coming back. Then a social worker comes and takes them to meet their aunt Gracie. Beebee barely remembers her, and Mama never even told Johnson about her. They wonder where she's been all this time - and why she would want to take care of them. Warily, though, the children begin to trust Aunt Gracie, and in the process, understand what it means to be a family. Full-colour, full-page illustrations. Ages 5-9.

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Our Gracie Aunt - Jacqueline Woodson; Jon J. Muth (Illustrator)
ISBN: 0786806206
Publication Date: 2002-04-01
Illustrations by Jon J Muth. Johnson and his sister, Beebee's mama has gone away many times before, but something tells them that this time she won't be coming back. Then a social worker comes and takes them to meet their aunt Gracie. Beebee barely remembers her, and Mama never even told Johnson about her. They wonder where she's been all this time - and why she would want to take care of them. Warily, though, the children begin to trust Aunt Gracie, and in the process, understand what it means to be a family. Full-colour, full-page illustrations. Ages 5-9.

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December - Eve Bunting; David Diaz (Illustrator)
ISBN: 0152024220
Publication Date: 2000-10-01
Publication Date: 2000-10-01
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 pinned to one wall. On Christmas Eve they take in a frail stranger who needs a place to keep warm, and the next morning Simon wakes early to find that the woman has vanished. Instead, he sees December, the angel from the picture, with her wings fanned out over their cardboard house. Could she be real?

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Great Joy - Kate DiCamillo; Bagram Ibatoulline (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780763629205
Publication Date: 2007-10-09
Just before Christmas, when Frances sees a sad-eyed organ grinder and his monkey performing near her apartment, she cannot stop thinking about them, wondering where they go at night, and wishing she could do something to help

 

Picture Books and Chapter Books on Homelessness

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Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen - Dyanne Disalvo
ISBN: 9780688152857
Publication Date: 1997-04-24
Grade 1-3-- If good intentions made great picture books, this would be a winner. A young boy accompanies his after-school companion, Uncle Willie, to a city soup kitchen where Willie works daily. In a "bed-to-bed" manner of storytelling, readers are informed of the operation of the soup kitchen as the unnamed boy assumes the role of helper and narrator. There are some discrepancies in the text. How could the steaming soup pots on the stove "make the whole place smell delicious" before any of the ingredients have been added? If the soup kitchen is "small and bright," how does it hold 125 people? These inconsistencies, however, are not so much of a drawback as the didactic tone. The competent pictures in soft pastels are sufficient to tell much of the story, but the long, repetitive text makes this book difficult to use as a read-aloud for story hours. Although this seems to be an accurate picture of a topic that is certainly of current concern, the format suggests a younger audience than the one for whom the subject matter would be most interesting and relevant.

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Fly Away Home - Eve Bunting; Ronald Himler (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780395664155
Publication Date: 1993-03-22
Kindergarten-Grade 3-- "My dad and I live in an airport . . . the airport is better than the streets." As they did in The Wall (Clarion, 1990), Bunting and Himler successfully present a difficult subject in picture book format. A small child narrates the facts of his homeless existence--sleeping sitting up, washing in the restroom, and above all, avoiding being noticed. The brief text runs through all his emotions from a matter-of-fact acceptance to a fierce longing that makes him angry at those who have homes. Using subdued watercolors, Himler conveys the vast, impersonal spaces through which father and son move. He often places them at the back or edge of the pictures, underscoring their need to go unnoticed. This is a serious story but not an overpoweringly grim one. There is a reassuring togetherness between father and son and although there isn't an easy, happy ending, it does conclude on a poignant yet believable note of hope. Both illustrator and author focus on giving the child's-eye view of the problem, and their skill makes this a first-rate picture book that deserves a place in all collections. --,

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The Magic Beads - Genevieve Cote (Illustrator); Susin Nielsen-Fernlund
ISBN: 9781894965477
Publication Date: 2007-08-28
Trying to fit in as the new kid in a different school can be a challenging experience for many children, including Lillian. The butterflies she feels in her stomach on her first day steadily feel like larger animals churning around as the week progresses. The main culprit behind this anxiety is the upcoming Show and Tell: as the children bring in some rather impressive toys in preparation for the big event, Lillian grows increasingly worried because she has nothing comparable to bring in. She and her mom had to move suddenly to a family shelter because of her dad's bad temper, and they left all their belongings behind. Lillian's mother is saving every penny to rent an apartment and cannot afford to buy Lillian a new toy. Only when Lillian comes up with a creative solution to her predicament and comes to terms with her current living situation at the shelter do the butterflies go away.

