Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hey! Let's depress the shit out of some little kids!

While we're talking about books ...

One of my favorite books is "Hard Living on Clay Street" by Joseph Howell. It's about two families living in poverty, and I just found it really, really interesting. I've re-read it a few times over the years.

I was noodling around on line the other day, and I decided to try and find some books similar to "Hard Living". I googled "books about poverty", and you know what I found? A bunch of kids' books!

Here's the description from Amazon:

"Kindergarten-Grade 3-After her father died, eight-year-old Zettie and her mother left Jamaica in search of education and a better life in America. They now live in an old car. Zettie's daily routine includes waking up to blaring sirens and flashing lights, washing in cold water in a park rest room, being bullied by boys at school, and feeling hungry and resentful. Spending time with a friend who is also homeless, and a reassuring encounter with a concerned policeman bring comfort at crucial moments, but the girl's life is not an easy one. Not since Maurice Sendak's We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (HarperCollins, 1993) has a picture book dealing with homelessness maintained such emotional intensity. The illustrations call to mind images by Georges Rouault. Pedlar's figures are defined with thick black lines; exaggerated features and the expressionistic use of color accentuate the family's suffering. In the end, Mama's successful day helping at a Health Fair and the promise of a job lead to a bed and shower in a motel-and hope. Children will be moved by Zettie's plight and relieved that there are options. "

Wow. Just ... look. If you are in KINDERGARTEN, you need to be singing songs and playing with blocks and learning your one-two-threes. You do not need to learn right away that there are people so poor they live in their f*cking CARS, for Pete's sake. And parents, if little Amy comes to you with a question about the boy in her class who wears dirty clothes, all you have to do is tell her that the little boy is not as fortunate as she, and that she should treat him kindly. You do not have to give her a dissertation about the finer points of poverty, complete with a picture book to SHOW her what living in a car is like. Christ.

exaggerated features and the expressionistic use of color accentuate the family's suffering. Whoopee!

But wait! There's more:

"A Kids' Guide to Hunger and Homelessness"

"Tight Times"

"Uncle Willy and the Soup Kitchen"

and my personal favorite:

"The Lady in the Box"

You can't make this shit up. You just can't.


Badass Nature Girl said...

Wow....just wow. You know, I wasn't in the poverty level, but I certainly grew up poor compared to my class mates, especially in elementary school when my mother was a single mother. Dinners usually consisted of: Swanson t.v. dinners, Doritos baked with shredded on top, and liver with onions. I wore my brothers clothes, or what was given to my mom by her friends daughter that was a year or two older than me because my mom had stopped making my clothes by then......but I don't know that reading a book about it all would have helped me feel better about it. Honestly, it's kind of creepy and scary to me, even now as an adult and looking at those books, but maybe others would benefit from it and the hope that I'm sure those books are meant to offer?

Reading (and chickens) said...

The lady in the box. Hmm. Perhaps now we know why publishers are in such trouble?

rockygrace said...

I just ... I don't know, I never had kids, so maybe I'm talking out my butt, here, but the thing that kills me about these books is that they're picture books, aimed at very young children. I just don't think a six-year-old needs to know the ways of the world. Let 'em keep their innocence as long as possible, you know?

I mean, if your first-grader comes home and wants to know what bukkake is, you're not gonna tell him, right? Kids don't have to know everything.

Badass Nature Girl said...

Well, I agree with you in a way. Kids are forced to grow up really fast, and some of the images are very....traumatic, but the difference between talking to them about poverty and bukkake (which I had to look that up by the way. Fun times!) is that there are children, very young children but old enough to see around them that not every one is living the same way, living in poverty, but hopefully not involved in sex acts. I'm wondering too if some kids can relate themselves to some of the books and have it not make them feel so alone in their situation??? I'm grapsing here, and again, I think some of it is a little overboard and unnecessary, but then again, I feel any poverty, especially within the borders of the United States, is unnecessary, and yet, it still exists.

Badass Nature Girl said...

OH! and I meant to say, (then I'll shut up), is that of course we want to let our kids be kids, but I'm finding that the world isn't going to let that happen the same way it did when we were growing up. Even at school, they've shown movies that I would not have wanted my kids to see if I had known they were doing it. Granted, they were considered appropriate for kids, even made for them, but when Jacob would tell us what they were about, Carl and I would look at each other like "wow".

We also take the kids to and from school now because of issues like that. The youngest would come home and ask what so and so meant, they'd get bullied and learn curse words, etc. I kow I can't protect them forever from the darker side of the world and the people in it, but when I can, I do. When Jacob did ask what certain things meant, we'd just tell him the basic "It's some thing for adults that we can talk to you about when you're a little older, but it's not some thing that some one your age should even be thinking about right now."

Holly said...

Those books are aimed at homeless children. Which we have, coming to the library, every day. And if a teacher encounters a situation that needs context or has to approach a difficult topic due to a local news event or curriculum standard, these types of books are a valuable resource.

Good stuff to have existing, and not for general storytime fare, I am saying.

rockygrace said...

As it turns out, these books have been around for quite a while.

BNG, My mom used to use that line on me all the time, about "when you're older." That was like my cue to STOP ASKING QUESTIONS.

and when I think about some of the "sex ed" I got from my peers, it was so hilariously inaccurate that it STILL cracks me up. Then again, we didn't have Skinemax back then.

and Holly, yeah, I can see that these kinds of books could maybe help kids in the same situation. They would have scared the shit out me. Looking at one before bedtime would have probably guaranteed that I'd never sleep again.

Pauline said...

I work with kids and would rather have them remain kids as long as is possible. They're exactly the type of books I would avoid like the plague.

Granted these are young kids, but even the older ones deserve to be kids rather than feel the responsibility of the world on their shoulders.

If they're living that life, they're not going to want to read about it too, are they?

rockygrace said...

I completely agree, Pauline.