When Our Reading Lives Help Us Understand Our Life Situations by Megan Overman
“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” –Mason Cooley
Everyone knows that books can provide us with fantastic worlds full of magic, characters with powers we can only dream of, and lives that we wished we lived. Although books can provide us with a much-needed escape, what if we need help in dealing with our own reality? Furthermore, what if we need help sharing our reality with others?
One reality that a growing number of students and their families face is financial difficulties. According to the report A New Majority: Low Income Students Now a Majority In the Nation’s Public Schools January 2015 by Southern Education Foundation, 51% of the student population that makes up public schools reside in a low income home.
So how can books about financial difficulties help our students? Financial difficulties can place a great deal of stress on students. Some may witness disagreements amongst family members that stem from financial strain. Others may worry if there will be food on the table, electricity, or running water when they arrive home. Hard times often come with hard decisions as well, decisions that can be scary and confusing to children, like moving, selling items, and quite simply being told “no” because of financial issues. Peer relationships can be affected and self-confidence can decrease. Books can be a “mirror” for low-income students. They can relate to the characters and their situations. A well-constructed book about financial stress can validate students’ emotions and concerns. It can also help students cope with stress by providing strategies or portraying a new way of thinking.
The following are books that reflect characters with financial difficulties. These books are all picture books, but can be used for students amongst all grade levels. It is important to note that these books are not just for students who experience financial stress. These should be shared among all children to develop an awareness and empathy for others!
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Rosa’s home was destroyed after a fire broke out. Her mother, grandmother, and cat were all okay, but they were left with next to nothing. Momma saves her tips at the restaurant and Rosa saves the coins she finds in a jar to buy a nice comfy chair that everyone can use to rest and love in. This book can help facilitate discussion and understanding for children about everyday trials of people who face a disaster, work minimum wage jobs, or financial trouble.
Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton, illustrated by Judith Sutton
Winter is coming to Tennessee and a little girl has no coat and her family has little money. Her mother makes her a colorful coat made out of rags and lots of love. When she goes to school, her classmates laugh and make fun of her, but the little girl has a lesson to teach them about what it means to be poor and that everyone can choose to be rich. It’s all about perspective. This book can help students understand that being rich does not mean having the best material things.
Yard Sale by Eve Bunting. illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Callie’s family has to move from their house to an apartment, so almost everything they own has to be sold in their family’s rummage sale. It makes Callie sad to see some of her cherished items be sold to strangers, like her bed and her bike. In addition, she struggles to say goodbye to her friends that she will be leaving. She understands why they have to do it, but she cannot help feelings the emotions she does. In the end, she realizes that what makes a home is not things, but the people you love. This book would help children who have to move due to financial issues. In addition, it can validate sad feelings for students who have had to give up special things or experience many changes.
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
Jeremy dreams of the new black high tops with white stripes and he wants them so desperately. However, Jeremy’s grandma does not have the money for them. It appears that his peers all around him have them, too! One day, Jeremy’s shoes rip and the counselor gives him a pair of shoes to wear. Unfortunately, everyone makes fun of him except one boy. When grandma gets some extra money she is willing to look at buying the dream shoes Jeremy wants, but they end of being too pricey. They find the same pair at the thrift store, but they are too small, which does not stop Jeremy from wanting and grandma from buying them. Sore feet hurt and Jeremy soon realizes what is important, which is his grandma and helping a friend. This book can develop an understanding of needs versus wants and the importance of priorities.
Southern Education Foundation. (2015, January). A New Majority Research Bulletin: Low Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation’s Public Schools. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from http://www.southerneducation.org/Our-Strategies/Research-and-Publications/New-Majority-Diverse-Majority-Report-Series/A-New-Majority-2015-Update-Low-Income-Students-Now
Megan Overman is a sixth grade reading and writing teacher in Alexandria, Indiana. She has been an educator for three years and is currently pursuing her master of arts in elementary education with a focus in literacy instruction from Ball State University. Instilling a love for reading and learning is her number one priority when teaching her students. Follow her on Twitter: @AMIS_MrsOverman to see classroom happenings!