Poverty Annotated Bibliography


Dr. Ava L. McCall


Children’s Books On Poverty

Children’s Periodicals Dealing With Poverty

Adult Resources Dealing With Poverty

Children’s Books On Child Labor Or Exploited Labor

Children’s Books On Homelessness

Children’s and Adult Books On Migrant Workers

Adult Resources Dealing with Migrant Workers

Social Action Resources Dealing With Poverty

Social Action Projects To Address Poverty




Children’s Books On Poverty


Anzaldua, G. (1993). Friends from the other side. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press.


Picture book, elementary. The story is written in English and Spanish. It describes the friendship between Prietita, a Mexican American girl, with Joaquin, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Joaquin and his mother come “from the other side” of the Rio Grande River in Mexico to search for work in the United States. Joaquin and his mother live in a shack with only three walls and a tarp, but offer food to guests. Joaquin sells firewood to earn money, but his mother has no work. Prietita shows friendship to Joaquin by defending him against the taunts of being a “wetback,” and her neighbors hide Joaquin and his mother from the Border Patrol.


Bregoli, J. (2004). The goat lady. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House.


Picture book, elementary level. The author tells about an elderly woman who lives in a rundown farmhouse with white goats, a gray goose, and chickens in the yard. During warm weather, the goats are allowed inside the house. Neighbors complain about the unruly animals and are curious about the woman who owns them. The author becomes acquainted with Noelie Lemire Houle, the “goat lady” who wears old, mismatched clothes with missing buttons. Noelie milks goats every day, drinks it herself to help her arthritis, and gives the extra milk to those who need it. She also donates some of her goats to the Heifer Project to help low-income people around the world become self-sufficient. After the author’s mother painted many portraits of Noelie and exhibited them in the town hall art show, the neighbors become more accepting of Noelie’s way of life.


Cohn, D. (2002). Si, se puede! Yes, we can! Janitor strike in L. A. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.


Picture book, elementary level. The story is based on the 2002 janitors’ strike in Los Angeles, but is personalized with one mother’s experiences. The text describes a mother’s participation in a janitor’s strike because her earnings as a full-time janitor do not pay enough to care for her child and mother as she wants. She must work on weekends cleaning houses and washing clothes, which eliminates important family time. Carlitos, his classmates, and teacher find a way to support the strikers and the janitors receive the pay raise they deserve.


Cohn, D. (2011). Roses for Isabella. Great Barrington, MA: SteinerBooks.


Picture book, elementary level. The narrator of the story is Isabella, whose parents work on a fair trade rose farm in Ecuador. The farm is considered fair trade because it is cleaner and safer and workers are paid better than traditional farms. When Isabella’s parents worked on a traditional farm, her mother had severe headaches and rashes from the chemicals sprayed on the roses. The “afterword” by Lynn Lohr explains the history of fair trade, which ensures fair prices for farmers and workers in poor countries who sell their products to consumers in more wealthy countries. This practice helps to alleviate poverty in poor countries and helps these workers take care of their families, communities, and the environment. Consumers need to look for fair trade labels to make sure they are purchasing fair trade products.


Coombs, K. M. (2000). Children of the dust days. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books.


Picture book, elementary level. The text is liberally illustrated with archival photographs revealing the hardships children and their families experienced during the dust storms and drought of the North American plains during the 1930s. Because of the drought, farm families could not grow crops to sell or food to eat, so they often went hungry and lost their farms. Many families traveled to California looking for work harvesting crops. If the family was fortunate enough to find work, children worked alongside their parents, but often went hungry and lived in unhealthy camps. If children went to school, they were ridiculed because of their lack of school knowledge and their poor clothing. The author suggests additional resources for learning about the dust days and extension activities for teachers to use after reading the text with students.


Cooper, M. L. (2004). Dust to eat: Drought and depression in the 1930s. New York: Clarion Books.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The text is embellished with photographs of the Dust Bowl, its impact on people’s lives, and the economic recovery during World War II. The author also specifies his sources for each chapter, including John Steinbeck’s newspaper articles, Woody Guthrie’s autobiography and biography, Caroline Henderson’s collection of letters, and other historical accounts of this time period. The book portrays the causes and effects of the Great Dust Bowl, which led to the farmers’ loss of crops and livestock and eventual loss of farms on the plains. The Works Progress Administration and Agricultural Adjustment Act in the 1930s helped farmers, but 3 million left their farms and searched for jobs harvesting crops in California. These “Okies,” or migrant families, found hard work, low pay, poor living conditions, and a great deal of prejudice as they moved from valley to valley harvesting fruits and vegetables.


Damon, D. (2002). Headin’ for better times: The arts of the Great Depression. Minneapolis: Lerner.


Upper elementary/middle school level/adult resource. The author reviews the causes of the Great Depression, the harmful effects on lower- and middle-class people, and the role of art during this difficult era. Artists also lost their jobs during the Great Depression, but they depicted the conditions and suffering of the Great Depression, offered hope, and encouraged citizens to question the effectiveness of capitalism in providing living wages for all people. Roosevelt’s New Deal, designed to help the U.S. recover from the Great Depression, was extended to artists. The WPA arts program encouraged visual artists, photographers, musicians, actors, and writers to create paintings, murals, posters, sculptures, movies, plays, songs, and books to portray people’s hardships during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, as well as avenues of escape from their troubles. Overall, the book encourages readers to consider the importance of art in reflecting a time period and envisioning a better future.


Danticat, E. (2002). Behind the mountains. New York: Scholastic.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The realistic fiction is part of the First Person Series about children and youth who immigrate to the United States. The text is based on the author’s experiences of her father and then her mother leaving Haiti to work in New York City to earn money to support the family. After eight years of separation, the author and her brother were able to join their parents and younger siblings in New York City, which required considerable adjustment. The text begins in 2000 and describes the main character Celiane, her older brother, and her mother’s lives in their two-room house in a rural, mountainous village of Beau Jour, Haiti while their father works in New York City. Celine’s father moved to New York City because he was unable to earn enough through farming in Haiti. Celiane’s father sends money to pay their living expenses, which provides their basic needs and educational expenses for Celiane to attend primary school and for her older brother to attend tailoring school. However, they miss Celiane’s father and look forward to his regular cassette recordings to remain in contact. Although Celiane’s family seems to live a simple, comfortable life in Haiti, Celiane and her mother are hurt by a pipe bomb which appears to be connected to the presidential election resulting in the election of Jean-Betrand Aristide. Their injuries precipitate Tante Rose, Papa’s sister, and Franck, Papa’s friend/employer in New York City, to arrange for Celiane, her brother and mother to leave Haiti and join their husband and father in New York City. The text describes several of the adjustments Celiane, her brother, and mother face in their new home, such as how to use the stove, stay warm in the cold and snow, travel to and from school, understand a new language and new school subjects, and make friends. Conflicts arise between Celiane’s father and brother over different goals they have for Celiane’s brother’s life. The text can be used to portray a first person perspective on life in Haiti and the difficulties of immigrating to the U.S.


DiSalvo-Ryan, D. (1991). Uncle Willie and the soup kitchen. New York: Morrow Junior Books.


Picture book, lower elementary level. The story is told by Uncle Willie's nephew who is cared for every day after school by Uncle Willie. While the young boy is in school, his uncle works at a soup kitchen. When he asks about the soup kitchen, Uncle Willie invites him to spend a day with him helping to prepare and serve lunch for others who "need help." The day at the soup kitchen portrays friendly people working together preparing food often donated from local markets and welcoming the people who come to eat.


DiSalvo, D. (2001). A castle on Viola Street. New York: HarperCollins.


Picture book, elementary level. Andy and his family live in a small apartment because they cannot afford a house. Andy’s father works at a diner and his mother works part-time job at a bakery. Their desire for a house becomes stronger when they learn about an organization which restores empty, run-down houses through volunteer labor. Those who volunteer may become the owners of the renovated home. After Andy’s family works hard on Saturdays helping refurbish one house, they discover they will become the recipient of another house on the same street. The author includes background information on such organizations as Habitat for Humanity which enables low-income people to afford a home. She also has volunteered to build and renovate homes through an organization similar to Habitat for Humanity.


Dole, M. L. (2004). Birthday in the barrio. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press.


Picture book, elementary level. The text is written in Spanish and English and focuses on a Cuban-American community in Miami, Floria. Lazarita wants a special “quinces,” or fifteenth birthday celebration to mark her entrance into womanhood. However, her father is out of work and cannot afford it. Instead, Lazarita’s sister Rosario and her friend Chavi devise a way to provide the birthday celebration while also raising money for a homeless shelter. The two determined girls appeal to community members to prepare and donate food, and adults arrange to close the street for a block party. The party brings the community together, celebrates Lazarita’s “quinces,” and raises funds to keep the homeless shelter open.


Estes, E. (1971). The hundred dresses. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.


Upper elementary. Wanda Petronski is quiet and generally excluded by others in her class at school partially due to her different last name and partly due to her poverty. She always wears the same, faded dress to school, but once announced she had 100 dresses at home. This led to teasing from the other children about Wanda's 100 dresses and the eventual move by Wanda's family. The class discovers Wanda is a talented artist when she wins an art contest with her sketches of 100 different dresses. One of the main characters wrestles with the moral dilemma of going along with teasing and not protesting it even when she understands its unfairness.


Friedrich, E. (1996). Leah’s pony. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.


Elementary. This historical fiction takes place in the Great Plains during the Great Depression and illustrates the power of collective action to save farms. Leah, the main character, lives on a farm and loves her pony, cares for it, and rides it into town each day. When the drought and dust storms begin, Leah’s father sells his pigs and some of the cattle to earn money and her mother saves money by making underwear out of flour sacks for Leah to wear. When Leah’s father can’t repay a bank loan to purchase seeds for planting, the bank plans an auction to sell the cattle, chickens, pickup trucks, and tractor to recoup their costs in the loan. In order to save the farm, Leah sells her beloved pony and bids $1 on the tractor in what becomes a “penny auction.” Neighboring farmers also buy animals and the pickup truck for very small amounts of money, then return the farm animals and vehicle to Leah’s parents.


Haggerty, M. E. (1993). A crack in the wall. New York: Lee & Low.


Picture book, lower elementary level. Carlos and his mother move into a small, dusty apartment with a big crack in the wall. Their belongings are contained within one shopping bag and two suitcases. Carlos' mother promises to move them to a better place after she finds a new job and searches for work each day. Carlos must come straight home after school, let himself into the apartment, and stay there alone until his mother returns. As a surprise for his mother, Carlos decorates the crack in the wall.


Haski, P. (2004). The diary of Ma Yan: The struggles and hopes of a Chinese schoolgirl. New York: Collins.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The two-part diary of Ma Yan consist of her reflections on her school and family experiences in the Zhangjiashu village of China from September through December, 2000 and the period from July through the middle of December 2001. Ma Yan comes from a poor, remote Chinese village where most of the girls have only three or four years of schooling and the average annual income is $48 compared to the Chinese national average annual income of $725. The first diary describes Ma Yan’s elementary school experiences in Zhangjiashu at the age of 13; the second diary focuses on her beginnings at the middle school in Yuwang when she is 14. Throughout her diary, Ma Yan writes about her pervasive hunger, her struggle to save money for a pen by depriving herself of food, her parents’ hard work in providing the meager income to feed, clothe, and pay school fees for Ma Yan and her two younger brothers, and her drive to do well in school to get a good job and lift her family out of poverty. At first, Ma Yan seems to struggle in school and both she and her mother are very disappointed in her academic work. However, by the end of the diary, Ma Yan is at the top of her class. Because of their poverty, Ma Yan and her brothers cannot afford to pay a small fee to ride a tractor and must walk to school each week, which takes several hours. Their diet consists of rice, vegetables, and bread, but rarely any meat. The book also explains how an extract of Ma Yan’s diary came to be printed in a French newspaper, which led to the creation of a fund to support the education of many poor children from China. In 2007, Ma Yan traveled to France to study journalism at a university.


Henson, H. (2008). That book woman. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.


Picture book, lower elementary level. Cal and his family live high in the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky during the 1930s. Cal and his sister do not attend school because it is too far away. However, Cal’s sister Lark loves to read while Cal cannot read and prefers to help his father with farm chores. A “book woman” begins traveling by horse to their home bringing books for the family. The family has no money to purchase books, but the book woman clarifies the books are free and she will not take anything the family offers in trade for them. She returns every two weeks to bring different books and collects the books brought earlier. Cal eventually asks Lark to teach him to read. The author’s note explains the history of the Pack Horse Librarians who delivered books to isolated, poor families in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky as part of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. The program delivered books to regions with few schools and no libraries.


Hesse, K. (1998). Just juice. New York: Scholastic.


Upper elementary level. Justus Falstich, nicknamed Juice, her four sisters, and Mom and Dad live in the country in a small house near a community which seems to shun the family. The family struggles to survive after Juice’s dad lost his last job. Juice’s mother sells the rugs and pine needle baskets to earn a little money. Although the family has little food, a truck which they can’t afford to drive, and one picture book which the children read over and over, they are a very loving, close family. Juice often skips school to cheer her father’s spirits about his struggles to find work and to avoid the painful experiences of struggling to read and do math. However, Juice is very resourceful in helping her father set up a new machine shop business to repair tools and suggesting he sell the metal plates, pitchers, and candlesticks he makes and skilled in making things herself in the shop. The story illustrates the struggles some children and adults have with becoming literate while still having many other talents and the importance of family members, supported by governmental assistance, working together to meet their basic needs.


Ieronimo, C. (2014). A thirst for home: A story of water across the world. New York: Walker Books for Young Readers.


Picture book, elementary level. The author of this realistic fiction describes a young girl, Alemitu, who lives with her mother in a small village in Ethiopia. They walk long distances to obtain water and wood, but struggle to have enough to eat. Alemitu’s mother apparently gives her daughter up for adoption so her daughter can have a better life. Alemitu is adopted by an American woman and taken to the United States to live with her new family, but she does not forget how important water and food are and uses them wisely. Alemitu’s name is changed to Eva, which Alemitu does not seem to mind. The book illustrates the significance of poverty as a motivation for children to be given up for adoption and then immigrate to a new home. However, it also illustrates that children hold onto their memories of their first homeland as they enjoy the advantages of their new homeland.


Kurusa. (1985). The streets are free. Copenhagen, Denmark: Annick.


Picture book, elementary level. The book describes the rapid growth of a poor area or 'barrio' San Jose on the mountain above Caracas, Venezuela. The children have no place to play outside but the streets. With encouragement from a librarian, the children request the mayor develop a vacant lot into a playground. After a public display by the mayor of reserving the lot for the playground, nothing happens until the families cooperatively build the playground.


Lied, K. (1997). Potato: A tale from the Great Depression. Washington, DC: National Geographic.


Picture book, lower elementary level. The book portrays the hardships during the Great Depression when a family’s wage earner lost his job, could not find another, and the bank foreclosed on their house. In order to survive, the family drove from Iowa to Idaho to spend two weeks harvesting potatoes. The family bartered potatoes for other things they needed, including food and clothing.


Lyon, G. E. (2009). You and me and home sweet home. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 


Picture book, elementary level. The text is realistic fiction and based on the author’s experience in building a home for a family through the Women’s Build program. A young African American girl, Sharonda, and her mother live with Aunt Janey and her family despite Mama’s two jobs, which apparently does not pay enough for them to live in their own apartment. The book concentrates on the building process as a group of people come together to build a house for the single-parent family. The house builders are comprised of volunteers who allow Sharonda to help in simple tasks. The text portrays the excitement of a young girl in watching her house being built and being able to move into a home of her own.


Mackall, D. D. (2007). Rudy rides the rails: A Depression era story. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.


Picture book, elementary level. The text is historical fiction and based on a real “Ramblin’ Rudy” who rode in railroad cars looking for work during the Great Depression. It shows the hopelessness of workers who lost their jobs, couldn’t find another, and weren’t able to support their families. In 1932, Rudy left Akron, Ohio in a railroad car to travel west to look for work and send the money home to his parents and younger sisters. With his father out of work, Rudy’s family was surviving on food from relief lines, soup kitchens, and missions. On the journey, he met other hoboes who taught him to watch out for “bulls” (police) and signs hoboes left outside of houses to show which offered kindness and which houses were dangerous. When he finally arrived in California, Rudy discovered many hoboes, all looking for work. He decided to return home to Akron. The text contains a “hobo glossary” which explains terms used by hoboes and the signs they carved outside of homes or other places to help hoboes who followed them.


McBrier, P. (2001). Beatrice’s goat. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.


Picture book, elementary level. The text is based on a true story about a nine-year-old Ugandan girl who was able to fulfill her dream of attending school when her family received a goat through the Heifer Project International. Without the income from selling the goat’s milk, Beatrice’s family could not afford the books and school uniform Beatrice needed to attend school. In addition, the family benefitted from the nutrition in the goat’s milk.


Miller, W. (2001). Rent party jazz. New York: Lee & Low Books.


Picture book, elementary level. The text is historical fiction and is based on an African American rent party tradition in the South during the 1920s and 1930s. Rent parties were held to help African Americans raise money for rent before the landlord threw out their furniture if they were one day late in the rent. The fictional story takes place in New Orleans in the 1930 and is narrated by Sonny, a young African American boy. Sonny works part-time before school to help his mother, a single parent, pay the bills. When Sonny’s mother loses her job, a local musician, Smilin’ Jack, tells Sonny about the rent party tradition and offers to play his trumpet for the party. The party raises more than enough money for the rent and demonstrates how African Americans helped one another during hard times.


Mills, L. (1991). The rag coat. Boston: Little, Brown.


Picture book, elementary level. The main character, Minna, is the oldest child of a poor family in Appalachia. After Minna's father becomes ill and eventually dies from "miner's cough," her mother quilts with other "Quilting Mothers" to earn money. When Minna admits she can't go to school until she has a coat, the "Quilting Mothers" quilt one for her using their rags. The coat becomes a patchwork quilt of their families' stories. At first the other children at school ridicule her "rag coat" until she tells the story in each patch.


Milway, K.S. (2010). The good garden: How one family went from hunger to having enough. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.


Picture book, upper elementary. The text portrays a family of farmers living in Honduras who face declining food production from their farm land. When the family’s food harvest is small, they may lose their farm land. The father leaves home to find work to earn money for the family while the daughter Maria Luz cares for the food they are growing. Maria Luz also attends school and meets a new teacher who teaches her some ways to improve the family’s food production. Maria Luz learns to compost to fertilize the soil, prepares and plants food on terraces on hills to keep the soil from washing away, and plant marigolds among the food crops to keep insects away. The teacher also encourages the farmers to sell their own food at the market, rather than sell it at a low price to a coyote who resells it for a higher price at the market. The book deals with the issue of food insecurity among farmers in poor countries who do not grow enough food to feed themselves and to make extra money for basic needs, such as clean water, education, and health care.


Milway, K. S. (2008). One hen: How one small loan made a big difference. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.


Picture book, elementary level. This realistic fiction is based on the life of Kwabena Darko from the Ashanti region of Ghana who is born to poor parents, works to pay his school fees and help his family, and learns to care for hens. In the story of Kojo, he purchases first one hen and finally 25 hens with money saved from selling eggs. After Kojo completes agricultural college, he struggles to obtain a loan to buy enough hens for a poultry farm. Bankers are reluctant to invest in Kojo’s business, but eventually he is successful in obtaining a loan to begin his business. After finding some success and repaying the loan, Kojo makes a small loan to another to help her begin a small business. This action represents Kwabena Darko’s Sinapi Aba (Mustard Seed) Trust to give out small loans to help more than 50,000 Ghanians begin small businesses and improve their lives. Kwabena is part of the global microfinance nonprofit organization Opportunity International which provides small loans to people to start or build a business and pull themselves out of poverty.


Mortensen, G. & Roth, S. L. (2009). Listen to the wind: The story of Dr. Greg and three cups of tea. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.


Picture book, elementary level. This information book is a children’s version of Greg Mortensen’s Three Cups of Tea, which explains his efforts to work with the people of Korphe in Pakistan to build a school when none existed. Mortensen is a mountain climber from the U.S., but becomes ill while climbing a mountain near Korphe, and is cared for by the villagers. As a way to repay the villagers for their care, Mortensen decides to build a school. He sees the children have lessons outside, and their teacher works with them only three days a week. However, before Mortensen and the villagers can build a school, they first have to construct a bridge to transport the building materials. Everyone in the village helps with the school’s construction and celebrates the school’s completion. The text also contains photographs of Korphe children and adults, the process of constructing the school, the completed school, and of Mortensen and others who help fund and supply the school. The text illustrates the importance of many people working together to improve their lives.


Noble, T. H. (2007). The orange shoes. Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.


