by Marsha Rakestraw
People and animals without homes surround us year-round, but their presence seems more palpable in the winter months. As rates of poverty and homelessness grow, so do children’s questions about those who don’t have a home. Teacher Mary Cowhey, author of Black Ants and Buddhists, said,
“One might argue that the realities of homelessness, poverty and hunger are too much for young learners. I haven’t found that to be the case. … young children are capable of amazing things, far more than is usually expected of them. … [they] understand fairness and are deeply moved and highly motivated by the recognition of injustice.”
Here are 14 children’s picture books that offer opportunities to explore homelessness and the kindness we’re capable of.
People Without Homes
- Shoebox Sam by Mary Brigid Barrett
2011. Grades 1–4.
Delia and Jessie spend Saturdays with Shoebox Sam, who teaches them about making old shoes new again and helping those in need.
- The Lunch Thief by Anne C. Bromley
2010. Grades 1-4.
Rafael notices the new kid stealing lunches (including his), and uses his mom’s advice to use his voice & not his fists to resolve the problem.
- December by Eve Bunting
1997. Grades 1–4.
Simon and his mom live in the tiny cardboard house they’ve built for themselves. On Christmas Eve they don’t have much, but it’s more than the woman who comes knocking on their door has. Does their generosity bring them a miracle?
- Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
1991. Grades PreK–3.
A young boy talks about his and his father’s lives living in an airport and has hope for himself when he sees a trapped bird find freedom.
- A Shelter in Our Car by Monica Gunning
2004. Grades K–3.
Since moving to America from Jamaica after her father died, Zettie and her mom live in their car while they both go to school and plan for a real home.
- Sélavi: That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope by Youme Landowne
2005. Grades 1–4.
Haitian street children band together and work to create a life for themselves.
- The Lady in the Box by Ann McGovern
1997. Grades K–4.
When two siblings discover a homeless woman living in their neighborhood, they discover how easy it can be to make a difference in someone’s life.
- I Can Hear the Sun by Patricia Polacco
1999. Grades 2–5.
A boy without a real home, Fondo feels lonely and unwanted. Then he meets Stephanie Michele, who takes care of the waterfowl at the pond and shares his sensitivity for nature. She teaches him how to help take care of the geese, especially one with special needs. When Fondo finds out he’s to be taken away, he looks to the geese for a miracle.
- The Can Man by Laura E. Williams
2010. Grades 2–5.
Tim’s family doesn’t have a lot of money, but he really wants a skateboard for his birthday. When he sees Mr. Peters, “The Can Man,” who is homeless, collecting cans, Tim gets the idea to collect enough cans to pay for his skateboard, even though that means Mr. Peters gets less … it’s only until Tim’s birthday, after all. Tim really wants that skateboard, but a couple of encounters with Mr. Peters give him pause about what to do with the money he’s earned.
Animals Without Homes
- A Home for Dakota by Jan Grover and Nancy Lane
2008. Grades 1–3.
Dog #241 lives in a dark crate on a puppy mill, until she is rescued and learns to trust humans again. When the puppy (now named Dakota) meets a young girl who has been as traumatized as she, healing begins for both of them.
- Mutt Dog by Stephen Michael King
2005. Grades PreK–2.
Mutt Dog is brave and fast and gentle and loyal and smart, but he’s also hungry, and he doesn’t have a home. Then one day his luck changes, and he at last finds a family–and a cozy, loving place to belong.
- Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery
2008. Grades K–3.
A dog and a blind cat abandoned during Hurricane Katrina evacuations manage to find each other and stick together until they realize a happy ending.
- Go Home! The True Story of James the Cat by Libby Phillips Meggs
2000. Grades K–3.
Cat has been lost for a long time. His collar has grown too tight, and he’s always hungry and thirsty. One day he finds a house with a kind family, but they think because he has a collar, he has a home. It’s not until he’s badly injured that the family realizes just how much the cat needs them.
- The Stray Dog by Marc Simont
2003. Grades PreK–3.
A family picnicking in the park encounters a little stray dog. The children play with him and name him Willy. But the parents won’t let Willy come home with them. Willy stays in their hearts and heads, so the next week they go looking for him … but so does the dog catcher.