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Rich - Nikki Grimes; R. Gregory Christie (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780399251764
Publication Date: 2009-10-29
Grade 2–4—When their third grade teacher encourages students to enter a local poetry contest, Dyamonde is not interested. However, her best friend Free sees it as an opportunity to win the $100 prize and purchase a new video game. Damaris, a shy new student, also enters the contest, capturing Dyamonde's attention. The three soon become fast friends even as they discover Damaris' secret—she is living in a homeless shelter. Nikki Grimes's beginning chapter book (Putnam, 2009) features inviting characters, an engaging story, and a look at the challenges of poverty. It also poses the question: What makes one truly rich? The rhythm, pacing, and tone of Grimes's narration is captivating, although she doesn't provide unique voices for each character.

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Maggie and Oliver or a Bone of One's Own - Valerie Hobbs; Jennifer Thermes (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781250016720
Publication Date: 2013-02-19
Maggie was a foundling, left on Madame's doorstep as a baby. Now, at age 11, conscripted as Madame's housemaid, Maggie lives with the constant threat of being put out on the streets if she does not do exactly what Madame says. But Maggie has a hard time following the rules, especially the one about staying silent, and when she speaks out at Madame's reception for the Duchess, Madame is angry and finally does what she has threatened -- she puts Maggie out on the streets of Boston, with nothing.

Oliver was a happy home dog. He had a warm bed, regular meals, and even squirrels to chase. His owner, Bertie, petted him and brushed him, until one day Bertie died, and they took her away in a wagon. Where did they take her? Oliver wondered. He set off down the cobblestone street to find Bertie and tell her to come home. But life on the street is hard for a homeless dog, and Oliver is hungry and worried.

This is the story of a homeless girl and a homeless dog in the early 1900s in Boston, and how they made their way together until they found a new home. A charming Oliver Twist story for ages 7-11

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Family under the Bridge - Natalie Savage Carlson; Garth Williams (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780064402507
Publication Date: 1989-02-15
The story of a Parisian tramp, Armand, who finds a ready-made family to live with him under the bridge, was a Newbery Honor book when it was first published more than 30 years ago. Ages 7-11.

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Home Is Where We Live - Kimiko Krogh (Illustrator); Bonnie L. Groth (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780940895348
Publication Date: 1995-09-01
Photographs with brief text chronicle a seven-month stay at a homeless shelter where a ten-year-old girl felt scared at first but later felt safe

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Good Enough to Eat - Brock Cole
ISBN: 9780374327378
Publication Date: 2007-09-18
When an Ogre comes to town demanding a bride, the mayor sacrifices the homeless girl with no name that everyone thinks is a pest and a bother, but she finds a way to outwit them all

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The Missing 'Gator of Gumbo Limbo - Jean Craighead George
ISBN: 0060203978
Publication Date: 1992-04-01
Grade 5-7-- The brilliant beginning of this novel will put readers in eager anticipation. In a secluded part of the Florida Everglades live a homeless, abused mother who has escaped her husband's violence; her daughter, Liza; and a 12-foot alligator. A few other down-on-their-luck individuals also share this lovely, undisturbed ecological habitat--until the big, harmless gator named Dajun begins giving shivers to new condominium dwellers nearby. Thus, a government agent is sent to dispatch Dajun pronto; Liza and her wooded band hope to find him first to provide a hidden sanctuary. In the end, new beginnings emerge for all. Despite the knockout first chapters, the book's pace slows a bit in the middle. The find-the-alligator premise provides no actual sightings or near-misses until the end. The quiet clues that Liza uses to locate Dajun, however, will win over nature-loving readers as well as those whose fascination with the animal world is just beginning. As in Who Really Killed Cock Robin? (HarperCollins, 1991), George brings great authenticity and knowledge to her mystery settings. Although the story is not as strong as in The Talking Earth (HarperCollins, 1983), many readers will want to enter this Everglades adventure.