Picture book, elementary level. The main character Delly has no shoes to wear to school because of her family’s limited income. However, she has developed her artistic skills by drawing on the inside of used envelopes using a stubby pencil with no eraser. When her parents discuss purchasing shoes for Delly, they also consider the need for new tires for the family’s truck. Delly’s father said if he can’t get to work, they can’t buy groceries, which is more important than new shoes for Delly. Delly’s father decides to purchase only two new tires for the truck so Delly can have new shoes for school. When Delly shows her new shoes to other girls at school, they complain that “Dirt-poor Delly can’t have better shoes than us” and stomp on her shoes to ruin them. Delly uses her artistic skills and paints made from natural dyes to transform her shoes from scratched and damaged shoes to works of art. The book can be used to discuss which needs are more important than others and how to treat others who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds.


Parton, D. (1994). Coat of many colors. New York: HarperCollins.


Picture book, lower elementary level. The book contains the lyrics to Dolly Parton's song of the same title. It portrays Dolly Parton's childhood growing up in Tennessee and her family not having enough money to buy her a winter coat. When someone gave her mother a box of rags, Dolly's mother sewed them into a warm coat, similar to the Bible story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. When Dolly wears her "coat of many colors" to school, the other children laugh at her. However, Dolly asserts the worth of her coat.


Perez, A. I. (2000). My very own room = Mi propio cuartito. New York: Children’s Book Press.


With the help of her family, a resourceful Mexican American girl realizes her dream of having a space of her own to read and think.


Perkins, L. R. (1995). Home lovely. New York: Greenwillow.


Picture book, elementary level. The book portrays a young girl Tiffany and her mother Janelle beginning to live in a trailer in a remote area. The mother works only part-time and Tiffany must stay by herself while her mother is at work. Despite these hardships, Tiffany grows some plants, which turn out to be vegetables, to make their new home look better. Even though Tiffany is disappointed that the plants turn out to be potatoes, tomatoes, and cantaloupe, the mail carrier brings her flowers to plant, provides guidance in caring for the plants, and eventually brings a young tree for planting. The end of the text is hopeful, with Janelle’s job becoming full-time and Janelle and Tiffany eating food from the small garden.


Schrock, J. W. (2008). Give a goat. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House. 


Picture book, elementary level. The text portrays a fifth-grade class’s social action project after learning about a project (Heifer International) which donates animals to people in need around the world. The teacher reads the book Beatrice’s Goat, a story about a young girl Beatrice and her family living in Uganda to have milk to drink and sell from the goat they received. The money gained from selling the milk enabled Beatrice to attend school. After hearing the story of Beatrice and her family, the fifth-grade class investigates Heifer International and decides to set up a school store as part of their math unit. They sell healthy snacks at school and at basketball games in order to earn the $120 to purchase a goat for a needy family. Their project was so successful that they earn $180, enough to purchase a goat, a flock of chickens, and some ducks to help three families. The class learns they can make a difference by passing on the gift of animals to families who struggle economically.


Stanley, J. (1992). Children of the dust bowl: The true story of the school at Weedpatch Camp. New York: Crown.


Picture book, upper elementary/middle school level. The author clarifies his sources for the text and photographs, which provides some insight for the perspectives portrayed, including those of the Weedpatch School leaders/educators and students. The text and photographs depict the struggles of plains farmers in Oklahoma and Texas during the drought leading to the dust bowl of the 1930s. Families often lost their farms due to the drought, the loss of topsoil, and crop failures. They were forced to became migrant workers and live in California labor camps, with little food, poor sanitation, rampant diseases, and no health care. When the federal government created farm labor camps in California, workers had better living conditions. The author also focuses on the inspirational story of educators and farm worker children and youth who cooperatively built their own school for the Weedpatch Camp using donated materials. The school superintendent is portrayed as innovative and astute in negotiating barriers, teachers are dedicated, and students are motivated, eager learners and workers.


Temple, F. (1995). Tonight, by sea. New York: HarperTrophy.


Chapter book, upper elementary/middle school level. The text is historical fiction and is set in 1993 in Haiti during a period of political turmoil as well as persistent, extreme poverty. President Aristide, who promised reforms to benefit Haiti’s poor, was removed from office shortly after he was elected in 1990 through a coup d’etat. Soldiers and “hired thugs” beat up and sometimes killed Aristide supporters. The main characters in the book are Paulie, her uncle, and grandmother who struggle to have enough to eat. Her parents have already left Haiti to seek a better life “across the water.” Paulie and other children in the small village do not attend school because their teacher was beaten and the school closed by the “provisional government.” Paulie’s uncle secretly and slowly built a boat to take a few members of the village to the U.S. in search of a better life. He used wood from people’s houses for the main part of the boat and stitched together a sail from burlap and plastic. Paulie’s family decided to leave Haiti because they saw no way they could make a living with no land and no stable government; however, they shared what they had with one another. Although their boat trip to the U.S. is tragic, there is some hope that the plight of the Haitian people will be understood by Americans.


Turner, A. (1995). Dust for dinner. New York: HarperCollins.


Picture book, lower elementary level. The text describes one family’s economic hardships during the 1930s Dust Bowl when drought and loose soil allowed dust to fly everywhere. When Jake’s and Maggie’s family sold their farm because of a few years of failed crops due to drought, they traveled to California to look for another job. Along the way, they found work on farms. Eventually Jake’s and Maggie’s father found a job as a watchman, and the family moved into a house.


Vergara, D. A. (2007). Zapizapu crosses the sea: A story about being fair. Victoria, BC: Trafford.


Elementary. The text is realistic fiction and illustrates the problems when farmers are not paid a fair price for the foods they grow, in this case zapizapu, which is used to make a very special drink. The farmer’s children, Santiago and Maria, cannot attend school because he is not paid a fair price which pays for food, a decent house, education, and health care. When two children, Matthew and Isabella, across the sea learn that farmers are not paid a fair price for growing zapizapu, they start a movement to pay one extra coin for zapizapu from shops that promise to pay growers a fair price. Santiago and Maria’s father is very pleased about the fair price, which pays for clean water, toys, visits to the doctor, and school for his children.


Watson, J. J. (2010). Hope for Haiti. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.


Elementary. The text is realistic fiction and focuses on a young Haitian boy’s experiences following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He and his mother set up a home from tin, posts, and sheets in the soccer stadium after their neighborhood was destroyed. Although everyone must stand in line for water and people are hurt and sad around him, the young boy and other children find joy in playing with a ball made from rags. The young boy and other children are surprised to receive a soccer ball, a gift from a man who recognizes the children’s joy in playing soccer as a sign of hope for Haiti.


Wilkinson, B. (1975). Ludell. New York: HarperTrophy.


Upper elementary/middle school level. Ludell is an African American girl who lives with her grandmother in Waycross, Georgia. Ludell's mother lives in New York, but visits and writes occasionally. Ludell and her grandmother, like most African Americans in the community, struggle economically. The women usually support their families through housework, laundry, and ironing for White families in the community. Similar to most African American families, Ludell and her grandmother have no such conveniences as telephones, televisions, and cars. Their food is simple and inexpensive. Children may attend school without any money or food for lunch, and the children learn to find ways to earn money. Teenage girls, like Ludell's mother, become single parents. Despite such economic hardships, the book portrays love among families, women helping one another, and the possibilities of a better life through education.


Winter, J. (2008). Wangari’s trees of peace: A true story from Africa. New York: Harcourt.


Picture book, elementary level. This realistic fiction is based on the life of Wangari Maathai from the small village of Ilithe in Kenya. After Wangari returns to Kenya from years of study in the United States in the 1970s, she becomes concerned about trees removed from her homeland to make room for buildings. The effects of this deforestation is the lack of firewood, poor soil, erosion, and lack of clean drinking water. These changes reduce the amount of food grown to feed people. Women especially are affected by these changes since they must travel further from home to collect needed firewood. Wangari first plants nine tree seedlings in her own backyard, then gives tree seedlings to village women to plant. She is beaten and jailed when she tries to protect trees from being cut down. Wangari’s tree seedling planting movement spreads to other countries in Africa, which leads to better soil and crops. She is credited with starting the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work. The text depicts the power of social action to solve an environmental and economic problem in one’s own homeland.


Winter, J. (2014). Malala: A brave girl from Pakistan/Iqbal: A brave boy from Pakistan. New York: Beach Lane Books.


Picture book, elementary level. These two biographies portray each child’s difficult circumstances and their brave efforts to obtain a better life for themselves and other children with similar circumstances. Malala speaks out for her and other girls’ right to an education despite the Taliban’s command that girls not go to school. She is shot by the Taliban for her actions to improve girls’ and women’s lives in Pakistan, but continues to advocate for girls’ and women’s education following her recovery. Iqbal becomes a bonded worker to a rug factory owner in Pakistan at the age of four in order to pay off his family’s twelve dollar loan from the factory owner. Iqbal must work long days chained to a loom to pay for the debt. After learning that such bonded labor is no longer legal, Iqbal leaves the factory and attends school and encourages other bonded child laborers to do the same thing. He speaks out against bonded child labor in Pakistan and in the United States, and is killed.


Winter, J. & Root, K. B. (2011). Born and bred in the Great Depression. New York: Swartz & Wade Books.


Picture book, elementary level. The text is biographical and based on the author’s memories of his father’s stories about life in East Texas during the Great Depression. The children slept six to a bed because there were only two beds for a family of 10, read by kerosene lamps because they couldn’t afford electricity, went barefoot because they couldn’t afford shoes, and obtained their water from a well and used an outhouse because there was no indoor plumbing. Jobs were scarce, and the author’s grandfather worked low-paying, short-term jobs to take care of his family. The author’s grandmother did her part by growing and canning food from the garden, caring for chickens which provided eggs and meat, and milking a cow. Despite their own poverty, they shared food with hoboes in exchange for chopping wood. The author’s family learned to find enjoyment in simple things, such as playing a game of chess, playing and listening to the banjo, and reading library books.


Woodson, J. (2012). Each kindness. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books.


Picture book, lower elementary level. The text describes how Chloe, the main character, and her friends shun Maya, a new girl in class, who wears old, ragged clothes and shoes. Maya makes several attempts to become friends with Chloe and the other girls, but Chloe turns away, does not smile, and talks and laughs with her friends about Maya’s clothes, shoes, and strange food she brings for lunch. They call her “Never New” because Maya’s clothes all look as if they come from a secondhand store. When Maya no longer comes to school because she moved away, the teacher talks with the class about the importance of kindness in making the world better. Chloe regrets not showing kindness to Maya.


Wyeth, S. D. (2001). A piece of heaven. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The main character, Haley, is a strong, 13-year-old girl who handles many challenges in her life. She, her older brother Otis, and her mother live in a one-room apartment and share a bathroom with neighbors. As a 15-year-old, Otis wants more independence than his mother permits, leading to conflicts between them. When her mother becomes overwhelmed by the bills she cannot pay and her inability to prepare a nice birthday dinner for Haley, she becomes clinically depressed and enters a hospital. Haley decides to help with the family finances by finding a job helping Jackson, a music teacher, clean out junk from his backyard and shed. When her brother is arrested for selling stolen goods and Haley is taken by social services to live in a group boarding home, Haley holds onto her job at Jackson’s. As she finishes cleaning and decorating the yard with stones, she gains a sense of achievement that she is strong enough and creative enough to accomplish this large task. The book closes with hints of a better life for Haley and her family.



Children’s Periodicals Dealing With Poverty


Chorlian, M. (Ed.). (2008, March). Tough times: Surviving the Great Depression. Cobblestone, 29.


Elementary level. Articles explain the events which led to the Great Depression and many people’s experiences during this time, including losing their jobs, homes, and possessions and finding enough food to eat. During this period people grew gardens, scavenged for food, or ate foods they hadn’t eaten before. Two million people “hit the road” or traveled on trains from place to place to find work, food, and a place to rest. Farmers from the Great Plains lost their homes due to the “Dust Bowl” or the drought and dust storms that destroyed the crops and soil. Families found simple means of entertaining themselves through listening to the radio, seeing inexpensive movies, playing simple games, or attending baseball games. Articles explain Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs which offered financial assistance, temporary work opportunities, and established minimum wages and maximum hours worked per day. However, they also clarify the especially harsh effects of the Great Depression on African Americans and small farmers and sharecroppers who did not benefit from the New Deal as much as European American large business owners.



Adult Resources Dealing With Poverty 


Ali, N. & Minoui, D. (2010). I am Nujood, age 10 and divorced. New York: Broadway Paperbacks.


The text describes the poverty, local customs, family honor, fear of adultery, and a lack of education which often lead to families in Yemen forcing their young daughters to marry older men. The book focuses on Nujood’s experiences growing up in Yemen. At first her family lived in a rural village of Khardji where the family had sheep, cows, chickens, and bees, but no medical care for the 16 children Nujood’s mother bore, four of whom died by the age of four. After a dispute, the family moved to a slum building in the capital city of Sana’a where Nujood’s father obtained a job as a street sweeper and Nujood was able to attend school. After Nujood’s father lost his job, her mother began selling a few of the family possessions and some of the children became street vendors. When a 30-year-old man originally from the same village of Khardji asked Nujood’s father if he could marry Nujood, her father agreed. However, the man promised not to touch Nujood until she was older. Nujood’s father claimed his decision was prompted by his desire to prevent Nujood from being raped by a stranger and reduce the number of people in the family who had to be fed. What Nujood experienced was a nightly rape and physical abuse by her husband and additional abuse by her mother-in-law until she finally escaped to seek the help of court judges. Through the help of her lawyer, other advocates, and the press, Nujood became the first child bride in Yemen to win a divorce in 2008.


Aristide, J-B. (2000). Eyes of the heart: Seeking a path for the poor in the age of globalization. Monroe, ME: Common Courage.


Jean-Bertrand Aristide wrote this book to explain to readers the economic crisis in Haiti resulting from its debt to France following the slave revolution in 1823 and the current global economy. In order to pay off the debt, Haitians logged most of the trees in the rainforest which led to soil erosion and decreased agricultural productivity. He clarifies how free trade and competition with other countries have almost eliminated Haitian rice production and Creole pig production, resulting in dependence on imported food. The standard of living for most Haitians is very poor with 70% of the people unemployed, 80% have no access to clean drinking water, 85% cannot read and write, and only 50% of the children attend school. Throughout the text, Aristide cites examples of children’s and adults’ spirit, courage, and solidarity despite the lack of basic needs. He articulates his vision for the future for Haiti, with economic development through agriculture, food production for all Haitians, regrowth of trees on mountains, free education for all children, and children and young people involved in creating changes.


Arthur, C. (2002). Haiti: A guide to the people, politics and culture. New York: Interlink Books.


The author describes the dismal living conditions in Haiti, including the current high rate of unemployment (70%), the low average income ($250 a year), 80% poverty rate, the low literacy rate (40%), the high rate of malnutrition among children (25%), the lack of health care among 50% of the population, and the lack of access to drinking water for 67% of the population. Unfortunately, educational opportunities for children are very limited with more than half of the children not attending school because parents need their children to work in the fields or care for siblings. Most schools (90%) are private, and parents must pay fees and buy uniforms for their children to attend. Among the private schools, the vast majority are small, unregulated, poorly equipped, and with poorly trained teachers who are barely literate themselves. Haitian families tend to be large due to the lack of contraceptives and parents’ desire for children to help them earn a living and care for them in their old age. Unfortunately, 13% of children die before the age of five. The economy is greatly underdeveloped due to declining agriculture which can no longer feed the growing Haitian population, the declining fishing and mining industries, and the declining tourist industry resulting from political upheavals. Even though assembly plants are one of the most significant sources of employment, the low wages are not enough to cover workers’ daily living expenses. Overall, the assembly plants do not contribute to Haiti’s economy. The author claims that without efforts to reduce the gap between the small elite who live in opulence and the large number of Haitians who live in poverty, there will likely continue to be political and social upheaval in Haiti.


Baker Kline, C. (2013). Orphan train: A novel. New York: HarperCollins.


The book is fiction, but is based on the research the author did about orphan trains, which existed in the United States between 1854 and 1929. During this period more than 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children from the eastern part of the United States were transported to the Midwest for adoption by families. The main character, Vivian, became an orphan because most members of her Irish immigrant family were killed in a fire while living in a tenement in New York City, and her mother was hospitalized and unable to care for her. Similar to the main character in the book, these children were often adopted because they provided free labor for the adopted parents. Vivian endured harsh living conditions, little food, cruelty, and great work expectations with the first two families who adopted her. She was fortunate enough eventually to be adopted by a kind couple who owned a general store. Vivian helped in the store while growing up and attending school, eventually took over the store. Vivian’s story illustrates the possibilities for humans to transcend extreme poverty and hardship.


Bauer, M. (n.d.). Close to slavery: Guestworker programs in the United States: A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Montgomery, AL: Southern Poverty Law Center.


The author clearly criticizes the current guestworker program in the U.S. and provides quotations from guestworkers to support her position. The report is based on interviews with thousands of guestworkers, a review of research on guestworker programs, and examples of legal cases and legal experts’ experiences around the country. The author explains the two current guestworker programs, the H-2A program for agricultural work and the H-2B program for non-agricultural work. However, both programs permit the guestworker to work only for the employer who petitioned the Department of Labor for his/her services. If the work situation is abusive or not what was promised, the worker has no recourse. What often happens is that guestworkers are often cheated out of wages, forced to mortgage their futures to obtain low-wage, temporary jobs, held captive by employers or labor brokers who seize their documents (such as visas, passports, and Social Security cards), forced to live in squalid conditions, and denied medical benefits for on-the-job injuries. The author recommends major revisions in the program to provide greater rights and protections for guestworkers.


Betts, B. (2006). Displaced children in U.S. history: Stories of courage and survival. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 19. 9-12.


The author’s thesis is that the study of homelessness during various historical eras may help children deal with homelessness today. She offers teaching strategies and encourages students to compare their own experiences with the lives of children in the migrations. The author focuses on four major U.S. migrations of homeless children, including: (1) the the forced relocation of Cherokee children and their families during the Trail of Tears in 1838-1839, (2) the escape of African American slaves on the Underground Railroad from slave states in the South to free states in the North and Canada from the colonial period to 1865, (3) the Orphan Train Riders or the relocation of orphaned and abandoned children from cities in the north and east to rural communities in the midwest from 1853 to 1930, and (4) the One Thousand Children program or the relocation of Jewish children during the Holocaust from 1934-1945.


Cadet, J-R. (1998). Restavec: From Haitian slave child to middle-class American. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.


This autobiography is a moving account of the injustices Haitian children endure who are forced to live as restavecs or slaves among families. Restavecs means “staying with,” and is a derogatory term used in Haiti. Restavecs are slave children who usually live with wealthy or financially comfortable families. They work constantly as house servants, doing the least desirable household tasks, but never receiving any pay for their work. Although they live with a family, they are not part of the family and do not experience family life or childhood as long as they remain restavecs. They often prepare their own meals, sleep on cardboard under the kitchen table or on the porch. In essence, restavecs have no rights and are denied basic education and health care. When restavecs mature, they often are released to the streets to earn their living as shoeshine boys, gardeners, or prostitutes. The author’s story reveals the deep scars, pain, and immense difficulties of living in a family after leaving his life in Haiti as a restavec. The author encourages Haiti and all countries to rid itself of child slavery.


Chomsky, N., Farmer, P. & Goodman, A. (2004). Getting Haiti right this time: The U.S. and the coup. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.


The text includes essays by Chomsky and Farmer and interviews conducted by Amy Goodman on behalf of Democracy Now!, a nationally syndicated radio and TV program regarding the forced removal of Jean-Bertrand Aristide from his position as president of Haiti in February, 2004. Goodman conducted interviews with both President Aristide and his partner Mildred Aristide as well as Representative Maxine Waters and others who were knowledgeable of Aristide’s removal from Haiti. One of the main points in the book is that Aristide did not resign from his presidency, instead he was kidnapped by U.S. forces and taken to the Central African Republic, a destination unknown to Aristide until they arrived. Some authors believe one of the reasons for Aristide’s removal is his insistence that France repay the $21 billion taken from Haiti during the period of slavery and colonialism and to reimburse reparations paid to France for loss of property following Haiti’s independence from France. Aristide was popular among the poor, the majority of people in Haiti, but had opposition from the military, wealthy landowners, and the business community, who also controlled the mass media. Overall, the authors are very critical of U.S. policies toward Haiti, which supported Aristide’s opponents, and the lack of accurate information in the mass media about the 2004 coup.


Cohen, R. (Ed.). (2002). Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from children of the great depression. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.


The editor provides a context and elaborates on the meaning of nearly 200 letters written to Eleanor Roosevelt by children and youth experiencing the hardships of the Great Depression from 1933-1941. The young people request individual assistance, explain why their families are unable to provide basic necessities, and justify the worthiness of their requests. The poignant letters provide some insight into hard-working families during this period who either have no employment, work part-time, or work at low-paying jobs. Children and youth plead with Mrs. Roosevelt for clothing; for money to ward off evictions, pay debts, and purchase simple household conveniences; for funds for educational expenses, Christmas gifts for family members, marriage and new household expenses, bicycles to help their families, and for radios to ameliorate loneliness. The letters attest to the courage, tenacity, and intelligence of youth who had few resources, but hoped for better lives during this era. The editor also clarifies Mrs. Roosevelt and her staff’s responses to the letters. Only 1 percent of youths received the material assistance they requested. About 5 percent were told by Mrs. Roosevelt’s staff to seek help from New Deal agencies, 3 percent were directed toward charities, and 3 percent were encouraged to contact educational institutions. Eighty-eight percent of the letter writers were rejected by Mrs. Roosevelt’s office. Readers are left to wonder about the children and youth who never had their requests filled.


