18 Children’s Books About Poverty and Hunger
As a young child, I remember being troubled by the thought that some people lived in poverty. It especially bothered me that some kids didn’t have enough to eat. I’d save up my allowance and send a few dollars to world relief organizations, and wish that I could do more.
Our 5 year old also seems to be touched by hunger and homelessness more than other social problems. Maybe it’s because kids know what it’s like to be hungry, even if it’s only for a short period of time.
Talking about the root causes of local and global hunger is a lot more challenging. Helping our kids figure out what they can do to help end hunger and poverty can seem overwhelming.
If your family wants to move past the overwhelm and take action, I encourage you to sign up for our free Fight Hunger 5 Day Kid Activist Challenge. Each day you’ll receive a simple action step that you can do together with your children. You’ll also be invited to a private Facebook community where you can chat with others who are taking part in the challenge.
Whether or not you’d like to join us for the challenge, I hope you’ll use this list of children’s books about poverty and hunger to start the conversation. I’ve arranged the list by age, starting with books for the youngest children. Chapter books can be found at the end of the list.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to my Amazon Associates account, as well as links to my Barefoot Books storefront. If you purchase items through these links, I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
18 Books to Help Children Understand Poverty and Hunger
Yard Sale by Eve Bunting and Lauren Castillo
Unless you’re a really tough cookie, reading this book out loud will bring tears to your eyes. Callie’s family is moving from their big house into a small apartment. They have to sell almost everything they own. Even Callie’s bike is for sale, because there’s no sidewalk outside their new apartment. I’m amazed at how Bunting and Castillo have captured the sadness of this event without causing us to feel hopeless. (Recommended for ages 3 – 7).
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson
CJ is full of questions and complaints that adults will recognize as being about poverty, but his Grandma’s clever answers point him towards wonder and gratitude. CJ wants to know why they don’t have a car. Grandma reminds me that the bus the driver Mr. Dennis always has a magic trick for him. They’re headed to the soup kitchen where they volunteer each week, where they see familiar friends and beauty in the midst of boarded-up buildings. (Recommended for ages 3 – 7).
Migrant by Maxine Trottier and Isabelle Arsenault
I had no idea that there are Mennonites from Mexico who travel to Canada each summer as migrant workers. Migrant allows children to peek into their world through the eyes of Anna. Anna thinks of her family being like a flock of geese, going back and forth. She wonders what it would be like to be instead be a tree, rooted in one place. (Recommended for ages 3 – 7).
Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin and Julia Cairns
Read my review here of this beautiful story of how a community makes a meal in the midst of what seems like scarcity.
Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier and Lori Lohstoeter
This is the true story of how one Ugandan child’s life was changed by the gift of a goat from Heifer International. Beatrice helps her mother care for their garden, tends their chickens, and takes care of her younger siblings. She sometimes watches the children outside the schoolhouse, wishing she could be one of them. Her mother can’t afford the fees for books and uniforms.
When Beatrice’s family is chosen as one of twelve who’ll receive a goat, she doesn’t understand why her mother is so pleased. After Mugisa arrives, she begins to see how the animal can change her future. (Recommended for ages 4 – 10).
Who would think a story about famine and multiplication could be so engaging? Once in India there lived a raja who kept nearly all the land’s rice for himself. Even during a time of famine, he was selfish. When the raja offers to reward Rani for a honest act, all she asks him for is one grain of rice, which he will double each day for thirty days. In the process, she teaches him a valuable lesson about hoarding. Demi’s miniature paintings will convey even to younger children how the quantity of rice grows over time. (Recommended for ages 4 – 10).
Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson
In this story of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, children learn of the power of trees to solve problems of poverty, hunger, sickness, and drought. Each type of tree is attached to a particular person. This slows the story’s pace enough for children to grasp about these big problems. Kadir Nelson’s stunning illustrations will make you feel as if you are standing right next to the women as they plant their precious trees. (Recommended for ages 4- 10).
Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and Sally Wern Comport
Read my review here of this moving story of the children whose orchestra began in the garbage dumps of Cateura, Paraguay. (Recommended for ages 5 – 10).
The Streets are Free by Kurusa and Monika Doppert
This is the true story of a group of children from the barrio San Jose de la Urbina in Caracas, Venezuela, who simply wanted a place to play. Their impoverished community is so crowded that they cannot even play in the streets. With the help of a librarian, the children decide they will press their Mayor to give them a playground. Their bravery prompts their community to rally behind them. (Recommended for ages 6 – 10).