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Mommy, Are We Homeless? - Jerrilyn J. Johnson; Mary Bentley Clark (Illustrator)
ISBN: 1449017304
Publication Date: 2009-08-01
Publication Date: 2009-08-01
After Molly and her mother are forces to move into a shelter, young Molly is sad that she has to ride a different bus to school and is confused about being homeless, but Molly begins to feel better about things when she makes a new friend and her mother explains that their situation is only temporary.

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Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco - Brian Bowes (Illustrator); Summer Brenner
ISBN: 160486317X
Publication Date: 2011-06-01
In this empathetic tale of hope, understanding and the importance of family, young readers are introduced to the difficult issue of poverty and the many hardships of being homeless through an inspiring young heroine named Ivy. Blending a spoonful of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist (Penguin Classics, 2010) with a dash of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (Black Swan, 2007) and a few pinches of the Adventures of Lassie, Ivy's tale will appeal to young readers as well as give adults material to discuss with them.

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The Teddy Bear - David McPhail (Illustrator)
ISBN: 0805078827
Publication Date: 2005-08-01
A young boy leaves his beloved teddy bear in a diner. A homeless man finds it in the trash can and takes care of it by tucking it in his coat pocket and sleeping with it in the dumpster. One day, he leaves the teddy bear on a park bench just when the child and his parents happen to be passing by. The youngster is pleased to find his old friend and rescues him, but when the man cries out, "Where is my bear?" the child returns the stuffed animal to him. This act of sharing and compassion will be treasured by young and old..

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The Leaves in October - Karen Ackerman
ISBN: 9780689315831
Publication Date: 1991-03-30
Grade 5-8-- Ackerman breaks new ground for younger readers in her poignant story of a homeless family who must come to terms with poverty, dependency, and possible separation. Abandoned by his wife and laid off from his factory job, Livvy's father struggles to provide for nine-year-old Livvy and her six-year-old brother, Younger. Livvy is resourceful and energetic, embarking on a money-making tissue-flower venture to help subsidize their father's promise that they'll have a home by October. Meanwhile, other homeless adults in the shelter resent the children's enterprise and income. Certain episodes are convenient thematic exposes: the confessional letter to Livvy from her mother explaining why she abandoned her family and the schoolteacher turned bag lady whom Livvy recruits to teach the children. Nonetheless, characterizations are strong, and the plot is a well-paced series of setbacks and successes. While other children's novels about the homeless portray independent characters learning to cope, this one presents the emotional distress and determination of a family struggling to stay together when the single parent must go in search of work. Livvy will capture hearts with her sensitivity, tenacity, and courage.

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Hold Fast - Blue Balliett
ISBN: 9780545299886
Publication Date: 2013-03-01
Gr 6-9-The four Pearls live in a one-room apartment in South Side Chicago, rejoicing in their love for reading and celebrating words and poetic rhythms while keeping their eye on the dream of a house of their own. Dash, the father, works at the library, quotes Langston Hughes, and takes on some extra work for a dealer of old books, hoping to build up the family nest egg. When he disappears, and a violent break-in forces Early; her mother, Sum; and her younger brother, Jubilation, to escape to a homeless shelter, they are sure that their father will show up soon and they will be together again. But Dash's strange disappearance and the police's refusal to believe that there is more to the story cause Early to summon her strength and follow the clues herself. Balliett paints a vivid picture, a literary composition reminiscent of an Impressionist painting, and the landscape of life as a child within the social-services system comes into focus through the eyes of an 11-year-old. Early's interactions with the other kids at the shelter and at school help her devise a letter-writing campaign about housing for the homeless that one hopes might gain a foothold in the real world. This is an engaging mystery in which books are both the problem and the solution, and the author shows that the fight to hold fast to your dreams rewards those who persevere. Excellent.