Coles, R., Testa, R. & Coles, R. (Eds.). (2001). Growing up poor: A literary anthology. New York: The New Press.


The text is a collection of stories, poems, and essays describing experiences of poverty, at times exacerbated by racism or sexism. The selections are divided into four categories, including the material circumstances of poverty, denigration by others, experiences of the working poor, and examples of resolve and resiliency. The selection from Invisible Man by Jesse Hill Ford is a powerful example of racist oppression as well as poverty while the selection from White Mule by William Carlos Williams depicts sexism amidst poverty. The most hopeful category of readings are included in the stories of people who faced immense difficulties due to race, gender, and/or class, but worked to make changes. The selection “Full Circle” by Lori Arviso Alford, M.D. is inspirational in the racism and poverty the author faced, but overcame to become a successful surgeon. She describes how she integrates her Navajo cultural values and practices within her work with Navajo and other Native American patients.


DeLauro, R. D. (2017). The least among us: Waging the battle for the vulnerable. New York: The New Press.


The author is a congresswoman from Connecticut since 1991. The book describes how the author fought to maintain the social safety net, or the government programs “that ensure that no American will fall so far down the socioeconomic ladder that getting back on their feet becomes impossible” (p. 2) for working people. DeLauro describes the history and effectiveness of such programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and nutrition programs as well as criticisms of and efforts to dismantle these programs. The author explains years of efforts to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to meet family commitments without losing their jobs, although leaves are unpaid and many workers cannot afford to take advantage of this law. The author concludes with notable recommendations for helping all Americans to have decent lives. Her recommendations include: (1) Expand the Child Tax Credit to include children younger than three, make it universal for all low and middle-income families, and index it to inflation to help raise children and families out of poverty. (2) Improve infant-toddler childcare and expand Early Head Start, provide paid family leave so parents can stay home and care for young children, and offer universal access to quality early childhood education to make sure all babies and young children have the support they need to be successful. (3) Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so women receive equal pay, provide paid family leave and paid sick days when workers need to suspend work due to illness or care for family, and offer affordable, high quality childcare for all families that does not consume the majority of one family member’s income. (4) Provide affordable and quality healthcare for all Americans, including Medicaid in all states so the poor have access to healthcare, and enforce price controls on excessive drug prices so Americans can afford the drugs they must have. (5) Invest in America’s infrastructure, such as transportation projects that create jobs, promote economic activity, and improve transportation. (6) Develop trade agreements that reduce the power of corporate interests, increase U.S. exports, increase consumer protections and food safety standards, and create good-paying jobs in the United States. (7) Reform higher education so students can earn a college degree without debt. (8) Enforce a minimum wage that is a living wage for workers; the author suggests an increase of the national minimum wage to $15 per hour as a starting point. (9) Increase social security benefits by increasing the cost of living adjustment. Pay for the increased benefits by requiring that wealthy Americans contribute more and pay social security taxes on incomes above $118,500. De Lauro’s ultimate goal is to have an America without poverty.


Ehrenreich, B. (2001). Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. New York: Henry Holt.


The book provides important insights into the cycle of poverty and how people with entry level jobs, paying slightly above minimum wage, do not have a decent standard of living. Such workers have no extra resources to allow them to spend two months’ rent to secure an apartment, so they often resort to living under crowded conditions with others or renting residential hotel rooms by the week, which is more expensive. Such living accommodations do not allow for cooking, so entry level workers subsist on fast or convenient foods, which are also more costly. Since entry level positions have no or minimal health insurance, workers go without routine care or prescriptions drugs and then develop serious health problems. Readers are introduced to the author’s investigation of the possibility of a single person living on the wages of an entry level job of $6 - $7 per hour during 1998-2000. She spent a month in three different cities in the U.S.: Key West, Florida; Portland, Maine, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, applied for and got entry-level jobs as a waitress, dietary aide in a retirement home, as a “Merry Maid” cleaning service worker, and as a Wal-Mart employee. The author also struggled to find adequate housing, often in short supply in areas where jobs were located, and earn enough in one month to pay for housing and other living expenses. What Ehrenreich discovered was that it was very difficult to live decently on entry level wages. Readers are introduced to descriptions of intimidating and oppressive managers; invasive personality and drug tests during the application process; evasive or minimal discussions of wages and benefits; physically demanding, low-status jobs; and employees working hard despite little nutritious food and injuries or illnesses. With no sick pay or health insurance, workers avoided missing work even when injured or ill to avoid losing a day’s wages.


Eitzen, D. S. & Smith, K. E. (2009). Experiencing poverty: Voices from the bottom (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson.


The purpose of the book is to help readers understand the realities of people who live in poverty. It addresses such issues as: how the poor became poor, how the poor are treated by people and organizations in their communities, what keeps people in poverty, how people living in poverty manage their daily lives and challenges, causes of poverty, solutions for ending poverty, and the consequences of the welfare-to-work federal legislation. The power of the book comes from the individual voices of people who have experienced poverty while connecting individual experiences to social forces. The sources for these individual essays come from people who are currently living in poverty; those who have moved out of poverty, but can still reflect back on their experiences of living in poverty; and researchers who included voices of the poor along with their analyses of poverty. The authors encourage readers to view the issue of poverty through a “sociological imagination” (p. 7). They want readers to view the issue of poverty from the perspective of those who have experienced it, but think of the problem of poverty in terms of what social, economic, and historical events caused the problem. The authors ask that readers think of solutions to social problems in terms of changing the structure of society rather than changing problem people. However, they also encourage people experiencing poverty to organize to change oppressive situations and create a social movement. They give the example of campaigns by people living in poverty to raise the minimum wage in many different cities in the United States, which helps lift low-paid workers out of poverty.


Gerson, J. (2007). Hope springs maternal: Homeless mothers talk about making sense of adversity (rev. ed.). New York: Gordian Knot Books.


The author conducted interviews with 24 homeless mothers in New York City during the past decade. The mothers represent a relatively large segment of the New York City’s population who seeks refuge in emergency shelters. They entered shelters because of the lack of affordable and accessible housing for families and because of their need for shelter due to their pregnancies and motherhood. The mothers experienced the shelters as difficult living environments, but coped with these stresses by retaining ties beyond the shelter, forming temporary alliances with other sheltered parents, intimidating other residents, ignoring gossip from co-residents, and distancing and isolating themselves from others. Entering the shelter system also led to a loss of self-esteem for the mothers, but their motivation for entering the shelter system was often the safety and well-being of their children. The mothers in this study were committed to do better for their children and a number of them had plans and dreams for a better future. The author asserts the importance of homeless women being encouraged to tell their stories and recommends service workers listen to their clients as a way to help homeless people envision “possible selves” and as a model for how to listen to their own children. She also offers other recommendations to improve the service for shelter clients, including providing better preparation for shelter workers to work with their clients, affirm good parenting in the shelter, and opportunities for shelter clients to talk about traumatic experiences and stressors they face. The author affirms the importance of “narrative practice” in helping homeless people make sense of their lives, give it meaning, and envision a better future.


Goldrick-Rab-S. (2016). Paying the price: College costs, financial aid, and the betrayal of the American dream. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


The author’s purpose in writing the book is to call attention to the financial struggles of students from low-income and middle-income families in trying to improve their lives by completing a college degree. She profiles six students from Wisconsin and their efforts to complete college and the financial aid system that no longer provides enough support to make college affordable for students without considerable family resources. These students are part of a larger study of 3,000 students who began college in 2008 with the support of federal aid and Pell Grants. The author corrects the misconception that the cost of attending college is based on tuition and fees when books and supplies, transportation, housing, and food must also be included. The author discovered that 24% of the students in her study did not have enough money to buy food, ate less, or cut the size of their meals due to lack of funds. Twenty percent experienced housing insecurity. Between 1974 and 2014, the cost of attending community colleges increased $3,000 per year and the cost of attending four-year colleges and universities increased $10,000 per year while the mean family income of all but the wealthiest families fell by five to eight percent. About half of all Pell recipients at public colleges and universities are from families living below the poverty line. Public college and universities in Wisconsin raised tuition and other costs because the state’s support for education was reduced. Grants, loans, work-study, and tax credits were supposed to lower the cost of college to make it affordable, but it no longer does. Pell grant recipients still must take loans to pay for college, and 90% of Pell recipients graduate with debt. Only 48% of Pell recipients who start college full time complete a degree or certificate within six years while the remaining 52% have no credential and are $9,000 in debt. The author makes several suggestions for helping students complete college without significant debt: (1) increase funding for on-campus childcare; (2) count college enrollment as meeting the work requirement for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); (3) provide campus food banks and pantries; (4) extend the National School Lunch Program to public colleges and universities; (5) focus grant aid based on students’ financial needs rather than merit; (6) make the first degree free at any public college or university; (7) eliminate the price of admission to colleges and universities; and (8) offer an open admissions policy. These costs may be covered through new taxes and ending subsidies to for-profit universities and ineffective tax credits.


Gorski, P. & Landsman, J. (Eds.). (2014). The poverty and education reader: A call for equity in many voices. Sterling, VA: Stylus.


The editors’ purposes in writing the book are to refute deficit views of low-income youth and families and focus on voices of people who lived in poverty or worked directly with low-income children and youth as well as worked for educational equity. The book is divided into different sections, and each section has a specific focus. One focus is to include first-person narratives from people who experienced school as low-income students. Another is to challenge deficit views of low-income students and highlight the talents and resiliency poor and working-class families bring to school. A third is to emphasize the social and school conditions which low-income families must struggle with, such as unequal access to high-quality curricula and pedagogies to unfair school and social policies. This section of the book is especially enlightening as it illustrates all the social, economic, political, and historical factors that contribute to keeping poor people poor, which are exacerbated by the unequal educational opportunities in schools. Yet another focus of the book is to confront the popular assumption that poor and working-class families do not value education, illustrate ways they demand educational equity, and offer recommendations for providing more educational equity. A fifth focus offers specific strategies for effectively teaching low-income students, including how to make them critically aware of poverty and economic justice. This section is also very helpful in providing support for teachers who want to interrupt social class oppression in schools. The final section questions some of the current reform efforts, such as charter schools, school choice, and Teach for America, which contribute to keeping schools unequal for low-income children and youth.


Gray-Garcia, L. (2006). Criminal of poverty: Growing up homeless in America. San Francisco: City Lights Books.


The author describes her family’s story of poverty in the U.S. through three generations of poor women, but provides the context for her grandmother’s, her mother’s, and her own poverty. She portrays the many ways poor people are treated as criminals: for living in their car, driving with an expired license plate, selling original, hand-printed t-shirts on the street without a vendor’s license, for taking food from a grocery store without paying for it when there was no money for food, and failing to pay rent when they did not earn enough money selling t-shirts to afford the rent. The police in several California cities ticketed people, including the author and her mother, for “driving while poor” which meant poor people were fined for not having a car registration, having a broken tail light, sleeping in their vehicle, or being a public nuisance. The mounting price of the tickets, their inability to pay them, and the judge’s unwillingness to offer a small payment plan or community service resulted in the author being arrested and spent time in jail. She was also arrested for lying to a police officer about her car registration. The author describes her struggle to receive dental care and relief from extreme mouth pain with no insurance and no funds to pay for it, and her and her mother’s continuous efforts to sell enough t-shirts to afford housing. Joblessness, isolation from any support system, including the author’s father, health problems (asthma), and fear of homelessness led to her mother’s depression and mental breakdown. The author served as her mother’s caretaker much of her life, which meant she completed very little formal education and never attended middle school or high school. However, the author describes her and her mother’s creative activities in their street performances and her writing about the experience of poverty first as community service to repay fines, then as a mission to inform the public about the politics of poverty. Gray-Garcia also started the literary magazine POOR, conducted writing workshops with others who experienced poverty, and made connections with artists willing to have their art published in POOR. Finding the funds to publish the magazine was another set of challenges which the author met. She continued to work on publishing the magazine and publicly advocating for the rights of poor families while caring for her ill mother and her own child. Readers finish the book with a sense of outrage over the huge obstacles people face who try to move out of poverty as well as their survival skills in coping with the barriers.


Jaffee, D. (2007). Brewing justice: Fair trade coffee, sustainablity, and survival. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


The author analyzes the origins and current conditions of fair trade and different meanings of fair trade, along with a focus on an indepth study of the effects of fair trade for indigenous coffee farmers in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The farmers sell their organic coffee on the international fair trade market, whose experiences are contrasted to the farmers who sell their coffee on the traditional market. The author states that fair trade is both a social movement and an alternative market structure with the ultimate goal of creating more socially just and environmentally responsible trade relations between global Southern farmers and Northern consumers. He reviews the common criteria for fair trade: (1) guaranteed minimum prices to producers, fair wages to laborers, social development premiums; (2) advance credit/payment to producers; (3) democratically run producer cooperatives or workplaces; (4) long-term contracts and trading relationships; (5) environmentally sustainable production practices; (6) financial/technical assistance to producers; and (6) safe, nonexploitative working conditions. The results of the study are that farmers benefit from fair trade and the higher prices they receive for their coffee, which reduces their debt and enlarges their economic options. However, fair trade farmers also have greater expenses associated with producing organic coffee. The research also highlights the different orientations of the fair trade movement, including: (1) increase access to markets for Southern producers and provide fair wages; (2) reform and improve the existing, but flawed global market so that Southern producers gain capital; (3) transform economic relations between the global North and South or change the current system of production as part of global justice movements. The author also concludes that fair trade alone will not provide long-lasting rural development, eliminate poverty, or redistribute wealth. Finally, the author recommends ways to improve fair trade by: (1) adjusting the base price of products so that it provides a living wage for the producers; (2) returning more income to producers so they have food security, health care, education, and housing; (3) reducing the costs of organic certification, fees for fair-trade certification, and high quality standards to producers so more will participate; (4) compensating producers for the costs of organic certification and inspection, the additional labor costs, and lost productivity in changing to organic production; (5) changing the governance structures of fair-trade systems so Southern producers share power equally with Northern participants; (6) establishing a minimum percentage of a company’s supply chain that must be purchased from fair trade and the steps to increase the percentage of fair trade products in order to use the fair trade label; (7) clarifying the goals of fair trade to determine its ultimate outcome relative to social and economic justice.


Johnson, R. C., Kalil, A., Dunifon, R. E. & Ray, B. (2010). Mother’s work and children’s lives: Low-income families after welfare reform. Kalamazoo, MI: W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.


The book is a report of the effects of welfare reform of the late 1990s and early 2000 on women who participated in welfare and how the balance of their family and work lives affected their children’s development. The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act required women to work in exchange for welfare. Women could receive welfare for a maximum amount of 60 months and must work at least 20 hours per week in 1997 and at least 30 hours a week by 2000. The authors focused on the nature of low-income mother’s work, whether it was stable or unstable, the number of hours worked per week, the regularity of the work schedule, and the flexibility of the job and the effects of these factors on the mothers and their children participating in welfare. The data came from a survey of 575 low-income European American and African American single mothers between the ages of 18 and 54 who had children between the ages of two and 10 in 1997 in Michigan. The women were interviewed five times between 1997 and 2003. The study concluded with several main findings. (1) Children showed fewer behavior problems when mothers worked and had job stability than mothers who did not work. (2) Mother’s work influenced their children’s behavior and academic progress depending on the number of hours worked and transitions between jobs. (3) When mothers were laid off or fired, their children had worse behavior problems and academic progress than mothers with stable work patterns. (4) The more that mothers experienced job loss, the greater the negative effects on their children. (5) When mothers moved from stable, predictable hours to fluctuating hours, their children’s behavior problems increased. (6) When mothers worked full-time in a job with limited wage growth potential, it negatively affected children, but if full-time work lead to higher wage growth prospects and lower turnovers, there were no negative effects on children. (7) When mothers had fluctuating levels of work hours and full-time work in jobs with limited wage growth prospects, there was a greater chance that their children would repeat a grade or be placed in special education. Overall, welfare reform led to some risks for children’s development.


Kidder, T. (2009). Mountains beyond mountains: The quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a man who would cure the world. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.


When the author met Dr. Farmer, Dr. Farmer was 35, received a medical degree and Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard, worked in Boston four months of the year, lived in a church rectory in a poor neighborhood, and spent the rest of the year working in Haiti. He later became a well-respected Boston doctor, a professor of medicine and medical anthropology at Harvard Medical School, and an attending specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. However, Haiti remained his main focus. Dr. Farmer’s greatest concern was the link between poverty and disease when poor people don’t have the nutrition, clean water, sanitary living conditions, health care, and access to health care workers, medicines, and technology. This leads poor people to become ill more frequently and not be treated for illnesses they have. Dr. Farmer and his organization, Partners in Health, built an ambulatory clinic, women’s clinic, general hospital, a large Anglican church, a school, a kitchen that prepares meals for about 2,000 people a day, a building for treating tuberculosis, two laboratories, all with running water, electricity, tiled floors, and clean white walls and ceilings in the village of Cange, Haiti. In the book’s epilogue, the author summarizes the success of Dr. Farmer’s work and his colleagues in Haiti. They created a large public health and medical system, sent about 9,000 children to school each year, created schools where there were none, employed nearly 3,000 Haitians, fed many thousands of people each day, built hundreds of homes for the poorest patients, cleaned up water supplies in many locations, begun installing water filers in some patients’ homes, assisted with reforestation and micro lending projects, and served about 3 million Haitians living in poverty (1/7 of the country’s population) from all over the country. Eight additional hospitals have been built or restored and mobile clinics are sent out to some areas. The health care at all facilities is considered excellent and free, and most of the health care staff are Haitian. Dr. Farmer and his colleagues have provided appropriate treatment for all people infected with HIV in the Central Plateau of Haiti and developed procedures for treating tuberculosis, including forms considered drug-resistant. Overall, Farmer and Partners in Health demonstrated that it is possible to control disease in impoverished places in the world and how to deal with some of the causes that turned diseases into pandemics while still paying attention to individual patients.


Kornbluh, F. (2007). The battle for welfare rights: Politics and poverty in modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


The book describes the history of welfare rights politics locally and nationally with a focus on New York City. The author explains how welfare rights became an important part of movement-oriented and mainstream politics in the 1960s and documents that women and men who received public aid had long been unhappy with their assistance. They organized collectively in the early 1960s because of the momentum of the Black freedom movement and the resources made available by the post-World War II government. Such resources as financial help, office space, and staff came from the federal War on Poverty. Relatively new “rights” language came from the freedom movement and the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren and was used by the City-Wide Coordinating Committee in New York City. The text documents the poor women and men involved in the city and national welfare rights organizations as thinkers and actors. They demanded rights for mothers that had been written into public policy in the New Deal should apply to all low-income parents and not just White women who were the main beneficiaries of the New Deal. They saw the U.S. as an affluent society in which citizenship also meant access to consumer goods that allowed children and parents to have their basic needs met. Citizenship meant full participation in the economic, legal, and governmental institutions. The text also documents the decline in the welfare rights movement because of changes in local and national politics at the end of the 1960s. At the beginning of the 1970s, the Black freedom movement was in disarray and the War on Poverty had been undermined by conflicts and the costs of the Vietnam War. The economic decline of the 1970s with the devaluation of the dollar, Nixon’s price and wage controls, and the surge in oil prices contributed to New York City nearly becoming bankrupt, which led to a decline in welfare benefits. Both New York Governor Rockefeller and New York City Mayor Lindsay, liberals at one time, became more conservative and undermined welfare rights. However, the text illustrates that powerful social movement can come about led by the people most intimately involved in them.


Kunjufu, J. (2006). An African centered response to Ruby Payne’s poverty theory. Chicago: African American Images.


The author refutes Ruby Payne’s theory that poverty is the cause of the achievement gap between African American and White students, which essentially blames African American students and their families for this problem. The author offers his recommendations for how to improve the academic achievement of African American and Hispanic students. Overall, he advocates for master teachers, right-brain lesson plans, an Africentric curriculum, cooperative learning, a smaller student-teacher ratio, and single gender classrooms for African American students. One of the most important recommendations is that African American and Hispanic students need high quality teachers who adjust their teaching styles to match their students’ learning styles, see and teach to students’ strengths, provide equal feedback to all students on their work, hold high expectations for all students, and have good classroom management skills. Kunjufu wants African American and Hispanic students to be in high achieving or effective schools where principals are instructional leaders, staff members are provided with staff development to enhance student outcomes, teachers make the most use of their time with students, the staff creates a positive school climate, welcomes parents into the school, publicly acknowledges students’ work, and uses tests to guide instruction. Additional recommendations are to provide either a mandatory summer academic program or divide the summer vacation into breaks throughout the school year; offer single-gender classrooms, African-centered schools, multicultural curriculums, and foster students’ self-esteem; encourage collaboration among schools, families and the community and offer meetings of interest to parents at churches or community centers on days and times convenient for parents; provide medical support for students, such as medical and dental screenings and immunizations; identify and treat students’ vision problems; reduce the size of schools and classrooms and limit the number of different teachers who teach students; ensure that homework is meaningful; teach students self-discipline and offer free test-taking classes for the SAT and ACT tests; and encourage local churches to adopt a school to provide mentoring for students and Saturday academies.


