Help the Hungry Month

5 Big-Hearted Books about Hunger & Poverty in the USA

As America faces record poverty rates and increasing income disparities, it becomes more and more important that we take action in whatever ways we can. Big-Hearted Families has an impressive and diverse list of project ideas to Fight Poverty with your family. Nothing inspires action quite as much as a good story, which is why we've assembled this short list of our favorite books on the subect.

These 5 picture books about hunger and poverty will help you bring up this difficult subject in a thoughtful way. Plus, they are each excellent stories.

Here are some conversation starters to make the most of your experience:

  • How would you feel if you had to rely on a stranger to provide your lunch every day?
  • How does it feel when you are hungry and you have to wait to eat?
  • What are ways we could help those who are hungry?
  • What do you think would be the hardest part of not having a home?
  • If you did not have a place to live, what things would be most important to you? Where would you sleep? How would you stay clean?
  • What things are you grateful for? Are these things you need to live or things that are simply nice to have?

Older readers (8 to 12) may enjoy Along Came a Dog by Meindert DeJong, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, about the unlikely friendship between a little red hen and a homeless dog.

Here are some of my favorite picture books that will start a big-hearted conversation about hunger and poverty:


Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by DyAnn DiSalvo-Ryan (Morrow.

A young boy who is afraid of homeless people gains a new perspective when he helps his uncle work at the soup kitchen.



Dear Mr. Rosenwald, by Carole Boston Weatherford (Scholastic).

This book is based on actual events in the 1920s, when a philanthropist - the founder of Sears - offered money to African American communities to build schools—but only after they raised money themselves. For an impoverished community, this was a difficult task. This story of how they achieved it is very inspiring.



The Lady in the Boxby Ann McGovern (Turtle Books).

It is wintertime in the city and freezing cold, but not everyone is inside and warm. Ben and his sister Lizzie know that there is a lady who lives outside in a box over a warm air vent. The children worry about the kind-looking lady, and begin sneaking food and clothes out of their apartment for her. Gently told and powerfully illustrated in rich hues, The Lady in the Box deals candidly with the issue of homelessness.



Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting (Clarion Books).

This heart-wrenching yet hopeful book follows a boy and his father through their daily routines as they shelter in an airport, obviously before airline security become so strict. This is book especially fostered a lot of conversation in my house. It perfectly presents the heartbreak of being a homeless child in a non-threatening, non-frightening way.



One Potato, Two Potato by Cynthia DeFelice (Farrar).

For a more whimsical approach to the issues of hunger and sharing, this folktale while entertain and edify any audience. It's a variation on the theme of a magic pot, featuring a community pulling together. It's a new favorite.

Food Waste & Family Dinners: Share your Insights!

Did your last family meal conclude with extras being scraped into the compost or garbage can?  Mine did. Now I'm haunted by last week's Science Friday, "Waste Not: The Ugly Truth about Food Waste in America?

It haunts me. They estimate half a hamburger wastes as much water as an hour long shower!

With young kids in the house, waste is practically unavoidable.

Learning to eat a well-balanced diet is a process - parents are told to try, try again when kids resist healthy foods.

And my little ones are truly poor eaters in between growth spurts. When they're growing, give them (almost) anything and it disappears. Between times, even much-loved dishes sit barely touched at the end of the meal.

I'm not a fan of waste, of course, so I save what I can for the next meal.

Often, those saved bits get tossed.

If this issues haunts you as well, check out Rethink Recycling and their article "How to Keep Food Waste out of the Garbage."

Most helpful was their List of Companies that offer food recovery services in the metro area. Given the vast impact of institutional food waste, I'm choosing to worry less about the small scale waste of my own learning eaters.

Instead, I'm going to check out the institutions around me. If I can help an organization or two redirect unserved portions to a local shelter, the impact on waste, and on the community will be significantly greater.

And by talking about this issue with my children, perhaps they will be more aware about what they leave on their plate at the end of a meal.