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Debra Cardone
 

Books on Homelessness

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The Can Man - Laura E. Williams; Craig Orback
ISBN: 9781600602665
Publication Date: 2010-04-01
Grade 3–5—Joe Peters, "The Can Man," lived in Tim's building until the auto body shop where he worked closed. Unable to find a job, he's now homeless and relies on the cash he gets from redeeming empty cans to survive. When Tim learns that his parents won't have enough money to buy him a skateboard for his birthday, he takes his cue from The Can Man and decides to earn the money himself. However, while he amasses several bags of cans, The Can Man finds almost nothing. Tim has been venturing out ahead and collecting in the homeless man's territory. Joe Peters harbors no hard feelings, though, and even helps Tim at the redemption center. But when the boy weighs his skateboard against the man's urgent need for a winter coat, he gives him the money. The lengthy text describes the homeless man's situation without judgment, and Tim's parents don't pressure him to stop encroaching on Mr. Peters's turf, leaving him free to make his own decisions. The large illustrations, rendered in oil, depict an urban neighborhood of shops and multiethnic apartment dwellers. Pair the book with Ann McGovern's The Lady in the Box (Turtle, 1997) to help students consider the human face of homelessness.

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Sam and the Lucky Money - Karen Chinn; Cornelius Van Wright (Illustrator); Ying-Hwa Hu (Illustrator)
ISBN: 188000013X
Publication Date: 1995-09-01
PreSchool-Grade 2-Sam receives four bright red envelopes decorated with shiny gold emblems as part of the traditional Chinese New Year celebration, each containing a dollar. As he accompanies his mother through Chinatown, his anticipation of how to spend it diminishes when he realizes that the "lucky money" won't buy as much as he had hoped. His mood is further sobered after an encounter with a man he stumbles upon in the street. He nobly, though not surprisingly, concludes that his four dollars would be best spent on the barefoot stranger. Though the traditional message that it is better to give than to receive will be apparent to adults immediately, it is handled in a genuine, thoughtful manner that will be realistic to children. Detailed descriptions of the sights and sounds of the New Year celebration build in contrast to Sam's growing introspection, becoming even more dramatic and adding to the depth of the story. The illustrators masterfully combine Chinatown's exotic setting with the universal emotions of childhood through expressive portraits of the characters.

Saily's Journey - Ralph da Costa Nunez; Karina Kwok; Gerstein-Simon Madeline (Illustrator)
ISBN: 0964178494
Publication Date: 2002-01-01
t is a little known fact that over one million children are homeless every night in America. Saily's Journey is a children's book that addresses the complex issues of homelessness and raises awareness about America's most vulnerable population. When Saily the Snail loses his shell in a storm, he departs on a journey to find a new home. Along the way, he meets both friends and foes as he seeks to find a place to call home.

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Saily's Journey - Ralph da Costa Nunez; Karina Kwok; Gerstein-Simon Madeline (Illustrator)
ISBN: 0964178494
Publication Date: 2002-01-01
t is a little known fact that over one million children are homeless every night in America. Saily's Journey is a children's book that addresses the complex issues of homelessness and raises awareness about America's most vulnerable population. When Saily the Snail loses his shell in a storm, he departs on a journey to find a new home. Along the way, he meets both friends and foes as he seeks to find a place to call home.

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A Shelter in Our Car - Monica Gunning; Elaine Pedlar (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780892393084
Publication Date: 2013-04-01
Kindergarten-Grade 3-After her father died, eight-year-old Zettie and her mother left Jamaica in search of education and a better life in America. They now live in an old car. Zettie's daily routine includes waking up to blaring sirens and flashing lights, washing in cold water in a park rest room, being bullied by boys at school, and feeling hungry and resentful. Spending time with a friend who is also homeless, and a reassuring encounter with a concerned policeman bring comfort at crucial moments, but the girl's life is not an easy one. Not since Maurice Sendak's We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (HarperCollins, 1993) has a picture book dealing with homelessness maintained such emotional intensity. The illustrations call to mind images by Georges Rouault. Pedlar's figures are defined with thick black lines; exaggerated features and the expressionistic use of color accentuate the family's suffering. In the end, Mama's successful day helping at a Health Fair and the promise of a job lead to a bed and shower in a motel-and hope. Children will be moved by Zettie's plight and relieved that there are options.

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