Littrell, M. A. & Dickson, M. A. (2010). Artisans and fair trade: Crafting development. Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press.


The book focuses on the impact of fair trade work on the lives of artisans who work for fair trade organizations. It specifically focuses on one organization, MarketPlace: Handwork of India, located near a slum in Mumbai, India. MarketPlace produces apparel, accessories, jewelry, and household textiles featuring Indian aesthetics. The authors define fair trade as (1) paying a fair wage in the local context, (2) offering equitable employment opportunities among workers, (3) providing healthy and safe working conditions, (3) promoting environmental sustainability, (4) offering business and technical training, and (5) building long-term trade relations. The main findings are that many women do not earn a living wage because of seasons when orders are low, their wages are still helpful to their families in providing income for basic needs and to purchase other household goods, home renovations, and other purchases. One important finding is that MarketPlace is a democratic organization with artisans involved in decision making so that each MarketPlace group’s structure is organized around member needs. Another finding is that MarketPlace focused first on women workers’ economic empowerment, but also provided leadership opportunities and social programs so women developed problem solving skills in work and in their communities. Yet another finding is that women came together in groups to work, not only combining their skills in making clothing, but also sharing their problems and needs. Although MarketPlace sets up work so that women could take it home to complete, women often choose to remain in the workshop, sitting together to relax and talk while working. Despite the competition for orders that different MarketPlace groups have with each other, they also help each other. Older, more established groups often help new groups become more accurate in their orders. MarketPlace affirms the importance of family in the women’s lives and the women’s education and development allow the women to alter their low status position in their families. Women are able to integrate child care, household tasks, and MarketPlace work throughout the day as needed. The artisans overall believe they are paid fairly and their lives are much better because of their work.


Lowrey, A. (2018). Give people money: How a universal basic income would end poverty revolutionize work, and remake the world. New York: Crown.


The author presents the idea of the federal government providing a universal basic income for all residents in the United Statesin order to address several problems. This conclusion is based on her visits to different places where this policy was tried, such as a small village in Kenya, visits to homeless shelters and senators’ offices, and interviews with economists, politicians, subsistence farmers, low-wage workers, and philosophers. She suggests that if every person receives $1,000 a month each month of the year every year, that will provide a basic income for living, taking a large step toward ending poverty. The universal basic income (UBI) replaces other anti-poverty programs, such as SNAP (food stamps), housing vouchers, and social security and eliminates the governmental bureaucracy needed to administer these programs. In addition, the UBI would address inequality and wage stagnation in the U.S. by enhancing workers’ bargaining power to obtain increased wages, benefits, and improved conditions. Furthermore, as technology continues to advance and eliminate jobs, a UBI will provide needed income for affected workers. The author also addresses potential problems of a UBI, including the possibility that people will no longer work and pay income taxes and the huge cost associated with this benefit (projected to cost $3.9 trillion a year), double the amount the federal government currently spends on various programs. She suggests specific possibilities of funding the UBI to reduce the costs to the federal government. One of the most interesting findings in the book is the review of research which illustrates that UBI-type programs overall do not lead to people leaving the labor force unless they are taking time to care for children or attend school. Another striking point is the assertion that countries which have built strong welfare states, such as Finland and Norway, have small homogeneous populations. In contrast, the United States has a very diverse population with a history of excluding the descendants of slaves from safety net and wealth-building programs. Racism is a primary deterrent to implementing a UBI. The author’s main point is that each person in the United States deserves to participate in the economy, have choices, and live without deprivation.


Mason, C. N. (2016). Born bright: A young girl’s journey from nothing to something in America. New York: St. Martin’s Press.


The author’s memoir recalls her childhood days of being hungry, living in small, run-down housing, attending poorly resourced schools, learning from teachers who held low expectations for African American and Latino students, and having limited mobility to play with other children in the neighborhood due to gangs and violence. Being born black to a teen mother, she describes the low expectations and few opportunities she had for educational and economic success growing up. Despite these minimal expectations, the author qualified for advanced placement classes and did well academically. She juggled negotiating the world of her neighborhood and the world of her schools. Her parents never married, and her father eventually spent time in prison due to drugs. Her mother’s economic status depended on financial support from men. When that support was missing, she relied on public assistance and minimum-wage jobs to survive. The author was the first in her family to graduate from high school. Even though no one expected her to attend college, through the assistance of a teacher, she applied to and was accepted at Howard University and received a full merit scholarship to fund her education. She eventually became a college professor, writer, and administrator. A very helpful aspect of the book is the author’s sketching in of the historical and cultural context of her personal experiences. She provides data on people living in poverty in the United States at different times as well as recommendations for alleviating poverty, such as a tiered system of support for families with short-term to long-term needs.


Mitchell, R. (2007). Dear self: A year in the life of a welfare mother. Hayward, CA: NID Publishers.


The text is a very enlightening, first-person description of one woman’s struggle to care for her family and guide them to become productive adults when women and African Americans were often discriminated against in the labor force and devalued by society. It is composed of the letters Richelene Mitchell, an African American woman, wrote to herself describing, reflecting on, and analyzing her experiences in rearing her seven children with few financial resources during 1973. Richelene received no child support from her ex-husband or the father of her youngest child. Her letters demonstrate the immense challenge of providing basic necessities for her family on welfare, often having no money and no or little food in the house by the time “check day” arrives each month. Living in public housing with no vehicle, Richelene depended on taxis to bring home groceries. Either walking or public transportation was necessary in order for Richelene and her family to go to the doctor, travel to stores to purchase everyday necessities, or for Richelene to meet with her welfare worker. Richelene also had health problems, including epilepsy and a painful back, which made it difficult for her to work part-time or full-time in addition to the work of sewing, washing, ironing, cleaning, and cooking for her family. Richelene seemed to be quite talented in her sewing skills and made many of her family’s clothes as well as slip covers for her dilapidated furniture. Her letters also clarified the difficulty of “getting ahead” if a job did not pay a living wage because her food stamps and welfare benefits were reduced according to the wages she earned. Richelene regularly struggled to become a better person, deal with white supremacy she found in many aspects of society, and men who did not have her best interests at heart.


Nadasen, P. (2015). Household workers unite: The untold story of African American women who built a movement. Boston: Beacon Press.


The text describes household-worker activism from the 1950s to the 1970s during a time when domestic workers created a national movement to transform the occupation. Domestic workers were usually not included in the formal labor movement and excluded from labor laws, such as minimum wage and workers’ compensation. However, domestic worker organizers’ intention was to revalue social reproductive labor, which included paid and unpaid household work. Organizers brought attention to labor in the home, expanded the definition of work, and made some connections with feminists, but also created tensions as middle-class women entered the paid labor force and hired household workers to assume the domestic duties middle-class women could no longer complete. The author connects domestic work with Black women’s oppression and the civil rights movement. The author also illustrates how storytelling was crucial to mobilization and organization of domestic workers because stories often exemplified the connection between domestic labor and racial exploitation of labor. The author profiles six African American women activists who shared their own stories of abuse and exploitation while connecting their personal stories to examples from history, including the history of slavery and the “slave markets” of the 1930s or street corners where African American women waited to be hired as domestics for the day by White employers. The author uses these women’s own words to represent themselves. Domestic workers had to speak up for themselves because they were considered difficult to organize and neglected by most labor organizers. Domestic worker leaders reached out to immigrant and native-born workers, documented and undocumented, but failed to build a racially diverse movement. It remained primarily African American. The 1970s domestic workers’ movement was the first one to put the issue of domestic workers’ labor rights on the national political agenda.


Norberg-Hodge, H. (1991). Ancient futures: Learning from Ladakh. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.


The text is based on the author’s 17 years of experiences with the Ladakhi people learning their language and working with them to protect their culture and environment. Ladakh is located near the Himalaya Mountains in India. To outsiders, the Ladakh people appear “poor” and primitive, but the author found when she first met them that they were self-sufficient, producing most of what they needed from the land, living very sustainable lives, and creating strong communities. The only product they did not produce themselves was salt, for which they traded. They used money only for luxuries. The people embraced the Buddhist beliefs of the unity and mutual interdependence of all life, which helped them to adjust to challenges and feel happy even during hardships. The Ladakhi people traditionally were herders of hybrid cattle/yak which provided the people with meat, milk, butter, cheese, labor, transport, wool, and fuel. They also grew a few crops during the brief growing season due to the high altitude in which they lived. An important aspect of their lifestyle was communal labor in building houses, harvesting crops, and tending herds. Women and men, in Ladakh’s traditional culture, were equal with basic economic decisions made at the household level and no defined gender roles. In 1974 the Indian government promoted tourism in the region where the Ladakh lived which brought Western-style development, including roads, energy production, modern medicine, education, a police force, courts, banks, radio, and television. This development also led to increased pollution, population growth, a boom in housing, hotels, and guesthouses, a greater dependence on money, a change from communal labor to paid labor, a decrease in farming and an increase in working for wages in cities, a change in growing food for profit rather than for themselves, and increased economic differences among the people. The author proposes cultures like the Ladakh embrace counter- development in which they make informed decisions about their own future, promote self-respect, self-reliance, life-sustaining diversity, and create conditions for locally based, sustainable development. Traditional cultures would understand the costs of industrialization, adopt a more humane definition of progress, and develop sustainable alternatives to Western development. In addition, counter-development emphasizes agricultural self-reliance so that people grow food for local consumption rather than cash crops for export. Female perspectives, voices, and values and family and community ties as well as a respect for nature and people are included. Education for counter-development teaches children about their local resources and environment in a broader context so they learn to make wise use of these resources.


Orleck, A. (2018). “We are all fast-food workers now:” The global uprising against poverty wages. Boston: Beacon Press.


The author’s overall goal is for readers to understand what has contributed to the growth of the number of low-wage workers around the world and why these workers are resisting their wages and working conditions on a local and global scale. Her data include interviews with low-wage workers as well as her analysis of government documents, news reports, foundation reports, organizational websites and records, and scholarship dealing with labor, globalization, transnational capitalism, and agribusiness. The author’s interviews with labor activists led her to understand their common fight to address poverty wages; the disappearance of public services, such as education, health care, and clean water; the treatment of workers as independent contractors who do not receive seniority, benefits, and pensions; sexual harassment; mass evictions; and loss of people’s land rights. Today, workers must earn $20 an hour to support a family of four, but two-thirds of all American workers earn less. The author claims that during the 21st century, the precariat (postindustrial working class) has become prevalent among workers who have no security, seniority, benefits, and earn too little for a comfortable living. The precariats’ employers are able to treat their workers so poorly by following the minimum wage, maximum hours, and safety standards laws and treating their employees as temporary or contract workers. One interesting finding is the decline in the number of tenured or tenure-track college professors due to state and federal budget cuts. In 2015, 75 percent of college professors were paid by the course on short-term contracts, and 25 percent of those professors qualified for some form of public assistance. In short, college professors have also become fast-food workers with difficult working conditions, long hours, no job security, and low pay for the hours worked. A very hopeful aspect of the book are the closing chapters dealing with changes that have been made for greater justice for workers, communities, and the environment. For example, Jobs to Move America (a coalition focused on moving manufacturing back to U.S. cities) negotiated an agreement with BYD, the largest electric-vehicle manufacturer, to recruit and hire 40 percent of its Los Angeles workers from underrepresented groups (women, people of color, veterans, and formerly incarcerated), even providing training programs and transportation for workers and trainees without vehicles. These would be union jobs. Shortly after, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach committed to replacing their fleets of diesel trucks with the newly produced electric vehicles, which will reduce air pollution around the ports. Readers become aware of the serious problems of low-wage work as well as activists who have worked tirelessly to make changes.


Payne, R. K. (2003). A framework for understanding poverty (3rd rev. ed.). Highlands, TX: Aha! Process.


The author provides valuable background knowledge for educators who work with children and youth from poverty. She distinguishes between generational poverty (two or more generations of poverty) and situational poverty (of relatively short duration precipitated by a death, illness, or divorce). Since schools function with middle-class norms and the “hidden rules” of the middle-class, teachers must directly teach these rules to children from poverty, who are often successful in following the “hidden rules” of poverty. Educators must also understand the “hidden rules” for survival in poverty, such as the focus on the present with money and education, the importance of developing entertaining skills to endear oneself to others, a belief in fatalism rather than making choices, and casual language. However, teachers must also realize that children and families from poverty are not poor due to a lack of intelligence. They have varying resources including financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships or role models, and knowledge of the hidden rules. The educators’ role is to develop good relationships with children and youth from poverty; teach them how to be successful in school; provide support, opportunities, and expectations for learning; and serve as a role model. The text has many valuable suggestions for specific strategies and programs to help students from poverty succeed in school.


Pimpare, S. (2008). A people’s history of poverty in America. New York: The New Press.


The author’s main intention is to describe poverty and welfare from the perspectives of poor and welfare-reliant people in the United States. He uses mostly previously published letters, diaries, journals, and interviews as sources. The author focuses on how poor people have created community, found shelter, food, and work, cared for children, struggled for dignity and respect, experienced repression and control, lost hope, and fought back. The author provides statistics as well as personal stories. He summarizes how the United States has the highest or almost highest rates of poverty, childhood poverty, elderly poverty, long-term poverty, permanent poverty, income inequality, incarceration rates, health-care costs, CEO pay, average hours worked, and infant mortality among advanced nations. The United States also has the lowest rates of high school graduation, health-care coverage, mandated vacation and paid parental leave, voter participation, women in the national legislature, working-class wages, living standards and life expectancy among countries. The book asserts the resistance to generous programs of public welfare is due to the myth of the laziness of poor people who expect to receive government help when they really want safe jobs at decent wages allowing them to take care of themselves and their families. The author also asserts another myth, that people are poor because of moral failings, but that policymakers know best about poor people’s needs and appropriate behavior. The final chapter is especially insightful with the review of statistics of poverty and the assertion that poverty limits people’s freedom and their human rights.


Rank, M. R. (2005). One nation, underprivileged. New York: Oxford University Press.


The author provides a very convincing argument that the problem of poverty exists not because of individual failings but due to the U.S.’s economic structure which does not produce enough adequately paying jobs for all who need them. In addition, the U.S. does not provide the safety nets needed to avert poverty. The result is that the U.S. has the highest rate of poverty among industrialized countries. Being poor means not having daily necessities, enduring greater stress, and being unable to develop one’s potential. However, the author clarifies that those living in poverty are not a consistent group as nearly 60 percent of Americans have spent at least one year of their adult lives living below the poverty line by age 75. Nearly 30 percent of Americans experience poverty for five or more years by age 75. People of color (especially African Americans), those with less education (failing to graduate from high school and limited marketable skills), and women (heads of households) are more likely to experience poverty than White, better educated males. However, children under the age of six are at a high risk for being poor and between 17 and 20 percent of children fall below the poverty line at any point in time. The text makes a strong case that poverty is an issue that all Americans should be concerned about because it affects everyone through increased health care costs, increased crime and unsafe neighborhoods, and decreased educational opportunities and outcomes. Additionally, allowing poverty to exist side by side with prosperity contradicts our Judeo-Christian ethics and democratic values of liberty, equality, and justice for all. Finally, the author offers recommendations for ending poverty, including (1) creating jobs that pay a living wage; (2) increasing the accessibility of key public goods such as quality education, affordable housing, health care, and child care; (3) buffering the economic consequences of family change including enforcing effective child support policies and preventing teenage pregnancies; (4) developing individual and community assets such as Individual Development Accounts and children’s trust funds supported by government funding; and (5) providing an effective social safety net by either strengthening or consolidating existing programs for people with low income. He urges readers to get involved in ending poverty by discussing the issue and helping others understand it, becoming active in antipoverty activities within our communities, and forming coalitions to address the causes of poverty.


Rivoli, P. (2009). The travels of a t-shirt in the global economy: An economist examines the markets, power, and politics of world trade (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.


The author traces the production of a cotton t-shirt from cotton grown in Texas, spun into yarn, knitted into cloth, cut into pieces and sewn into a T-shirt in China, imprinted by a Florida screen-printing factory, and finally, sold to the author from a drug store in Fort Lauderdale. The author traces the public policies and supports that have been in place to allow cotton farmers in the United States to grow large quantities of high quality cotton and dominate the global cotton industry for 200 years. Slavery, sharecropping, government subsidies to protect farmers from risk, and access to research and technology to improve and ease cotton production helped cotton farmers increase cotton production and make a profit. Cotton farmers in poor countries usually did not have access to government subsidies, research, and technology as well as a basic education and training needed to understand new seeds and pesticides to increase their production and compete with U.S. cotton. The t-shirt was made in China, which produces more than 40 percent of the world’s cotton textiles. Cotton t-shirts are produced primarily by rural Chinese workers who migrate to Chinese cities such as Shanghai in order to work, but are not allowed to move permanently to the cities or use the city’s social services. They also earn less money for more hours worked per week than urban workers, but provide the needed labor to maintain China’s leadership in manufacturing. Today’s textile workers in China’s cities are primarily women who work long hours in poor working conditions with low pay, live in cramped quarters, and have few rights, but they choose factory work over life in rural China. Women complained that work in rural China was physically and mentally exhausting, and they were controlled by fathers and brothers. Working in urban textile factories gave them some income and freedom. The author describes the challenges of importing t-shirts from China for silk-screening because of political pressure to restrict imports to save American jobs and economic pressures to allow imports as part of free trade and benefits for consumers. The author concludes that there is a moral case for world trade in order to minimize economic rivalry and the possibilities of war and increase connections among people, promote environmental responsibility, and insist that multi-national companies monitor working conditions all along their supply chains.


Rosen, E. I.. (2002). Making sweatshops: The globalization of the U.S. apparel industry. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


The author defines a sweatshop as a company paying wages below the federal mandated minimum or maintaining working conditions which violate the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938. For example, workers may be forced to work more than eight hours a day in unsafe conditions. However, sweatshops exist in the U.S. since the 1980s because federal laws are not being enforced. Apparel sweatshops tend to be concentrated in New York, California, and Texas, but can also exist in large cities in other states. They usually employ new immigrant women. Apparel sweatshops can also be found in developing countries such as Southeast Asia, Latin America, eastern Europe, China, and sub-Saharan Africa. In the 1950s and 1960s, women apparel workers in the U.S. made good wages and had good working conditions due to the unions. In the past 50 years, half the apparel industry job for women workers have transferred from the industrialized countries to developing countries. Apparel jobs moved because of U.S. trade liberalization policies which are supposed to result in lower clothing prices for consumers, increased profits for the apparel industry, and increased economic development in poor countries. However, the low pay and poor working conditions of apparel workers in developing countries does little to lift workers out of poverty, and the reduced costs of clothing offers consumers minimal benefits. Not surprisingly, the apparel manufacturers’ profits increased more than all other U.S. manufacturing industries during 1980 - 2000, which mainly benefitted the CEOs. The author explains how free trade policies have led to the loss of jobs for women apparel workers in the U.S., and the deterioration in wages and working conditions for those still employed in the industry. Such conditions led to the increase in sweatshops in the apparel industry in the U.S. The text provides descriptions of oppressive working conditions for women apparel workers in El Salvador, China, and Bangladesh. The author argues for paying women apparel workers a living wage, one that allows women to support themselves and their families.


Sadeed, S. (2011). Forbidden lessons in a Kabul guesthouse: The true story of a woman who risked everything to bring hope to Afghanistan. New York: Hyperion.


The author grew up in Afghanistan living a comfortable life as the daughter of the governor of Kabul. She was fortunate enough to complete high school and a university education. After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Suraya fled Afghanistan with her husband and young daughter and settled in the United States. She became a successful realtor and owned several properties with her husband, including a large home in Virginia. When Suraya’s husband died suddenly, Suraya needed a new purpose in her life. She became aware of and concerned about the destruction in Afghanistan due to the Mujahideens’ fight for control of the country once the Soviets left in 1989. Suraya formed the charity Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) in 1993 to provide aid for refugees and displaced persons, widows, women and children, and build health clinics for people with no access to health care and schools for children. She raised money for the charity in the United States, then went to Afghanistan to deliver the aid and find out what else the

Afghan people needed. As she delivered the aid, usually in the form of cash strapped to her body beneath her clothing, she dealt with refugee camp administrators, Mujahideens, and the Taliban. The people in power wanted to control who received aid and the kind of aid delivered, but Suraya found ways to work with or around them. After schools were built and were staffed by teachers and attended by children, as the Taliban gained power, students and teachers were threatened with death if they continued the school. Despite this setback, over 100,000 students attended Help the Afghan Children schools. Suraya recommends that the U.S. government engage in dialogue with the Taliban in order to help the Afghan people as well as invest in education and economic advancement.