Chandra’s Magic Light: A Story in Nepal by Theresa Heine and Judith Gueyfier
Read my review here of this story of two sisters who are determined to find the money they need for a “magic” lamp that will help their baby brother. (Recommended for ages 6 – 10).
The Hard-Times Jar by Ethel Footman Smothers and John Holyfield
Emma loves to write stories. Right now, her “books” are made of grocery sacks held together by safety pins, but she dreams of having real store-bought notebooks. She helps her parents earn extra money to put in their “hard-times jar,” but she knows that money isn’t for extras like notebooks. Since her parents are migrant workers, hard times are sure to come.
Emma is determined to to earn enough extra picking apples that she can get her notebook, but then her mother says that this harvest, she must go to school instead of working in the fields. How will she ever get her real notebook? (Recommended for ages 6 – 10).
One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway and Eugenie Fernandes
Kojo helps his mother gather and sell firewood, but there is never enough to do more than survive. When twenty of the families in their village pool their money for a loan fund, there’s a chance for change. Children follow Kojo through the purchase of his first hen, whose extra eggs he will sell at the market, to the poultry farm he develops as an adult, where he gives out loans of his own. (Recommended for ages 6 – 10).
“Challah in the Ark” in The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales by Shoshana Boyd Belfand and Amanda Hall
Eliana longs to serve God with her gifts, but isn’t sure what to offer. Inspired by her rabbi’s sermon, she decides to offer God her bread, since she is the best baker in town. She bakes two of her most extraordinary challah loaves, and places in the Holy Ark in the synagogue.
Unknown to her, Samuel, who sweeps the synagogue floor, comes along a bit later. As he sweeps he prays to God because his children are hungry but he has no money for the Sabbath meal. Finishing his prayer, Samuel notices that the Ark is open. He spots the challah and thanks God for providing it for his family. This goes on each week for years, without Eliana and Samuel knowing about each other’s actions, until the rabbi discovers the situation. Will he understand how God is at work? (Recommended for ages 6 – 12).
Mimi’s Village and How Basic Health Care Transformed It by Kate Smith Milway and Eugenie Fernandes
One day when there is no clean water available on their long journey to home, Mimi lets her little sister Nakkissi have a drink from a stream. The next day Nakkissi becomes sick, and her mother must take them to the neighboring village to see the nurse. Mimi learns about simple cures that the nurse offers there, and wishes that her community could have its own clinic.
This fictional story introduces children to the real life basic interventions that make a tremendous difference in the lives of children facing poverty. (Recommended for ages 6 – 10).
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes and Louis Slobodkin
This classic book, written in 1944, is sure to help children develop empathy towards kids like them who struggle with poverty. Wanda Petronski, a Polish immigrant in a small town, seems strange to many of the other girls in her class. She wears the same faded dress to school every day, but claims she has 100 dresses at home.
When her best friend Peggy begins teasing Wanda every day about the dresses, Maddie is uncomfortable. Maddie is no stranger to poverty. She has to wear other people’s hand-me-downs. Will saying something to Peggy mean the end of their friendship? When Wanda stops coming to school, Maddie has to think long and hard about her silence. (Recommended for ages 7 – 12).
Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins and Jamie Hogan
Naima is a talented painter, creating beautiful alpana patterns that Bangladeshi women paint in their homes for special occasions. But when her father cannot bring in enough money from his rickshaw business to support them, she wishes she were a boy so that she could help him drive the rickshaw.
Naima decides she will dress as a boy and try to drive it while her father is asleep, but her efforts end in disaster. When her mother decides they must sell the wedding bangle that has been in her family for years, Naima is desperate to find a way to help their family earn money. (Recommended for ages 7 – 12).
Serafina’s Promise by Anne E. Burg
Serafina’s dream of becoming a doctor seems almost impossible as she lives in a remote village in Haiti where her mother always needs her help at home. When Serafina’s home is washed away in a flood, she fears that her dream has also disappeared. The encouragement of her friend Julie Marie, as well as the support of a woman doctor, gives Serafina courage to ask her parents if she can go to school. This haunting novel in verse is one that older children and adults alike can appreciate. (Recommended for ages 10+).
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
In a divided, impoverished neighborhood in Cleveland, a young Vietnamese girl decides to start a garden. All she does is plant a few bean seedlings in a vacant lot filled with garbage. Yet, it doesn’t take long for other neighbors to notice and build upon what she is doing. The 13 chapters are each told by a different neighbor, and reveal the prejudices, suspicions, hopes, and talents that live in this community that the rest of the city has forgotten. (Recommended for ages 12+).