What do your children know about poverty in the United States, especially as it impacts other kids? We recently added a new memoir by Rex Ogle to our children’s collection called Free Lunch. In this book, the author does a deep dive into his first semester of middle school and the impact his home life had on his school life. It is powerful and heartbreaking. In the author’s note, Mr. Ogle writes:

I wrote Free Lunch because I honestly believe it’s an important story to share. Not just to share a lived experience and to let others know they are not alone, but to offer a voice of camaraderie to those young readers who might desperately need it….If you are having a hard time, my advice is simple: Hang in there. Give it time. And stay strong. No matter how bad your circumstances may seem, things can change. And until they do, no one can take away your most powerful gift–your ability to hope for the better.

I recommend this book for 5-8 grade students.

If you would like to learn about poverty and build empathy with younger readers, take a look at Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. In this fictional story, Jackson has just finished fourth grade and is starting to notice his parents selling a lot of things around their house. They’ve had hard times before, and even spent a period of time living in their minivan. Crenshaw is an imaginary purple cat who makes appearances when Jackson is stressed. This book is recommended for readers in grades 3-5.

For even younger readers (grades K-3), check out Yard Sale by Eve Bunting and On Our Street: Our First Talk About Poverty by Dr. Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap.

For more information:

National Center for Children in Poverty

Children’s Defense Fund


To support children and families in our community or to seek assistance (including food pantry, clothing closet, and free medical clinic services), please contact West Des Moines Human Services:

139 6th Street, West Des Moines (Valley Junction area)