Seabrook, J. (2003). The non-nonsense guide to world poverty. London: Verso.


The author provides a view of poverty around the world, including wealthy countries such as the U.S. and Great Britain. He also includes quotes from people considered poor and from those who have studied and worked with the poor to provide a more personal perspective on poverty. An important point of the text is that the poor do not desire wealth, but security, sufficiency, enough to meet their needs, and space to raise children in peace and without want. The author defines least developed countries as having low income per capita; having low nutrition, health, education and adult literacy; and having instability in agricultural production and exports of goods and services. These countries are located primarily in Africa and Asia (30 in Africa, 13 in the Asia-Pacific region, five are Arab states, and one in the Americas). The author also clarifies that people fall into and out of poverty during different seasons depending on the availability of work and food and during various periods in their lives from childhood through old age. He criticizes the creation of “free trade” and a global economy which disadvantage poor countries and lead to the creation of sweatshops, the avoidance of labor laws, and disregard for human rights, as well as the creation of “development” programs to help “underdeveloped” countries catch up with “developed.” However, the great gap between the wealthy and the poor also has a detrimental effect on the wealthy. According to the author, the price of wealth is paid with greater obesity and increases in crime and drug use. The text closes with visions for changes using ideas from Gandhi’s economics policy in India, Nyerere’s leadership in Tanzania, and the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil who focus on self-sufficiency, or producing most of the needed goods and services in the local community.


Steinberg, S. (2001). The ethnic myth: Race, ethnicity, and class in America. Boston: Beacon Press.


Chapter four in the text “The Culture of Poverty Reconsidered” addresses the myth that the poor have cultural values which keep them in poverty. The author explains the reasons for certain characteristics of the poor result from adaptations to life’s circumstances rather than developed as innate qualities. “The pressure of coping with everyday survival leads to a present-time orientation; exclusion from the political process, to feelings of powerlessness and fatalism; disparagement of the poor on the part of society at large, to feelings of inferiority; the inability of men to provide for their families, to mother-centered households; unrelenting poverty, to passivity and a sense of resignation” (p. 107). The author argues against blaming the victim for their poverty and urges readers to examine the social causes of poverty. He compares poverty among early 20th century immigrants to poverty among African Americans today. Most early immigrants experienced poor conditions in their homelands and lived in poverty for a short time in the U.S. African Americans, on the other hand, were kept in poverty through two centuries of slavery, another century of legalized segregation, and now through chronic unemployment during periods of prosperity in the U.S. The author concludes that the poor “are born into a given station in life and adopt values that are consonant with their circumstances and their life chances. To the extent that lower-class ethnics seem to live according to a different set of values, this is primarily a cultural manifestation of their being trapped in poverty” (p. 127). The author asserts that Americans are unwilling to wipe out unemployment and poverty.


Stiglitz, J. E. & Charlton, A. (2005). Fair trade for all: How trade can promote development. New York: Oxford University Press.


The purpose of the text is to describe how trade policies can become more fair to developing countries so they can benefit from their participation in the world trading system. Former trade agreements organized by the World Trade Organization (WTO) frequently reflected the interests of advanced, industrialized countries over poor, developing countries. Trade liberalization (the process of reducing barriers to imports) is supposed to be good for all countries because as resources are transferred from protected sectors, in which a country does not have comparative advantages, to those sectors where it is more efficient, it can export more successfully. However, in developing countries, removing protection given to domestic industries may lead to idle workers and other resources used in formerly protected industries. The authors recommend that trade negotiations must include open and impartial economic analysis of the effects of various initiatives on different countries and groups within countries. In other words, make sure trade agreements promote development in poor countries, which may require special assistance to enable them to participate equally in WTO. The authors also recommend that trade agreements should give primary attention to market access for goods produced by developing countries, reduce protection on labor-intensive manufacturers (textiles and food processing) and unskilled services (maritime and construction services) in developed countries, increase labor mobility to allow unskilled workers to migrate temporarily, and devise ways to circumscribe non-tariff barriers set up by developed countries to imports from less industrialized countries. Yet other recommendations are that fair trade agreements should be negotiated through fair negotiating processes, that trade negotiations consider the uneven adjustment costs for developing and developed countries to new trade agreements (due to greater implementation and adjustment costs, higher unemployment rates, and weaker safety nets in developing countries), and that developed countries provide assistance to developing countries to help them bear the costs of trade reform and take advantage of new opportunities provided by a global economy.


Tea, M. (Ed). Without a net: The female experience of growing up working class. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press.


The editor collected essays from women who are telling their own stories of their experiences living in poverty or surviving with working class status. Tea wanted to include “insider’s perspectives” on working class struggles and highlight the many strengths women developed despite all the uncertainties of poverty and the lack of family with financial resources. Essays reveal challenges women have in taking care of dental and physical health needs when they have no health insurance, having enough food on little income, feeling out of place with their second-hand, bargain-priced clothing, experiencing family alcoholism, mental health problems, sexual and physical abuse, living in housing “projects,” and getting an education to have a better life, but still being working class. One of the most interesting essays is “Winter Coat,” in which the author describes her humiliation in standing in the “free lunch” line, having “free breakfast” at school, and being interrogated by the school nurse about having enough to eat at home. “There are Holes in My Mandarin Dog Biscuit” describes a young girl’s experiences of constant hunger and resorting to eating dog biscuits after school when she could find nothing else to eat. The authors are straight as well as lesbian with parents who worked hard to provide educational opportunities for their children and parents who were unable to provide all the basic necessities. Some of the authors provide some insight into the importance of fighting and doing manual labor for survival while questioning if becoming middle class is a better alternative to embracing one’s working class roots.


Thomas, D. (2019). Fashionopolis: The price of fast fashion and the future of clothes. New York: Penguin Press.


The text focuses on the clothing industry and the harmful effects of “fast fashion” on workers and the environment. “Fast fashion”or “the production of trendy, inexpensive garments in vast amounts at lightening speed in subcontracted factories” (p. 4) encourages shoppers to purchase clothing often, leading to shoppers around the world purchasing 80 billion apparel items annually. Clothing now is usually made by poorly paid workers in the world’s poorest countries. The movement of clothing production to poor countries negatively affected labor in developed countries. For example, in the United States, the US textile and garment industry lost 1.2 million jobs between 1990 and 2012. These jobs went to poor countries in Latin America and Asia. “Fast fashion” also negatively affected human rights in developing countries. Fewer than two percent of clothing production workers earn a living wage, which affects one out of six people around the world who are involved in the fashion industry. Most notably, the majority of apparel workers are women, and children also work in clothing factories. “Fast fashion” has harmed the environment, including polluting the water, releasing carbon emissions into the air, and generating greenhouse gases. Chemicals are used in the production of clothing. For example, in order to produce one cotton t-shirt, one-third pound of fertilizer is needed, 25.3 kilowats of electricity, and 2,700 liters of water is used to grow the cotton. Synthetic fibers also pollute water when washed by releasing microfibers, which affect water life and eventually humans. Even unsold clothes harm the environment because they are often buried, shredded, or incinerated. When Americans throw away clothes, now around 80 pounds per person per year, much of it is taken to Africa, but the rest ends up in landfills. Synthetic clothing does not break down, and the fabrics that do degrade contain chemicals that contaminate soil and the water table. The author also focuses on new developments in the clothing industry that have a positive impact on people and the environment called “better fashion.” She identifies visionaries who are focused on developing clothing locally, using smarter manufacturing in large cities in the US and Europe, creating a cleaner denim process from growing cotton to the final product, printing 3-D clothes, creating clothing from recycled fabrics, and growing new “fabrics” in the lab. The author encourages readers to change their purchasing habits and buy only a few, well-made items or consider renting clothing.


Tough, P. (2019). The years that matter most: How college makes or breaks us. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


The text is well-researched, extremely well-written, and enlightening. The author reviews the data on the importance of a college education for living above the poverty level, being employed, and living longer than those who did not complete a college degree. However, unless one comes from a wealthy family, it is difficult to get into a very selective college (such as Harvard, Yale, or Stanford) and eventually become a top income-earner. In other words, the author makes the case for wealth begetting wealth and institutions of higher education seldom serving as equalizing opportunities for all students. One of the ways wealthy students get into highly selective colleges is through completing expensive SAT and ACT preparation programs to raise their scores to achieve the high scores expected by highly selective colleges. Another avenue used by wealthy students is through “legacy” admission to prestigious colleges such as Harvard who admits the children of alumni and wealthy donors. Highly selective colleges prefer to admit wealthy students because they can pay full tuition as well as make large donations after they graduate. For those who can afford to attend highly selective colleges, it is a wise investment because highly selective colleges spend more on students (academic instruction, advising, facilities, and student support) than less selective colleges. The author closes the text with encouraging readers to think about college education as a public good. When students complete college, all of society benefits. Tough reminds us that the United States supported college completion for young adults after World War II with the GI Bill, and we can do it again.


Tsukiyama, G. (1991). Women of the silk. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.


The text is a novel, but is based on the history of women silk workers in rural China in the early 20th century. The story focuses on the life of Pei as she changes from a young girl to a skilled, experienced silk worker from 1919 to 1938. Her father gives her to the silk factory so she can earn money for the family, although he never explains this decision to her. Pei meets other young female silk workers who are also supporting their families because of longstanding poverty or the death of income-earning fathers. The text describes the difficult working conditions of the factory: the heat, the work and occasional burns from boiling water when spinning the silk, the 10- to 14-hour days, the noise, and shouts from the owner and male managers to keep working. One of the most notable parts of the book is the description of the silk workers’ strike for shorter hours. All the women silk workers join together in the strike, which shuts down the factories. The owner agrees to 10-hour workdays, extra compensation if they work 12-hour days, and one day off every two weeks for each worker. Most of the text describes Pei’s and other young silk workers’ activities outside the silk factory, including the close friendships they develop while living at the girls’ house, some girls’ pressures from their families to enter into forced marriages, and some women’s decisions to go through the hair-dressing ceremony and publicly declare their intention not to marry and remain in the sisterhood of silk workers. Pei, too, goes through the hair-dressing ceremony. In one of the most emotional scenes in the text, Pei returns home to visit her parents, which helps her understand why they had given her to the silk work and to communicate her forgiveness for doing so.


Vance, J.D. (2016). Hillbilly elegy: A memoir of a family and culture in crisis. New York: Harper.


The author describes his experiences growing up poor in the Rust Belt city of Middleton, Ohio, and the Appalachian “hillbilly” town of Jackson, Kentucky. Despite graduating from Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he identifies with working class White Americans of Scots-Irish descent who are traditionally poor and held low-level jobs for generations. The author claims this group has a strong sense of loyalty, a dedication to family and country, and a dislike for “outsiders,” or anyone who looks, acts, or talks differently. In addition, this group of “hillbillies” from Appalachia also deal with low social mobility, social isolation, a lack of agency or belief they have little control over their life, poverty, divorce, and drug addiction. As manufacturing left the industrial Midwest, the White working class lost their economic security and stable home and family life. The author describes his mother’s struggle with drug addiction and her constant search for a secure relationship with a man, which had a very negative affect on his life. However, he had the constant love and stability of his grandparents, support from his older sister and other family members, mentors, and four years in the Marine Corps to help him change his expectations for himself, become more self-disciplined, develop agency, and become a leader. One of the most challenging aspects of attending Yale Law School was the cultural shock he experienced being very different from most other students who were considered upper-middle class or higher. The author acknowledges the helpfulness of governmental programs for the poor, but warns against segregating the poor into their own communities with few emotional and financial resources. He encourages governmental policies to protect the less fortunate, encourage advancement and mobility for everyone, and reject the idea of a permanent underclass.


Walls, J. (2005). The glass castle: A memoir. New York: Scribner.


The text is the author’s memories growing up poor with her three siblings and parents. Her parents were intelligent and resourceful and wanted a better life for their family, but did not like holding jobs for very long. Her father dreamed of building a glass castle in the desert for the family to live in, but first he must find gold to finance it, which he never did. The author’s mother had a teaching degree, but preferred to paint and write, and only taught during a time when the family was desperate for money. The author’s father was able to get jobs as an electrician or engineer in a mine, but didn’t keep jobs very long. He enjoyed gambling and drinking. The author remembered her childhood moving around like nomads from one small mining town to another in Nevada, Arizona, and California, often leaving in the middle of the night due to unpaid bills or fear of punishment for illegally using electricity. The author’s mother’s mother, Grandma Smith, had a large house and ranch in Arizona, but did not get along with her daughter and son-in-law for very long. As a result, the family stayed with Grandma Smith for only short periods at a time. When Grandma Smith died, the author’s mother inherited some money and a house in Phoenix, where the family moved. Despite the more secure setting, nice furnishings, and a washing machine for the first time, termites eroded the floors and the author’s father destroyed some of the furniture during one of his drunken stupors. Finally, the family moved to West Virginia where her father’s family lived. The Walls family did not get along with her father’s family either, so they purchased a house that sat precariously on a hill, had only three rooms with no bathroom, running water, electricity, or heat, and had a leaking roof. The author remembered constantly being hungry and learning to scavenge for food at school in her classroom, in trash cans around school, or in dumpsters in the community. She and her younger brother also foraged for foods grown wild in the summer and fall. The author remembered being aware of how skinny she was, her dirty, thin clothes and her thin winter coat. However, her parents helped her develop a love of reading, learning, thinking, and taking care of herself. Her experiences motivated her to assume adult responsibilities early in life. The author learned to manage money and live on a budget while a teenager, which helped her and her older sister move to New York City to live before she finished high school.


Children’s Books On Child Labor Or Exploited Labor


Baccelliere, A. (2017). I like, I don’t like. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.


Elementary. The simple text provides contrasting perspectives on objects which can be used for play or enjoyment by children who have their basic needs met and by poor children who must work to produce or sell these objects. For example, children living in comfortable situations like playing with shoes, bricks, and soccer balls, but children living in poverty dislike shoes, bricks, and soccer balls because they must spend much of their time producing these products. The text can be used to stimulate important discussions about child labor and the harmful effects on children, especially how child labor prevents children from enjoying their right to play. At the end of the text, the author explains the connection between poverty and child labor, children’s rights as defined by the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, and how readers can help fight poverty in their own community and throughout the world.


Bader, B. (1993). East side story. New York: Silver Moon.


Upper elementary level. The text deals with the injustices immigrant women and girls endured while working in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City in the early 1900s. Although immigrants came to the U.S. seeking a better life, many were forced to live in crowded tenements and work in oppressive sweatshops such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Through the main character Rachel Boganovich's experiences, the reader discovers the crowded, inhumane, and unsafe working conditions in the factory; the long hours and low wages; and the practice of firing any employees trying to organize a union. The author also raises the issue of educational equality for girls and boys with Rachel and her older sister being forced to work for wages to help support the family while their two brothers focus on studying and doing well in school.


Bartoletti, S. C. (1996). Growing up in coal country. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Middle school level/adult resource. This text is based on the author’s extensive research on coal mining in northeastern Pennsylvania from the late 1800s to the early 1900s through interviews, mining records, published newspapers, magazines, and books, and old photographs. The book is generously embellished with photographs of men and boys working in mines and the patch villages where the workers lived with their families. The author helps readers understand the dangerous conditions in mines, how boys as young as five or six worked in mines despite laws requiring the minimum age of 12, and the poverty in miners’ families. The wealth of the coal landowners and operators is contrasted to the poor housing, limited water, and few educational opportunities for coal miners’ families. The coal companies owned the miners’ housing, stores, and schools which helped to keep the miners’ families poor. The author also portrays miners’ efforts to improve their working conditions through strikes.


Colman, P. (1994). Mother Jones and the march of the mill children. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook.


Picture book, upper elementary level. The author introduces the reader to Mary Harris Jones or Mother Jones who fought for the rights of miners, railroad workers, mill, and factory workers. She was especially concerned about employers who hired children at very little pay to perform dangerous jobs after she personally investigated child labor in different factories. Frequently workers' families needed their children to work in order to earn enough money so the family could survive. In order to call attention to the physical dangers and injustice of child labor, Mother Jones organized a march of adult and child workers to President Theodore Roosevelt's home in New York in 1903. Although President Roosevelt refused to see her, the march and speeches along the way made the country more aware of the harm of child labor and laws began to be passed which outlawed child labor.


Currie, S. (1997). We have marched together: The working children’s crusade. Minneapolis: Lerner.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The text is embellished with many photographs of working children, Mother Jones, and of both Mother Jones and children participating in marches for better working conditions in the early 20th century. The author focuses on the labor strike of 1903 when Mary Harris Jones led a group of child workers from Philadelphia to New York to bring attention to the strike and child labor. The cause of child labor is attributed to the low wages paid by mill owners to adult full-time workers. Most families in the Kensington area of Philadelphia needed their children to work for their families’ survival. Descriptions of the long hours, low pay, injuries and illnesses which resulted from unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, poor treatment of workers, and lack of educational opportunities and time to play for child workers which precipitated the strike are included. The author tries to include child workers’ perspectives on work and the march with Mother Jones, although he admits little was known about how children felt about the march. Although the march did not benefit the striking children, it did call national attention to the problem of child labor.


D’Adamo, F. (2003). Iqbal: A novel. New York: Atheneum.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The text is a fictional account of Iqbal Masih and his struggle to free bonded child workers. The story is told through Fatima, a young girl who makes carpets, along with 13 other children, in a Pakistani carpet factory. The children are bonded to the factory owner to pay off their families’ debts to local moneylenders. The text describes the unhealthy, oppressive living and working conditions at the carpet factory, the minimal food, the futility of working off the debt, and the severe punishments for making mistakes or trying to escape. When Iqbal arrives at the factory, he offers hope for a different life. Readers learn about the Bonded Labor Liberation Front of Pakistan, dedicated to end child labor and enforce the law forbidding the exploitation of children, which Iqbal joins. Enforcing the law necessitates finding police who do not take bribes from carpet factory owners. When Fatima and other children are freed from bonded labor, they stay at the Liberation Front home until they can be reunited with their families. The author also includes additional sources for learning about Iqbal Masih and child labor laws.


Denenberg, B. (1997). So far from home: The diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish mill girl. New York: Scholastic.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The text is historical fiction, based on historical research, but the actual diary is fictional. Most of the text portrays Mary Driscoll’s experiences of living in “the Acre,” the poorest section of Lowell, Massachusetts, reserved for impoverished, Irish immigrants as well as several months of work in one of the textile mills. The text depicts many of the safety and health hazards of working in the mills and the transition from Yankee female labor to Irish female immigrant labor who were more easily exploited by mill owners. As Mary Driscoll’s diary details the inhumane working conditions of no water, lint-filled air, extreme heat in summer, long days, no breaks, and demands for greater and faster work, readers can empathize with and become outraged by these injustices.


Freedman, R. (1994). Kids at work: Lewis Hine and the crusade against child labor. New York: Clarion Books.


Picture book, upper elementary. The book contains pictures by Lewis Hine, a teacher and photographer, who traveled the U.S. during the early 20th century taking pictures of children at work in factories, mills, coal mines, and fields. The photographs portrayed the dangers and harshness of the working conditions, the long hours, and the small size of the children as compared to the large machines they often worked with. Lewis Hine's pictures and investigation for the National Child Labor Committee exposed the exploitation of children for cheap labor and made the country aware of the need for child labor laws. His pictures also informed the public about the lives of poor, immigrant families who often needed the wages of everyone in the family to survive. One strategy they used to earn money was completing "piece" work at home with all family members including small children helping for pennies.


Hendershot, J. (1987). In coal country. New York: Dragonfly.


Picture book, lower elementary level. The book and illustrations portray life as a coal mining family who live in "Company Row" with other mining families working in the Black Diamond Mine. The father is proud of his work as a miner even though coal dust settles on everything. The importance and difficulty of the mother's work are also portrayed. The author communicates an enjoyment of life within the family despite few economic resources.


Kuklin, S. (1998). Iqbal Masih and the crusaders against child slavery. New York: Henry Holt.


Middle school level. Although the author never met Iqbal Masih, she explains how she completed the research for the text in the author’s note. Kuklin spoke with people who knew Iqbal or his family, reviewed materials from respected human rights organizations, and used quotes from an interview with Iqbal. The text provides background information on Iqbal Masih, a boy from Pakistan, who was sent to work in a carpet factory at the age of four, to pay a $12 loan from the factory owner to Iqbal’s family. This began his six years of hard labor, in unsafe conditions, punishments for making mistakes or complaining about conditions, and injuries from the sharp weaving tools. The author provides valuable background information regarding why families must send their children to work; the different types of work children still do in different parts of the world; the history of child labor in the U.S. and England; people and groups who have fought against child labor; Iqbal’s own efforts to end child labor or slavery and the resulting awards acknowledging his contributions; his mysterious murder; and responses from youth dedicated to ending child labor. The author emphasizes the importance of education for children forced to work and labeling programs to document that child labor was not used in producing products. Kuklin provides additional resources for youth to learn more about child labor and addresses for writing to Iqbal’s family, heads of state, and the U.S. government.


Littlefield, H. (1996). Fire at the Triangle Factory. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda.

