Family Literacy Day: Six books to help you talk to kids about poverty - United Way Alberta Capital Region

Family Literacy Day: Six books to help you talk to kids about poverty

January 22, 2022

A young boy reads through a picture book

Poverty is a complex problem, even for adults to understand. So, it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to trying to explain it to children. But given that, as of 2019, poverty affected 50,600 children in the Edmonton region, it’s an issue worth talking to them about.

First, like any tough topic, approach the conversation with empathy and check your own biases at the door. Secondly, find an age-appropriate way to introduce the subject matter to meet your child on their level and make it a positive and enjoyable experience.

Since story books can be an excellent conversation starter with kids, Family Literacy Day is a great time to introduce the topic to your children and improve their literacy skills. And, because literacy skill levels and income are related, improving literacy in children is a key factor in breaking the cycle of poverty.

This Family Literacy Day, we’re exploring six books to help navigate these tricky chats with young kids, ages 4 to 8, and to nurture empathy and compassion for vulnerable people in our community. All books mentioned below are available at Edmonton Public Library – check them out!

It’s a No-Money Day

It's a No Money Day Book Cover

Written and illustrated by Kate Milner
Age Range: 4 – 8 years

Mum works really hard, but today there is no money left and no food in the cupboards. Forced to visit the local foodbank, Mum feels ashamed that they must rely on the kindness of others. Maybe one day things will be different but for now, they brighten up even the darkest of days.

Why it Made Our List: It’s a No-Money Day helps explain to kids that poverty can look very different than the picture we have in our head. While Mum and daughter have a home and a warm bed, they still struggle to pay the bills and experience food insecurity. Readers will be touched by the optimism that families hold, even in the toughest of times.

Last Stop on Market Street

Written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Age Range: 3 – 5 years

Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty — and fun — in their routine and the world around them.

Why it Made Our List: Nana’s patience and perspective as she answers CJ’s questions in Last Stop on Market Street will resonate with those who have inquisitive kids in their lives. This book can help broach subjects like food security, disability, and the importance of helping others in need.


A Place To Stay: A Shelter Story

Written by Erin Gunti, illustrated by Estelí Meza
Age Range: 5 – 9 years

This simple, touching picture book shows readers a women’s shelter through the eyes of a young girl, who, with her mother’s help, uses her imagination to overcome her anxiety and adjust. Includes factual endnotes detailing various reasons people experience homelessness and the resources available to help.

Why it Made Our List: Written by a child abuse and neglect investigator, A Place To Stay is as charming as it is informative. The best part of the book is the endnote, where author Erin Gunti explores what shelters are, the reasons people might have to leave their home, and how the community can help those who access shelters.



The One with the Scraggly Beard

Written by Elizabeth Withey, illustrated by Lynn Scurfield
Age Range: 4 – 8 years

A child tries to understand the life of a man he has seen sleeping under a bridge. The boy’s mother patiently answers his questions and explains how people’s life paths can be so different. The child observes the things he has in common with the man and wonders where his own path will lead. A note from the author explains how the origin of this story is rooted in her own life.

Why it Made Our List: Children are naturally inquisitive creatures, and any parent who has encountered visible signs of poverty in their neighbourhood while with their child might find the protagonist’s questions familiar. The One with the Scraggly Beard offers a simple, empathetic, and compassionate perspective on homelessness that can help parents explain the situational nature of poverty and reinforce that homelessness or poverty do not define a person.


Jimmy the Greatest!

Written by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng
Age Range: 4 – 8 years

Jimmy lives in a small, poor town by the sea where there is just one tiny gym. The owner of the gym suggests that Jimmy start training, and to inspire him, he gives Jimmy a box full of books, as well as newspaper clippings about Muhammad Ali — “The Greatest.” Jimmy is swept with admiration for Ali. He begins to read and run and box like crazy, even though someone at the gym has taken his shoes. And as he does so, he makes a great discovery: you don’t have to leave home to be “the greatest.”

Why it Made Our List: While Jimmy the Greatest! illustrates — quite literally — the challenges of poverty, it inspires hope rather than pity. This story of passion and resilience shows children the importance of valuing what they do have, rather than dwelling on what they, and others, don’t have.

Those Shoes

Written by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
Age Range: 5 – 8 years

All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. But Jeremy’s grandma tells him they don’t have room for want. What Jeremy needs are new boots for winter. When Jeremy’s shoes fall apart at school and he must make do with a hand-me-down pair, the boy is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy comes to realize that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants.

Why it Made Our List: Learning the difference between a “want” and a “need” is a challenging but necessary lesson for children to learn. Those Shoes does a great job of introducing this concept while also touching on themes of generosity and inclusion. It may also help them understand and relate to financial struggles they see in children or families around them, even if their own family is economically secure.