Picture book, elementary level. The text illustrates the difficult working conditions immigrants had to endure in clothing factories during the early 20th century, including 10-hour days; six-day work weeks; low pay; poor lighting; little ventilation; flammable sewing machine oil and patterns; crowded, noisy working conditions; and locked doors. Because immigrants had difficulty finding work and were frequently very poor, they were often forced to endure these inhumane conditions in order to provide needed income for their families. In addition to the portrayal of the tragic fire at the factory which led to the death of 146 immigrant women and girls, the text depicts some of the ethnic conflicts between Italian Catholics and Polish Jews.


Markel, M. (2013). Brave girl: Clara and the shirtwaist makers’ strike of 1909. New York: Balzer & Bray.


Picture book, elementary level. In this informational text, the author portrays the hard work and courage of Clara Lemlich, a young Jewish immigrant girl who works in a garment factory in New York City in the early 1900s. The text illustrates some of the injustices the workers face, such as crowded working conditions, limited toilet facilities, loss of pay if workers are a few minutes late, fines for staining fabrics, locked factory doors, and nightly inspections when workers leave the factory. Clara, like other young women garment workers, are making little money, but their small salaries help support their families. Clara becomes friends with other factory workers and recognizes the injustices they face. She leads several walkouts and pickets and each time she is fired, beaten, and arrested. At a large union meeting in 1909, Clara is the only person with enough courage to call for a general strike, which leads to the largest walkout of women workers in U.S. history. At the end of the several months’ strike, garment factory bosses agree to let their staff form unions, shorten the work week, and raise salaries. The author provides additional background information on the garment industry, the abuses, the general strike, and aftermath of the strike.


Marrin, A. (2011). Flesh & blood so cheap: The Triangle fire and its legacy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


Chapter book, upper elementary/middle school level. The text is informational and embellished with historical photographs. It depicts the conditions which motivated Italians and Jews to leave their homes in Europe for a better life in the U.S., the kind of work available in New York City, and the working conditions many found in sweatshops. Textile sweatshops employed children and other immigrant workers who labored under dangerous conditions, made to work fast and long hours for little pay, often paid “by the piece” rather than by the hour, were not allowed appropriate lunch or bathroom breaks, and forced to obey humiliating work rules, such as no talking, laughing, or singing. However, workers united by joining labor unions or striking for better working conditions and wages, and limited hours. The text specifically focuses on the Triangle Waist Company fire and the conditions leading to the devastating consequences of the fire: the company owners’ failure to follow safety procedures such as installing sprinklers and holding fire drills; problematic structural features of the building such as a lack of exits, narrow stairs, exit doors which swung inward rather than outward, and malfunctioning water hoses and fire escapes; the prevalence of flammable fabrics, patterns, and sewing machine oil; and shortcomings of the fire fighting equipment, such as short fire ladders, weak hoses, and nets. The Triangle fire killed 146 workers, mostly young women on March 25, 1911 and was the worst workplace disaster until the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center.


Parker, D. L. (1998). Stolen dreams. Minneapolis: Lerner


Picture book, upper elementary/middle school level. The text contains photographs and descriptions illustrating children who engage in hard labor for little compensation in different countries around the world. The author defines child labor as the use of children under the age of 16 for work detrimental to their health, education, and development and provides many portrayals of children who have been harmed through hard labor. The author also identifies areas where most child labor occurs as Africa, Asia, Central, and South America. However, the United States also has a problem with child labor with children working as migrant workers or in sweatshops in the clothing and meatpacking industries as well as restaurants and grocery stores. Usually children work because of their families' poverty; however, child labor increases poverty because it keeps adult workers' wages low. When children work instead of attending school, they continue the cycle of poverty. The text contains a description of Iqbal Masih, a child laborer from Pakistan who became a spokesperson against child labor. It also describes what can be done to address child labor, including increasing educational opportunities; helping adults find jobs; increasing the adult minimum wage; improving the status of women and girls; and increasing the enforcement of child labor laws. The text closes with descriptions of children and youth in the United States and Canada who have collectively fought against child labor.


Paterson, K. (1991). Lyddie. New York: Trumpet.


Upper elementary/middle school level. A wonderful story of Lyddie, a courageous young girl who survives through hard work after her father abandons the family, her mother takes her younger sisters to live with relatives, and she and her brother are hired out. When Lyddie hears about the mill jobs in Lowell, Massachusetts, she moves there to work and earn enough money to reunite her family. Not only does Lyddie work hard at the weaving looms in the factory six days a week, but she also teaches herself to read and develops a love of books. Lyddie copes with the unhealthy working conditions, the fast pace required in the factory, and the sexual harassment of the overseer. When she protests her overseer's treatment, she is fired which she transforms into an opportunity for a better life.


Rappaport, D. (1987). Trouble at the mines. New York: Bantam Skylark.


Upper elementary level. The book portrays the hardships of coal mining including the dangerous working conditions and the low pay. Because the mine owners are unconcerned about these problems, the miners, led by Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, strike. The strike stretches on for a difficult eight months for the miners' families who struggle to survive the lack of income. Finally, the mine owners agree to an increase in pay. The story's events are based on the miners' strike in Arnot, Pennsylvania in 1898.


Roberts-Davis, T. (2001). We need to go to school: Voices of the Rugmark children. Toronto: Groundwood Book.


Upper elementary/middle school level. At the age of 16, the author traveled to Nepal to collect the stories of children and youth who used to work in carpet factories, but now attend schools and rehabilitation centers established by the Rugmark organization. Rugmark began in 1994 when consumers in Germany pressured stores to carry hand-woven carpets made without child labor. The Rugmark label on carpets certify that they have been made by adults paid a decent wage. The author summarizes the reasons for high poverty in Nepal and few educational opportunities, which necessitates the need for children to work to help support their families. The children’s stories and poems describe the hard work they did for their families and at the carpet factory as well as their hopes for a better life in the future.


Saeed, A. (2018). Amal unbound. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books.


Middle school level. The novel takes place in Pakistan and portrays the difficulties of children becoming indentured servants when they challenge the power of ruling families and their own family is indebted to the ruling family. Amal, the main character of the book, is attending school and taking care of her mother and younger siblings. When her mother does not improve, Amal is forced to stay home to take care of the house, her younger sisters, prepare meals, do laundry, and shop. When Amal refuses to give up fruit she purchases at the market to Jawad Sahib, a member of the ruling family, she is taken to the family’s home as a house servant to pay her family’s debt. However, Amal learns that the chances of working off her family’s debt are very difficult because her living expenses are added to her family’s original debt. Amal experiences cruelty from other household workers as well as kindness. Amal discovers Jawad Sahib’s involvement in the disappearance of someone and bravely shares this information with someone who can take legal action. Her bravery leads to Jawad Sahib’s arrest. The book illustrates how common people can challenge powerful people and the status quo.


Saller, C. (1998). Working children. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books.


Picture book, elementary level. The author includes photographs of working children from the early 20th century as well as today. The text is a brief history of child labor, efforts to end it, and the existence of child labor today. Saller focuses on the main cause of child labor, family poverty, the different kinds of work children did during the early 20th century, and the harmful effects of hard, dangerous work on child workers. Through the work of reformers and the National Child Labor Committee, eventually the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed which prevented young children from working and older children from working during school hours. However, at the close of the text, the author introduces readers to the continuation of child labor today in harvesting crops, sewing clothing in sweatshops, and in making other products U.S. consumers use. She urges readers to investigate whether the products they buy are made with child labor.


Shea, P. D. (2003). The carpet boy’s gift. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House.


Picture book, elementary level. The book is fictional, but is based on Iabal Masih’s life and his efforts to liberate thousands of child laborers. The text portrays Nadeem, a fictional child laborer who works in a rug factory in Pakistan to repay his family’s 1,000 rupee debt to the factory owner. Readers learn about the unhealthy conditions in the factory which harm the children’s health. When Iqbal Masih marches through town, he encourages Nadeem and the other children to leave the factory because of the new law against child slavery. Iqbal suggests the children attend the nearby school; however, the factory owner refuses to recognize the child laborers’ freedom. Nadeem and the other child laborers are saddened to learn of Iqbal’s death, but determined to leave their jobs. The text also contains background information on Iqbal Masih, resources for exploring the issue of child labor, and organizations that are working to solve the problem of child labor. Overall, the text and suggested resources provide an excellent introduction to the topic of child labor and how children can help solve the problem.


Sheth, K. (2010). Boys without names. New York: Balzer & Bray.


Chapter book, upper elementary/middle school level. The author is originally from India and in 2008 returned to study child labor. She talked with poor children and adults to find out the causes of rural poverty, which forced people to the cities and children to live and work in slums. The author also consulted with a nonprofit organization in Mumbai that works with children who run away from home or are enticed to come to Mumbai to work. Her research formed the foundation for the book and the main characters. Gopal, an 11-year-old boy, is the narrator and describes the events which led to his family’s loss of their farm. They could not repay a loan for the cost of fertilizer and seeds when the price of their produce fell. They had to borrow more money to pay for medicine when one of Gopal’s younger siblings became ill. They sold their farm to pay the debt, but lost their main source of income and land to grow their own food. The father moved the family to Mumbai where they stay with a relative in his one-room house. Gopal is anxious to find work to help his family, meets another young boy who offers him a job in his uncle’s factory, then drugs Gopal and delivers him to a sweatshop. Gopal, along with five other young boys, are kept in one room where they work gluing beads onto picture frames morning, afternoon, and evenings. They are kept locked inside a building, given minimal food and clothing, made to sleep on the floor, beaten and given no food if they make mistakes, encouraged to inform on each other, and never allowed to leave the building. Gopal works to learn more about the other boys to create a sense of unity. He also gains a measure of “boss’s” trust and is able to leave the building to make a purchase for his “boss” and gives a note to the shopkeeper asking to be rescued. The text provides a description of child laborers’ lives.


Springer, J. (1997). Listen to us: The world’s working children. Toronto: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre.


Picture book, upper elementary/middle school level. The author introduces readers to the problem of child labor today and its root cause, poverty, and the willingness of employers to exploit and oppress poor children and their families by taking their labor and paying them little. In addition, the author calls attention to the prevalence of child labor among low status groups and girls from different cultures around the world who frequently are valued less than boys. With the globalization of the economy, companies move to countries where they can produce their goods more cheaply, usually by reducing labor cost, including hiring child workers. Children and youth today are found in agricultural, domestic, industrial, sex, street, military, and fast-food work, often to their detriment. A valuable portion of the text is the focus on young people who have fought against child labor, programs designed to ensure products are not made by child labor, and what readers can do to fight against the exploitation of children and youth at work.


Wallace, I. (1999). Boy of the deeps. New York: DK Publishing.


Picture book, elementary level. The author tells his grandfather’s story of beginning to work in a coal mine as a young boy, but changes the setting to focus on the oldest coal mining area in North America, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Commercial coal mining began in 1720 in this area and still continues. The text portrays James, a young boy, who begins to work deep underground underneath the Atlantic Ocean in a coal mine along with his father. Readers learn about how miners travel underground, the tools they use, how they check for dangerous gases, and the physically demanding, hazardous working conditions. The climax of the story is the collapse of the ceiling where James and his father are working and their escape to safety. Despite the many dangers to young miners’ lives, they continue to work in the mines.


Whalen, G. (2009). Waiting for the owl’s call. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.


Picture book, elementary level. The text is realistic fiction and the narrator is an eight-year-old girl, Zulviya, living in Afghanistan with her 16-year-old cousin, her 10-year-old sister, her father, mother, brothers, grandmother, and aunt. The young girls, along with their mother and aunt, must weave rugs each day until the owl’s call signals the end of the workday. The family sells their handwoven rugs in order to earn income, which means the girls are unable to attend school in the village, a two-day walk from their home. The narrator describes the difficulties of sitting and bending over so long at the loom tying rough woolen threads into thousands of knots each day. In the author’s note, readers learn more about child labor used in weaving rugs and the RugMark organization, which is working to end illegal child labor in the carpet industry.



Adult Resources Dealing With Child Labor


International Labour Office. (2004). Child labour: A textbook for university students. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.


The text is a comprehensive overview of child labour throughout the world. The first part of the book describes the extent of the problem of child labour. It defines child labour, including the worst forms of it. The second part focuses on causes and issues, such as reasons for the existence of child labour, the connection between child labour and education, and the special concern of girl child labour. The third section focuses on actions which can be taken to eliminate child labour, including conducting research to know its extent and causes and actions which governments, international organizations, employers’ organizations, trade unions, non-governmental organizations, and children can take to abolish child labour. The last section focuses on what individuals, workers’ and employers’ organizations, universities, the media, and public interest organizations can take to address this issue and suggests various types of collective action, such as campaigns, boycotts, fair trade initiatives, social labelling, and ethical investments. The authors encourage the primary audience for the text, university students, to take action against child labour, emulating such organizations as the United Students Against Sweatshops, which organized in 1998.


Nasaw, D. (1985). Children of the city at work & at play. New York: Oxford University Press.


The author focuses on children growing up, working, and playing within cities during the 1900s-1920s. He endeavors to write about the children from their perspective and includes the benefits and dangers for children who worked on city streets selling newspapers, candy, and gum or polishing shoes. Children enjoyed the freedom from adult supervision and the extra income they kept for themselves to spend at candy shops, lunch counters, penny arcades, amusement parlors, and the first movie theaters. The author describes the power of the young “newsies” to unionize, strike, and force the publishers to negotiate in 1899. Although most of the text focuses on boys who worked and played on city streets, it describes the different experiences for girls who were seen less frequently playing and working on city streets. They were more often found at home helping their mothers with younger siblings and completing household chores. When their mothers took in homework or boarders to earn income, they frequently helped with these tasks. Unlike their brothers, girls’ time outside was often limited to short trips to local markets to purchase family necessities. During the 1920s, child street traders were replaced by home delivery of newspapers and adult workers. Stronger and more enforced child labor laws also led to the demise of child street traders.



Children’s Books On Homelessness


Ackerman, K. (1991). The leaves in October. New York: Atheneum.


Upper elementary level. The main character, Livvy, her father, and younger brother learn to cope with living in a homeless shelter after her father loses his job and her mother abandons the family. Poppy, Livvy's father, searches constantly for work and promises they will be in a home before the leaves turn red and gold in October. Livvy, her brother Younger, and some other shelter residents make and sell tissue flowers to earn money. When Poppy finds a job working on the highway, he considers placing Livvy and Younger in a foster home, but later realizes the importance of being together, even if they live in a small camper.


Barbour, K. (1991). Mr. Bow Tie. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.


Picture book, lower elementary level. This book is a simple story about a homeless man, a former war hero, who is helped by a family to be reunited with his own parents. The narrator is a young girl who notices a homeless man always wearing a bow tie who lived outside the family store in all kinds of weather. One day the girl's father gave Mr. Bow Tie something to eat and Mr. Bow Tie began sweeping the sidewalk, helping around the store, and playing games with children in the neighborhood. The girl's father found out Mr. Bow Tie's name and the location of his parents, they contact the parents who then take Mr. Bow Tie home with them.


Berck, J. (1992). No place to be: Voices of homeless children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The author interviewed more than thirty children who were living in or had recently moved from welfare hotels or shelters for homeless families in New York City. Through quotes and poems from the thirty children, the author reveals their experiences and feelings about being deprived of school, space, privacy, control over their lives, good nutrition, health care, and safety. The book explains why people become homeless, different types of shelters, the difficulties of getting an education while being homeless, health problems often resulting from shelter living, the stress of homelessness, and advice from the thirty children for helping homeless people.


Brozo, P. (2018). Miss Pinkeltink’s purse. Thomaston, ME: Tilbury House.


Picture book, lower elementary level. The text is written in verse and portrays an older woman who carries around a huge purse. Miss Pinkeltink gives things away from her purse to the people living in the town of Bedford. Even though the items she gives do not really meet people’s needs, everyone is touched by Miss Pinkeltink’s generosity. When a young girl notices Miss Pinkeltink sleeping in a park, she encourages others to help, and together, they provide a new home for the generous Miss Pinkeltink. The end of the book explains homelessness and ways kids have helped the homeless.


Bunting, E. (1991). Fly away home. New York: Clarion.


Picture book, lower elementary level. A homeless father and his son live at an airport and have learned how to move around so as not to be noticed by airport security. Even though the father has a weekend job as a janitor in an office in the city, it does not pay enough to afford them a place of their own to live. They become friends with other homeless people living at the airport and remain hopeful the father will find more work and have a place to live.


Bunting, E. (1996). Train to somewhere. New York: Clarion.


Picture book, upper elementary level. The text is based on the Orphan Train which existed from the mid-1850s until late 1920 to carry 100,000 homeless children from New York City to small towns and farms in the Midwest for adoption. However, the story includes fictional characters and places along the route as the train stops at various towns for prospective adoptive parents to examine the children and choose one to adopt. At times, children seem to be selected for their potential as family workers. Readers develop some empathy for children passed over for adoption and a fear that “nobody wants me.”


Bunting, E. (1997). December. San Diego: Voyager Books.


Picture book, elementary level. Simon and his mother are homeless and live in a cardboard house on the street. For Christmas, they have a small tree decorated with items they found: a silvery spoon, a beaded necklace, a homemade star, and a toy soldier. They collected soda cans in order to buy two Christmas cookies. On Christmas Eve, an elderly woman asks if she can share their shelter and Simon’s mother invites her in. They share their home and the cookies while the woman adds a rose to the Christmas tree. When the woman leaves early the next morning, readers wonder if she was an angel. Within the next year, Simon’s mother is able to find a job and an apartment.


Carlson, N. S. (1986). The family under the bridge. New York: HarperTrophy.


Upper elementary level. Armand is an older man, a "hobo," who lives under a bridge in Paris when he discovers a woman with three children occupying his spot under the bridge. Even though the woman is working, she does not earn enough to afford them a place to live. Despite Armand's reluctance to become involved with the family, the children steal his heart. He eventually takes a caretaker's job which comes with an apartment which he plans to share with his new family.


Chalofsky, M., Finland, G. & Wallace, J. (1992). Changing places: A kid's view of shelter living. Mount Rainier, MD: Gryphon House.


Picture book, elementary level. The authors of this book are eight children who lived in a Virginia homeless shelter. The children speak of the difficulties and benefits of moving into a shelter and the problems of physical abuse, drug abuse, or lack of income in their families. For some children, they leave the shelter because of a new job or housing. The end of the book suggests social action projects which children and adults can do to help those living in shelters.


Chinn, K. (1995). Sam and the lucky money. New York: Lee & Low Books.


Picture book, elementary level. Sam is a Chinese American who receives $4 for the Chinese New Year from his grandparents. As Sam considers how to spend his money, he looks at sweets in the bakery and different toys in the toy store, but realizes he does not have enough money to buy a new basketball. He decides to give his money to a homeless man sitting on the street with bare feet. The text does not explain why the man became homeless or possible solutions to homelessness, but offers a child’s response to a homeless person.


DeFelice, C. (1999). Nowhere to call home. New York: HarperTrophy.


Upper elementary/middle school level. Set during the period of the Great Depression, the text describes the main character’s homelessness experiences after her wealthy father commits suicide in response to financial ruin. Frances chooses to become a hobo and travel from place to place by boxcar rather than live in comfort with an aunt she does not know. Disguised as a young male Frankie, she becomes friends with Stewpot, another young hobo, and together they hitch rides on boxcars, avoid “bulls” or police who check railroad yards, and search for food, warmth, and opportunities to bathe. Frankie and Stewpot offer to do odd jobs in exchange for food or occasionally eat with other hoboes who have gathered food through similar means. They encounter kindness and generosity from people willing to give them some work and food as well as cruelty and disdain from others who refuse to help. The freedom Frances hopes for as a hobo is not enough to compensate for all the challenges of homelessness.


Fox, P. (1991). Monkey island. New York: Orchard.


Upper elementary/middle school level. After Clay is abandoned by his mother in their welfare hotel, he becomes friends with two older homeless men and lives on the streets with them for five weeks. Clay learns the survival techniques of other homeless people, develops pneumonia, is hospitalized, and placed in a foster home. Eventually Clay is reunited with his mother and his new baby sister in a new apartment. His mother is able to find a job. However, the experience of being abandoned and homeless for a time leaves Clay with some sadness.


Grove, V. (1990). The fastest friend in the West. New York: Scholastic.


Upper elementary/middle school level. This piece of fiction deals with the dilemma many adolescents face--developing friendships while maintaining one's individual identity. One main character, Lori, battled the problem of being overweight and was shunned by her best friend. The second main character, Vern, coped with even more serious problems--being homeless and living in the family car at a campground while her parents searched for jobs. Vern was forced to wash her ill-fitting clothing at the campground which made her appearance suffer and other students at school avoided her as well. However, Lori and Vern became friends. Vern trusted Lori enough to tell her the story of how her family became homeless despite her parents' history and commitment to work.


Gunning, M. (2004). A shelter in our car. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press.


Picture book, elementary level. The text portrays a single parent and her child, recent immigrants from Jamaica, who are homeless and live in their car. It clarifies the reasons for their homelessness as the mother’s lack of a full-time job. Readers also encounter the hurtfulness of children’s teasing about having a “junk car.” However, it also portrays the loving closeness between mother and daughter and the mother’s emphasis on education for her daughter and herself in order to improve their lives. The book closes with good news about a job for Mother, which will allow them to live in a room rather than their car.


Harris, M. J. (1989). Come the morning. New York: Bradbury.


Middle school level. This text dealt with a family's struggle to find their father and husband who deserted them and the family becomes homeless during the search. Constance, the mother, oldest son Ben, daughter Felice, and youngest son Jube moved to Los Angeles where they believed their father lived. During the search, they endured the harshness of living in a cheap hotel, a mission, and a shantytown created by other homeless people. At each place, Ben and his family coped with inadequate food and sleeping arrangements. Finally, the family gave up their search for their father and husband and found excellent accommodations at the Salvation Army shelter. Not only did they find acceptable food, additional clothing, laundry facilities, and more spacious sleeping arrangements, but they also found assistance in finding a job and permanent housing.


Hathorn, L. (1994). Way home. New York: Crown.


Picture book, elementary level. The dark illustrations help to depict the less pleasant aspects of city life and the dangers for Shane, a homeless boy, and a cat he claims. On the way to his crudely constructed "home," Shane and his cat pass garbage, boarded-up houses, youths who chase them, growling dogs, restaurants, and car dealerships. Although Shane's home appears to be a small, boarded structure in an alley, he claims it as his own and a place for safety for him and his cat.


Hertenstein, J. (Ed.). (1995). Home is where we live: Life at a shelter through a young girl’s eyes. Chicago: Cornerstone.


Picture book, lower elementary level. The author is a young girl living at the Cornerstone Community Center explaining what it is like to live at the shelter with her mother, brother, and sister. Each page is embellished with photographs of different children living at the shelter and portrays numerous positive aspects of the shelter. The author explains many enjoyable activities the children at the shelter engage in, such as celebrating birthdays, decorating Easter eggs, performing a Christmas play, and baking cookies. She also describes some of the drawbacks of shelter life; for example, being scared when you first arrive, waiting in line for sinks, having other children get into one’s things, and having teachers ask where you live when you attend a new school. The text closes on a hopeful note with the author moving to an apartment with her family, but her affirmation of the shelter as a safe place to live.


Hubbard, J. (1996). Lives turned upside down: Homeless children in their own words and photographs. New York: Simon & Schuster.


Picture book, upper elementary level. The text focuses on the experiences of two girls and two boys who have been homeless at one time; readers can empathize with their stories. Hubbard developed the Shooting Back program in which children have a chance to document their lives through photography in order to educate the public about issues in their lives. For this text, the photographs were taken by the four children while the text is a result of the author's interviews with them. The girls stay at a shelter run by a church, but dream of living in their own homes. Christina prefers the shelter to living in a car. Sarah's homelessness seems to have been precipitated by her parents' divorce. Lennie moves around a lot and has lived in their car, in parks, and in abandoned buildings. His mother tries to earn money at casinos. Brian's family now has a house after living in a shelter. Although his father works very hard, they don't have enough money for electricity.


Hughes, D. (1989). Family pose. New York: Atheneum.


Middle school level. David, the main character, is a young adolescent who ran away from his foster family and found temporary shelter at a hotel. Other hotel staff members who often had no family of their own tried to help David and hide his presence from hotel management. Because of David's family tragedy and his experiences with rejection at different foster families, he was both angry and fearful of trusting others. David chose to become homeless rather than trust the "system" of social services to find a good family for him. Fortunately, both David and Paul, one of the hotel employees, decided to trust each other and become a "temporary foster family."


Hyde, M. O. (1989). The homeless: Profiling the problem. Hillside, NJ: Enslow.

Upper elementary/middle school level. The book explains who the homeless are, why they have become homeless, and problems they experience such as medical problems and mental illness. The reasons for the increasing numbers of homeless babies and young children are explained and examples of programs and people who are addressing the problem of homelessness are explained. One such example is the story of Trevor's Place, a homeless shelter started by an 11-year-old boy who decided to take blankets to a homeless man in Philadelphia one night.


Kroll, V. (1995). Shelter folks. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.


Picture book, elementary level. When the main character Joelle, her brother Eli, and their mother had to move from their apartment to the neighborhood shelter because the mother's paycheck could no longer afford the rent, Joelle denied becoming one of the "shelter folks." She felt shame at living there and hoped no one at her school would find out. Over time Joelle became acquainted with other families living at the shelter and discovered their genuine concern for her. Finally, Joelle gained the courage to claim the "shelter folks" as belonging to her.


Landowne, Y. (2004). Selavi: A Haitian story of hope. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.


Picture book, elementary level. Using a story format, the author introduces readers to homeless children from Haiti and reasons for their homelessness, including poverty, parental death, and military oppression. However, with help from others, Haitian homeless children created a home for children, called Lafanmi Selavi, in which they could sleep, eat well, and attend school. Even when this home was destroyed, they created another and started a radio station focusing on children’s stories, their rights, and the safety, health, and social issues for children in Haiti. The text portrays positive actions people can take to address the issue of homelessness.


Martin, C. (1996). Rosie the shopping cart lady. Prescott, AZ: Hohm Press.


Picture book, elementary level. The author introduces readers to Rosie, a homeless woman who lives on the streets and pushes a shopping cart through her town. Rosie encounters friendly people who offer her a place to sit, a hotdog to eat, friendly conversations, and a young boy who takes care of her cart when she is taken to the hospital. She also encounters young boys who throw rocks at her cart and adults who stare when she falls. The text could be used to discuss different responses when encountering homeless people.


McGovern, A. (1997). The lady in the box. New York: Turtle Books.


Picture book, lower elementary level. The author portrays two children, Lizzie and Ben, who become concerned about a woman who slept in a box during the winter down the street from their apartment. They first gave her food and a warm scarf, then their mother became involved when Dorrie, the woman in the box, was forced to move her box from a warm spot in front of a store. The mother discovered why the woman became homeless. First she lost her job, then she could not pay her rent and had to leave her apartment. When she went to a shelter for homeless women, someone stole her bag of clothes. Staying in a box became a last resort. The mother encouraged Dorrie to eat at a soup kitchen where Mother and the children volunteered to serve food to homeless people. The text closes with no solution to Dorrie’s homelessness, but with the children’s hope that eventually Dorrie would have a new home.


McPhail, D. (2002). The teddy bear. New York: Henry Holt.


Picture book, lower elementary level. The text portrays a young boy who dearly loves his teddy bear, but leaves it behind at a restaurant. After searching for the teddy bear, the family determines it is lost. However, a homeless man finds the teddy bear in a trash can and adopts him. He carries the bear with him as he looks through trash for what he needs and sleeps with the bear in a dumpster. When the young boy spots his lost bear in the park and realizes it belongs to the homeless man who also earnestly loves the bear, he must decide who needs it more.


Mills, C. (1997). Gus and grandpa and the Christmas cookies. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.


Picture book, lower elementary level. While Gus and his grandpa shop for supplies to decorate Christmas cookies they made for themselves, they encounter a man dressed as Santa Claus ringing a bell next to a red kettle. After Grandpa explains that the money people drop in the kettle are for children who do not have enough food or clothes, Gus decides to donate change left from their shopping. When they return home, they are surprised by gifts of Christmas cookies from three different neighbors who assume Gus’s grandpa does not bake. They return to the store and donate their own homemade cookies to the Santa bell-ringer who promises to take them to a homeless shelter Christmas party.


Nichelason, M. G. (1994). Homeless or hopeless? Minneapolis, MN: Lerner.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The author focuses on the causes of homelessness, the struggles of people who become homeless, especially families with children, and government programs and private organizations and individuals who help homeless people. One especially valuable chapter provides insight into the harmful outcomes of homelessness for children, the fastest-growing group of homeless people in the U.S. Children without homes often have poor food and clothing, which lead to frequent health problems and unsuccessful school experiences. The text portrays the challenges of homeless families moving out of homelessness and poverty in finding jobs, receiving assistance, and caring for children when they do not have an address. Different perspectives on homelessness are highlighted, including former President Reagan’s view that homeless people choose this lifestyle while others see homelessness as everyone’s responsibility. Readers are encouraged to form their own opinion on causes and solutions to homelessness.


O’Connor, B. (2007). How to steal a dog. New York: Square Fish.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The text is realistic fiction and portrays a young girl’s experience of being homeless with her mother and younger brother and her plan to raise enough money for a place to live. Georgina describes her anger and pain when her father left the family without enough economic resources to afford the apartment where they lived. Instead, Georgina, her mother, and brother took a few possessions and lived in their car, moving it every few days to escape detection. Georgina describes her efforts to hide her homelessness from classmates and her teacher, her declining academic work, and changes in their appearance with limited opportunities to care for their bodies and clothes and eat healthy food. Georgina’s mother works two jobs trying to save enough money for a deposit and rent on a new place to live. Unhappy with the slow pace of her mother’s savings, Georgina devises a plan to steal a dog, then return it to the owner and collect the reward money she assumes the owner will offer. However, she is unprepared for an owner who is greatly saddened by the loss of her dog, but with very little money to offer as a reward.


Powell, E. S. (1992). A chance to grow. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.


Picture book, elementary level. This book portrays the sequence of events of how a mother and her two children became homeless. First, they were evicted from their apartment in a poor section of town because the landlord planned to create condominiums. Then they had an accident with their van which destroyed it. Later they moved into a cheap hotel while working a paper route. When the youngest child became ill, they had to give up the paper route and sleep at a free shelter. The mother continued to look for work and housing, but wanted to keep the family together even though it meant they were often hungry and spent a great deal of time on the street. Finally, a young child noticed the family's situation, discretely set out muffins and cookies for them to eat, and provided an opportunity for the family to live in a small room.


Roberts, J. & Casap, J. (2018). On our street: Our first talk about poverty. Custer, WA: Orca Book Publishers.


Picture book, elementary level. The book follows a question and answer format to address such questions as: Why would he sleep outside? What is it like to live on the streets? Why do people have to sleep on the streets? Are there children who are homeless? How can I help children who are homeless or unsafe? Are homeless people the only ones who live in poverty? What can we do to help people who live in poverty? The authors provide simple, but clear explanations for the meaning of homelessness and poverty and the difficulties for people experiencing them. The authors clarify that those living in poverty may have a home, but are unable to attend school or receive medical care. The text emphasizes that people living in poverty are also denied their fundamental human rights to a safe home, enough food to eat, and access to schools and doctors. The authors also list actions readers can take to help those living in poverty, but stress that opportunities for education and work will solve the problem of poverty. Additional resources for learning about and taking action to address poverty and homeless are listed at the end of the book.


Rozakis, L. (1995). Homelessness: Can we solve the problem? New York: Twenty-First Century Books.


Picture book, upper elementary level. The author refutes stereotypes about homeless people, describes how widespread the problem is, who the homeless are (children, intact families, single-parent families, veterans, and the mentally ill), and the greater likelihood homeless people will be victims rather than perpetrators of crimes. The text also helps to move beyond blaming the homeless for their problem by explaining many different causes for homelessness including joblessness, rising housing costs, divorce, substance abuse, mental illness, natural disasters, war, and declining government aid for the poor. Helpful explanations of problems that homeless people face in staying healthy and safe, finding shelter and schooling, and eventually escaping homelessness assist readers in developing empathy for homeless people. Finally, the author encourages readers to become involved in various activities to move toward ending homelessness.


Rylant, C. (1992). An angel for Solomon Singer. New York: Orchard.


Picture book, elementary level. Solomon Singer lives in a hotel for men in New York City, but wants a balcony, fireplace, porch swing, and a picture window. Out of loneliness, he wanders the streets each night. One night Solomon ends up at the Westway Cafe where he meets Angel, a smiling waiter. Solomon returns every night for dinner and finds Angel's friendliness erases his loneliness.


Testa, M. (1996). Someplace to go. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman.


Picture book, elementary level. Through Davey, the main character, readers are introduced to a young boy’s perspective on his family’s homelessness. The cause of their homelessness is clarified as the closing of a paper mill where his mother worked. Although Davey’s mother has a new job, it apparently does not pay enough to enable them to pay rent on an apartment. Davey’s 16-year-old brother also looks for a job to contribute the additional income needed for rent. While other students are anxious to leave school each day, Davey must find things to do until the shelter opens each evening, including playing soccer with a friend, walking around a market, reading at the public library, and eating dinner alone at a soup kitchen. At the close of the text, prospects seem brighter for a new apartment when Davey’s brother finds a job.


Wolf, B. (1995). Homeless. New York: Orchard.


Picture book, elementary level. The author uses photographs and Mikey's narration to tell the story of Mikey, an eight-year-old, and his family as they move into the public shelter system for the homeless in New York City. Mikey introduced the caseworker at the shelter, the apartment for Mikey, his younger brother and two sisters, his mother, and stepfather. Because the family had no money when they moved in, they were given emergency food vouchers to supplement their public assistance check. With this, they must purchase all the food they need for the month at a large supermarket 15 blocks away. Mikey enrolled in the nearby elementary school, his mother studied for and passed her G.E.D. test, and their family had their first Christmas together in three years. They were still hoping for their own apartment.



Children’s Books On Migrant Workers 


Altman, L. J. (1993). Amelia's road. New York: Lee & Low.


Picture book, lower elementary level. Amelia is a member of a migrant worker family who travels constantly to harvest crops, does the difficult physical labor of harvesting fruits and vegetables, and lives in shacks. Amelia longs for a permanent home with a large tree in the front yard. She discovers a special place under a tree and spends time sitting there pretending she is home. When her family must move again, she fills a box with special things and buries it at the base of the tree.


Anaya, R. (2000). Elegy on the death of Cesar Chavez. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.


Picture book, upper elementary/middle school level. The text is an illustrated poem eulogizing the Mexican American labor activist Cesar Chavez and his work in organizing migrant farm workers. It depicts some of the oppressive conditions of farm workers, including working in fields sprayed with pesticides and having their children’s educational opportunities limited by “propositions.” The author encourages farm workers to rise against their oppressors “who take your sweat and labor and sell it cheap” in memory of Chavez. The author’s note elaborates on ideas portrayed in the poem and includes a timeline of significant events in Cesar Chavez’s life.


Ancona, G. (2001). Harvest. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.


Picture book, elementary level. The author, a photojournalist, also provides the photographs which beautifully illustrate his text documenting the lives and labors of campesinos or migrant farm workers in the United States. The workers come from Mexico to earn in one day what they would earn in Mexico in one week. They harvest crops on the east coast, in Texas and north through the Midwest, and on the west coast. Readers are introduced to the difficult work involved in stooping to harvest strawberries, lettuce, green peppers, broccoli, and celery (the hardest crop to pick), and standing or climbing for long hours to harvest raspberries, artichokes, grapes, pears, and apples. Women workers usually wear masks and gloves to protect themselves from the pesticides sprayed on the fields. Brief portrayals of migrant families and individual workers are provided as well as different jobs on an organic farm and in a processing plant.


Ashabranner, B. (1996). Our beckoning borders: Illegal immigration to America. New York: Cobblehill Books.


Picture book, upper elementary/middle school level. The author addresses the significance of the problem of illegal immigration by providing statistics on the number of illegal immigrants, where they came from, and where they settle in the U.S. He deals with reasons for the great numbers of Mexicans crossing the border into the U.S. especially the poverty of many Mexican citizens due to Mexico's poor economy who live next door to a rich, industrialized country with many economic opportunities. The author interviewed Border Patrol Agents about their perspectives on illegal immigration as well as illegal immigrants. While the agents acknowledge the difficulty of their job, they also empathize with Mexicans who enter the U.S. illegally to work to help their families survive. The author concludes with recommendations for addressing the problem, including understanding and not overreacting to the extent of illegal immigration, understanding the economic situation in Mexico, providing opportunities for Mexicans to be guest workers in the U.S., and dealing with illegal immigrants with compassion.


Atkin, S. B. (1993). Voices from the fields: Children of migrant farmworkers tell their stories. Boston: Little, Brown.


Picture book, upper elementary/middle school level. This book is a collection of photographs, poems, and interviews which portrays life for today's migrant children. Nine children are interviewed and describe working long, harsh hours in the fields, living in crowded and unsanitary migrant housing, being discriminated against in school, and turning to gangs to cope with problems at home. They also speak of their pride in their Mexican heritage and the strong values and bonds of their Hispanic families.


Cochrane, P. A. (1996). Purely Rosie Pearl. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The text describes one picking season in the life of a migrant worker family during the Great Depression. The main character, 12-year-old Rosie Pearl, and her family follow the crops in Washington and California. They lost their own farm due to the drought and loss of top soil, along with many other farms located in the Dust Bowl. The text portrays family love, support, and pride despite living in cramped, one-room cabins, sleeping on cornhusk mattresses, sharing a communal outhouse and water tap, and working long days in hot fields five and one-half days a week. One of the most powerful scenes in the text is the refusal of hospital care for a new-born infant because migrant workers have no health insurance.


Dorros, A. (1993). Radio man: A story in English and Spanish. New York: HarperCollins.


Picture book, elementary level. Diego, also known as “radio man” is a young boy and the main character of the text. He regularly listens to the radio as his family travels from Texas to Arizona to California to Washington to pick crops. Diego’s family are migrant farm workers who usually speak Spanish and share a closeness as they work. Although the hardships migrant families often face are not emphasized, the text communicates the family’s search for work, the hot, heavy work of picking fruits and vegetables, the small cabins farm workers live in, and the children’s inconsistent school attendance during the picking season.


Franchere, R. (1970). Cesar Chavez. New York: HarperTrophy.


Picture book, elementary. The book is a biography of Cesar Chavez, the well-known organizer of the National Farm Workers Association. It describes the hardships growing up as poor, Mexican-American migrant workers in his family. The housing consists of metal shacks, the work physically difficult, and the pay often less than what is promised. As an adult, Chavez begins the farm workers union to fight for better wages and working conditions for migrant workers and leads the first strike against vineyard owners.


Herrera, J. F. (2000). The upside down boy. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press.


Picture book, elementary level. The text is the sequel to Calling the doves and is also written in both Spanish and English. The author’s parents decide to stop traveling to harvest crops as farmworkers and move to a house in the city so he can attend school for the first time at the age of eight. Juan’s parents communicate their desire for him to have more education than they had. The author’s concerns and confusion about being able to speak, read, and understand English and grasping the different activities of recess and lunch contribute to his view of himself as “upside down” in comparison to his classmates. However, his teacher notices his beautiful singing voice and talent for writing poetry. The author dedicates the book to this teacher.


Hoyt-Goldsmith, D. (1996). Migrant worker: A boy from the Rio Grande Valley. New York: Holiday House.


Picture book, upper elementary level. The book is a portrait of Ricky, a child of a Mexican American family who moved to the U.S. to work, but are also proud of their Mexican heritage. Ricky's family is able to survive economically because his father works in another city during the school year and sends money to support the family. In the summer the entire family travels north as migrant workers harvesting crops on large farms. Because migrant workers are paid poorly, sometimes below minimum wage, it's important for everyone in the family to work. The text briefly portrays a day in the fields for Ricky and his family as well as the efforts of Cesar Chavez in securing better working and living conditions for migrant workers and the school Ricky attends which offers hope for a better life.


Jimenez, F. (1998). La Mariposa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Picture book, elementary level. The story is autobiographical and portrays the author’s challenges of attending school and not understanding English, the school’s language. Francisco’s parents are migrant workers, live in a tent in Tent City, and speak only Spanish, but they want their sons to attend school and show respect to teachers. Although Francisco struggles to learn English and usually does not understand the teacher or the lessons, he is a talented artist who wins an award for his artwork. Francisco also demonstrates immense forgiveness by giving his award-winning drawing to another boy who mistreats him.


Krull, K. (2003). Harvesting hope: The story of Cesar Chavez. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.


Picture book, elementary level. The biography clarifies how Chavez’s family lost their Arizona ranch due to drought and became migrant workers. As Chavez and his family picked crops in California, they encountered dilapidated housing, very low wages, crops sprayed with chemicals, and debilitating tools (the short-handled hoe). These early hardships motivated Chavez to fight for changes, including leading a nonviolent 300 mile march to publicize migrant workers’ low wages and poor working conditions. The publicity of migrant workers’ harsh circumstances in harvesting grapes forced the grape company officials to offer a contract for the National Farm Workers Association. The contract included better pay and working conditions. An important message of the book is to balance concern for others and humility with leadership in the fight for better working conditions.


Mora, P. (1997). Tomas and the library lady. New York: Dragonfly Books.


Picture book, elementary level. The author created a story about Tomas Rivera’s childhood when he and his parents were migrant workers who regularly traveled to harvest crops in Texas and Iowa. After Tomas’ grandfather encouraged Tomas to find stories in the library, Tomas met a librarian who invited him to read books and take them home to share with his family. The text illustrated the importance of family and institutional support for literacy among migrant workers and especially for Tomas, who eventually became a university administrator and an educational leader.


Perez, L. K. (2002). First day in grapes. New York: Lee & Low Books.


Picture book, elementary level. The text provides important insights about school from the perspective of migrant students. The main character, Chico, refers to his first day in a different school as “first day in onions” or “first day in artichokes” depending on the crop his family is harvesting. When he begins third grade, it is “first day in grapes” because his father is picking grapes. His mother encourages him to be courageous and strong, even as Chico describes his dislike for school. Readers learn his feelings about school result from other kids picking on him and calling him names because he is always the “new kid” and sometimes speaks Spanish. Although Chico encounters two bullies and a grouchy bus driver on the way to school, he also meets a friendly student and an encouraging, welcoming teacher in his classroom.


Ryan, P. M. (2000). Esperanza rising. New York: Scholastic.


Middle school level. The author provides a different perspective on factors causing families to become farm workers. Although the text is fictional, it is based on her maternal grandmother’s life growing up in privilege in Aguascalientes, Mexico in the early 20th century. When her father dies tragically, the main character, Esperanza, and her mother are forced to leave their comfortable life as owners of a large fruit ranch with many servants and workers to become farm workers themselves in California. Their new life in the San Joaquin Valley involved living in a small cabin with another family, caring for young children, washing clothes in a communal tub, cooking for the two families, working in the fields, and packing fruits and vegetables in a shed. The author also introduces the tensions surrounding farm workers’ strikes, efforts to send Mexican Americans back to Mexico even if they had never lived in Mexico, stereotypes about and mistreatment of Mexican Americans, and competition among different groups for work in the fields.


Soto, G. (2000). Jessie De La Cruz: A profile of a United Farm Worker. New York: Persea Books.


Middle school level. The text is a biography of Jessie De La Cruz who grew up in a family of migrant workers, continued to work as a migrant farm worker as an adult, and became active in the United Farm Workers of America. From Jessie De La Cruz’s experiences, readers are invited to understand the difficulties migrant children have in school when they speak Spanish, dress poorly, and attend school sporadically. The text also portrays the many dangers and difficulties of migrant farm work, the discrimination and oppression Chicano farm workers experience, and how farm owners and managers encourage competition for jobs among very poor groups (Mexican braceros, Filipinos, and Chicanos) to keep workers’ pay low. To Jessie, organizing for better working conditions and pay was a necessity for survival. She spent much of her adult life working for a better life among farm workers through union activities.


Thomas, J. R. (1994). Lights on the river. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.


Picture book, elementary level. The author portrays the hardships of migrant workers as they labor long hours in fields, carry their house on their backs as they move from one crop to another crop picking the ripe vegetables or fruits, and live in old chicken coops for homes while the farm owners live comfortably. Despite these hardships, they remember the Christmas celebrations with their families in Mexico and help each other work, care for babies, cook food to share, and show love.


Williams, S. A. (1992). Working cotton. New York: Voyager Books.


Picture book, elementary level. In the author’s note, Williams criticizes the United States for providing so few opportunities for those children who must work alongside their parents in fields so their families can earn the little income which provides few basic needs. This work also prevents children from having an education. The text itself portrays one African American family harvesting cotton from before sunrise until dark. The narrator, one of the daughters, speaks in Black English and reveals pride in her father’s ability to pick so much cotton. She describes a loving family despite the hard work and relative isolation from other children and families.



Adult Resources Dealing With Migrant Workers


Trevino Hart, E. (1999). Barefoot heart: Stories of a migrant child. Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press.


The text may also be appropriate for advanced middle school students. The author describes her experiences growing up in a Mexican American family who valued education, but in order to survive had to travel from their home in Texas to Minnesota and Wisconsin each summer in order to tend and harvest crops. As the youngest child, the author did not always work in the fields with her family, but everyone else was needed to work long days in order to earn money the family needed. The descriptions of the very poor housing, the difficult, but honorable work in the fields, and the daily life of her family as migrant workers help readers understand more about the realities of migrant workers’ lives. The author vividly describes the racism she and other Mexican American students experienced in schools with separate schools from “gringos,” lack of transportation, and limited opportunities. However, her father’s commitment to each child graduating from high school, her intelligence, and hard work enabled her to graduate as valedictorian and go on to college.



Social Action Resources Dealing With Poverty 


American Federation of Teachers. (n.d.). Lost futures: The problem of child labor, a teacher’s guide. Washington, DC: Author.


Elementary/middle school level. The teacher’s guide and video provide resources and activities for teachers interested in teaching students about child labor and offer ways students can use social action to respond. The teacher’s guide includes: a list resources and background information; activities for lessons; plays, stories and poems about child labor; a glossary of terms related to child labor and social action; and background information documents. The documents include an explanation of oppressive child labor; United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; summaries of The Child Labor Free Consumer Information Act, The Child Labor Deterrence Act, and Young American Workers’ Bill of Rights; and United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Benander, L. (n.d.) Win win solutions: An introduction to fair trade and cooperative economics. West Bridgewater, MA: Equal Exchange.


The curriculum is designed for grades four through nine and addresses social studies, geography, language arts, history, mathematics, economics, science, art, and information literacy standards. Unit 1 focuses on the importance of paying farmers fairly who grow our food, and our food purchases impact the quality of farmers’ lives and the communities in which they live. Unit 2 focuses on an explanation of the fair trade system in which farmers are encouraged to stay on their own land by giving them a fair price for their crops. Fair trade enables farmers to feed their families, send their children to school, protect the land, air, and water around the farms, and produce the food the world needs. Unit 3 deals with explaining what cooperatives are and how they help farmers, workers, and consumers. Cooperatives make decisions based on their members’ needs rather than on profits and help create an economy that spreads benefits across the communities they serve. The last unit encourages students to learn they can make a difference in the world around them. Students apply what they have learned about Fair Trade and cooperatives in solving problems.


DeCarlo, J. (2007). Fair trade: A beginner’s guide. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications.


Adult resource. The author’s purpose in writing the book is to promote an understanding of fair trade as one solution to poverty and marginalization. The author defines fair trade as

a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers–especially in the South. Fair Trade Organizations (backed by consumers) are actively engaged in supporting producers, in awareness raising and campaigning for changes in the rules and practices of conventional international trade (p. 3)

The author compares fair trade which is concerned with people, the environment, and profit, to free or conventional trade which is mostly focused on profit. She emphasizes the power consumers have to purchase fair trade products and obtain high quality products while supporting unions and not sweatshops. Fair trade is popular because (1) the stories behind the products allow consumers to know that purchasing a product can help impoverished people lead a better life; (2) consumers learn they can make a positive impact through the purchase of fair trade products; and (3) the fair trade movement is aligned with the environmental, sweat-free, and trade justice movements. An important aspect of the text is the explanation of the fair trade principles: (1) paying fair wages in the local economy; (2) making the working environment safe and healthy with no exploitative child labor; (3) offering equal opportunities to workers for employment and advancement; (4) engaging in environmentally sustainable practices; (5) being open to public accountability; and (6) building long-term professional partnerships. Pages 58-59 provides the labels which let consumers know which products are fair trade certified, and the author urges readers to investigate mainstream companies that sell fair trade products only as a marketing tool without dedicating themselves to fair trade principles. She reviews the history of several fair trade organizations in North America, including Ten Thousand Villages, SERRV International, World Shops, Equal Exchange, and the MarketPlace: Handwork of India and asserts that fair trade makes a positive difference in people’s lives. However, she encourages consumers to compare the prices of fair trade products and demand explanations from companies charging higher prices, which may not be going to the farmers or producers of products. The author closes with encouraging readers to shift five percent of their purchases to fair trade organizations and make a significant contribution to the lives of impoverished people.


Featherstone, L. (2002). Students against sweatshops. New York: Verso.


Adult resource. The author describes the evolution of United Students Against Sweatshops organization, a loosely organized network of more than 180 North American campus groups which began in 1998 and continues today. The text addresses the different actions the organization took to pressure universities not to purchase products with university logos made in sweatshop conditions. One of the most interesting aspects of the text is the organization’s change in focus from advocating for changes among sweatshops in different countries to an awareness of the exploitation in all low-wage jobs and labor activism in their own communities. Student activists have become involved in fighting for better wages and working conditions for campus workers. They have changed from working on behalf of sweatshop workers to working in solidarity with labor organizations. Other very insightful aspects of the text are the United Students Against Sweatshops struggles to create a democratic organization with democratic leaders, deal with racism within the organization, and incorporate feminist approaches in dealing with exploited workers. Readers finish the book with an increased awareness of how student activists can work for social justice, but how they also fall short of their democratic ideals.


Free the Children. (2000). Free the Children. Available: http://www.freethechildren.org/index.html


Elementary/middle school level. The web site provides background information on the Free the Children organization, founded by Craig Kielburger and his friends in Canada when 12-year-old Craig became aware of the problems of child labor. The organization is dedicated to ending poverty, exploitation, and abuse among children and offering children a voice in solving these problems. The web site offers actions children and youth can take to inform others about children’s rights issues and specific projects children and youth can become involved in to address the problems of child labor and child poverty in different parts of the world.


Hunger Task Force. (2004). Food for our future. Available: www.hungertaskforce.org


This curriculum is developed for elementary (there is also a curriculum for middle and high school) to introduce children to different groups of people who are hungry and the reasons for hunger, the concepts of home and homelessness, the function of food pantries, foods which are distributed at food pantries, the importance of eating breakfast, root causes of hunger, and engaging in food drives to address the problem of hunger. The Hunger Task Force web site also has links to children’s and adult books dealing with poverty and hunger as well as curricular resources.


Kempf, S. (2009). Finding solutions to hunger: A sourcebook for middle and upper school teachers. New York: World Hunger Year.


Middle school/adult level. This curriculum was originally published in 1997 and updated and revised in 2005 and 2009 and provides background information and lesson plans for introducing students to the causes of poverty and hunger, the people most affected, possible solutions, and how students can help. Students who have studied this curriculum have written letters to U.S. Senators asking them to take action on hunger and poverty issues; produced a video on hunger for the local television station; written letters to editors of local newspapers; conducted food drives; and conducted their own classes on hunger and poverty. The curriculum deals with hunger and poverty in the United States as well as the world and emphasizes the short-term effects of charitable actions. The “Kids Can Make a Difference” newsletter is available online at no cost and portrays teachers and students using the curriculum. You may contact the organization’s founders Jane Finn Levine and Larry Levine, 140 East 72 Street, New York, NY 10021 at laurence.levine@gmail.com or through the website www.kidscanmakeadifference.org.


Kielburger, C. & Major, K. (1998). Free the children: A young man’s personal crusade against child labor. New York: HarperCollins.


Adult level. In 1995 at the age of 12, Craig Kielburger became the impetus for the Canadian youth organization, Free the Children, designed to increase people’s awareness about and find solutions for the problem of child labor around the world. The book is based on Craig’s journal and the videotapes and audiotapes made when he visited South Asia for seven weeks during late 1995 and early 1996. It describes Craig’s inspiration to ask other youth to join him in learning more about and fighting against child labor after reading about the murder of Igbal Masih, the speaking engagements he and other Free the Children members completed to increase other Canadians’ awareness of child labor, and Craig’s trip to visit child workers in Thailand, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, and Pakistan to learn about their lives firsthand. Craig finished his trip inspired by the hard work and courage of child workers who never had a chance to attend school, play, or develop physically, intellectually, and emotionally as they should. His most inspiring message is that children and youth can work together and be involved in addressing such problems as child labor and making the world better.


Kroloff, C. A. (1993). 54 ways you can help the homeless. West Orange, NJ: Behrman House.


Middle school/adult level. This text briefly explains who the homeless are and offers suggestions for responses when confronted by homeless people on the street. Another section includes ways to give to the homeless: donating money (perhaps a portion of party expenses), recyclables, proceeds from a craft sale, clothing, bag of groceries, toys, and welcome kits of items people would need as they begin life in a new home. It also suggests other more time consuming projects which adults and children might do. Suggested projects for children include: learning about and teaching others about homelessness; collecting toys and games and donating them to a shelter; preparing food and gifts for a shelter; having a scavenger hunt to collect items needed in a shelter; and playing with children in a shelter.


Lindquist, T. (1997). Ways that work: Putting social studies standards into practice. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Teacher resource. One chapter in the text, “A Place at the Table: Investigating Global Issues in a Day” describes the author’s teaching experiences in addressing world hunger. Her description of activities used to help upper elementary students become more aware of hunger in the U.S. and the world are especially valuable for teachers interested in introducing this topic, but with little time to devote to it. At the close of the one-day study, she describes the social action projects students have often chosen to do, including collecting money for the hungry, sponsoring clothing drives for the homeless, writing letters to legislators suggesting solutions for hunger, creating school supply packs for students in developing countries, and purchasing seed and animals for farming projects overseas.


N.A. (1998). Homelessness links. Available: http://aspe.os.dhhs.gov/progsys/homeless/index.shtml


Adult level. This web site lists organizations which address some of the needs and rights of the homeless.


N. A. (1998). Profile of homelessness. Available: http://aspe.os.dhhs.gov/hsp/homelessness/strategies03/ch.htm#ch2


Adult level. This web site provides a description of who the homeless are and the causes of homelessness (poverty, changes in labor market, inadequate income assistance, lack of affordable housing, changes in family structure, especially the increase in single-parent families headed by women, and drugs, disabilities, and chronic health problems). The solutions to homelessness must be many in order to address root causes.


Ransom, D. (2001). The no-nonsense guide to fair trade. Toronto, Ontario: Between the Lines.


Adult level. The author describes fair trade as democratic and a way to correct the exploitation of the southern hemisphere which benefits the northern hemisphere in the global economy. He summarizes the characteristics of fair trade as having democratic organizations, recognizing trade unions, eliminating child labor, providing decent working conditions, sustaining the environment, providing prices that cover the costs of production, offering premiums to improve producers’ conditions, and providing long-term relationships between producers and purchasers. The author traveled to different countries where coffee, cocoa beans, and bananas are grown and talked with producers to find out about their work and views on the prices they receive for their products. Coffee growers usually receive only 10% of the final price of a jar of coffee for their coffee beans, and coffee growers in Peru struggle to survive on the minimal payment they receive for their coffee. Health care, education, and assistance in caring for their land are beyond their reach, even for farmers who sell their coffee through a co-op. One of the most interesting chapters focuses on the Kuapa Kokoo (cocoa co-op) in Kumsai, Ghana, which sells 11% of its cocoa to Fair Trade organizations, such as the Day Chocolate Company and the Body Shop. The fair traders pay a premium to the co-op, which goes into a trust fund for community improvement projects in Ghana. Bananas are grown in several Central American countries using slave labor, toxic chemicals, and environmentally destructive practices. However, the author finds organic, fairly traded bananas grown in the Dominican Republic. Fairly traded cocoa and bananas face many obstacles from dominant companies, such as Chiquita, Dole, Del Monte, Mars, and Hershey which are primarily interested in cutting costs and increasing market share. The author closes with his recommendation that we move away from globalization and toward internationalism, which fosters democratic control and enhances local diversity. Consumers can request fair trade products and pressure companies to follow the International Labor Organization’s standards.


Rosen, M. J. (Ed.). (1992). Home: A collaboration of thirty distinguished authors and illustrators of children's books to aid the homeless. New York: Charlotte Zolotow Book.


Picture book, elementary level. The text contains poems and short stories all dealing with some aspect of homes and the importance of having a place of one's own. Some are humorous in their focus on playing in bed, strange objects under beds, refrigerators, and attics. Others are more serious as they explore living in a small apartment or finding a special hiding place. A portion of the book's profits will go to Share Our Strength, an organization that provides aid to children in need, 1511 K Street N. W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005, (202) 393-2925.


Singleton, L. & Starbird, C. (2004). GET IT! Global education to improve tomorrow: Curriculum guide, grades 6-8. Little Rock, AR: Heifer International.


Teacher resource. The curriculum guide provides lesson plans dealing with labor issues in the flower industry, coffee industry, and the banana industry. Such issues include low pay, lack of benefits, and use of child labor among workers, keeping the workers in poverty. The unit also addresses the benefits and drawbacks of fair trade, which guarantees growers a living wage, but fair trade products are usually more costly for consumers. The curriculum guide provides a lesson in the production of soccer balls and the low pay and use of child labor which has traditionally been used. However, some sports equipment companies in Pakistan are applying fair trade criteria and paying fair wages and eliminating child labor. Overall, the curriculum provides many opportunities for middle school teachers to help their students understand the global economy and its effects on workers.


Toepel, A. (n.d.). Setting a higher bar: Global Exchange’s fair trade cocoa unit for kids. Available: www.globalexchange.org/cocoa.


The free curriculum guide is designed for grades two through five, but could be adapted for younger and older students. It should be used in conjunction with the free children’s book Global Exchange Fair Trade Chocolate Book, which is also available at: www.globalexchange.org/cocoa. The nine lessons focus on raising children’s awareness of where cocoa is grown, how it is processed into chocolate bars, the difference between fair trade and non-fair trade chocolate bars, the meaning of the concepts of both “fair” and “trade,” the benefits and drawbacks of fair trade and non-fair trade cocoa, the impact of fair trade on cocoa farmers, and how they can use their power as consumers and advocates to encourage others to purchase fair trade chocolate bars. The lessons incorporate different instructional strategies, such as creating K-W-L charts, murals, Venn diagrams, posters, and action plans; taste tests; simulations; shared readings; discussions; and letter writing.


Why: Challenging hunger and poverty, magazine published by World Hunger Year.


This magazine provides stories of individuals and groups fighting against poverty and hunger and offers social action activities which readers can join. Such actions include informing the media and the U.S. Senate about hunger and poverty in the U.S. and showing exhibits of photographs of homeless people.


Williams, S. (1987). Exploding the hunger myths: A high school curriculum. San Francisco: Institute for Food and Development Policy.


Middle school/adult level. This curriculum guide provides background information and activities to explore the connection between hunger and scarcity, population, technology, foreign aid, and wealth. A number of activities could be modified for upper elementary students to help them understand causes and effects of hunger. Social action projects are included in several lessons such as: boycotting companies which pay workers less than a living wage and provide poor working conditions, writing letters to protest the poor working conditions of farm workers, writing letters to members of Congress to advocate the continuation of food stamp and government nutrition programs, and informing other students and the community about the problem of hunger and ways to help within the local community.



Social Action Projects To Address Poverty


1. Donate food to Father Carr's food pantry (those needing help with purchasing food for themselves and their families can take food from the food pantry). Prepare salad, dessert, or fruit and take to the soup kitchen, 500 North Main Street, Oshkosh, 233-6950. The soup kitchen serves meals three times a day and is available for those who cannot afford to prepare or purchase meals. Father Carr prefers that elementary, middle school, and high school students donate food for meals but not serve them. He also suggests that students have a project to earn money and then purchase and prepare the food so that children of all socioeconomic backgrounds can participate equally without causing any hardships among the families.


2. Volunteer or donate needed items to the Salvation Army's emergency food pantry, 417 Algoma Boulevard, Oshkosh, 232-7660. Examples of projects include:

a. Donate children's books for inclusion with a bag of groceries, Thanksgiving and/or Christmas baskets, could also be wrapped as gifts.

b. Donate new or used toys in good condition.

c. Have a penny drop and donate the money.

d. Donate food (contact the Salvation Army to discover what is needed).

e. Donate time to prepare bags of groceries.


3. Donate needed items to the Boys' and Girls' Club which provides an after-school program, summer program, and before school program for low-income families, 501 East Parkway Avenue, Oshkosh, 233-1414:

a. Raise money and donate.

b. Donate art supplies (contact the Boys' and Girls' Club to find out what is needed).

c. Donate new or used toys in good condition for six- and seven-year-olds.

d. Donate old magazines of interest to children and teens, ages 6-18.

e. Donate puzzles and games in good condition.


4. Participate in Heifer International’s Chores for Change program in which participants volunteer at established hunger-relief operations in their local communities by collecting food for food banks or serving food at soup kitchens. Participants also recruit sponsors to pledge donations for the time spent in volunteer activities. When the program ends, the participants collect the pledges and send them to Heifer International where the money is used to help fight hunger and poverty in many places in the world. For more information on this program, go to Heifer International’s website www.heifer.org and review the “Read to Feed” program, which includes the “Chores for Change” as an optional component.




Illinois State Board of Education. (2008). Homeless education online lesson plans. Retrieved from http://www.isbe.state.il.us/homeless/pdf/Lesson_Plan_Links.pdf


The Illinois State Board of Education has collected a large number of resources and lesson plans from other states and private and public agencies that provide teachers with the tools to teach this neglected issue.


U.S.Census Bureau. (2011, September). Income, poverty, and health insurance coverage: 2010. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/pdf/2010_Report.pdf


News release from news conference and accompanied the report. There is a link to the full report.


United Nations Cyber Schoolbus. (1996-2013). Poverty curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/poverty2000/index.asp


Includes seven units with overviews, 20-minute classroom activity, community service activity, and a group of internet links.



Social problems/social action

Annotated bibliography list