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You may have seen some of our recent winter themed blog posts that celebrate the beauty of this cold and dark season; it’s a quiet, calm and joyful time. However, we know that for many families across the U.K. the harsh reality of winter is far removed from the twinkling, snowy scenes we might associate with the season.

According to the Child Poverty Action Group there were 4.2 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2021-2022 (Child poverty facts and figures | CPAG), which means there is likely to be families in your school who are struggling to heat their homes, buy essentials and pay for any holiday treats. This is often exacerbated in winter when energy bills soar and families who celebrate Christmas have increased financial outgoings.

The Education Policy Institute state that children who persistently live in poverty can be up to 2 years behind their peers academically by the end of secondary school. So, we know that children who experience poverty may achieve fewer GCSEs and may be more likely to struggle with their mental health (Effects Of Child Poverty | The Children’s Society) . For this reason, we felt it was important to address this and give you some guidance on talking about these issues in your classroom. Children may not understand the full definition or expanse of poverty, they may not know how to express any feelings of concern or know how to articulate what is happening to them. However, with the help of stories, we can guide children through these tricky feelings so that they are better equipped to deal with them. Similarly, for children not experiencing poverty, learning about these issues is vital for developing empathy and kindness as they grow older.

It’s important that all children are reflected in the books they read, as we so often seek affirmation and understanding in stories. With hunger and poverty the same is true. We want children to be aware of all different types of families and their backgrounds. Reading these stories together won’t solve any of the issues discussed, but giving children empathy and understanding helps them to process the world around them, which is an important life skill.

Books for talking to children about winter, poverty and hunger

It’s a No-Money Day by Kate Milner

Age range: EYFS, KS1, KS2

A really sweet book about a mum and her daughter who visit a foodbank after discovering they have no money or food left. The story looks at the day from two different perspectives – the mum who is worried and nervous, and the daughter who turns it into an adventure! This gives lots of opportunities for talking about how the characters are feeling and what life might be like in this situation.

We are using this story in the new resources for our Year 3 curriculum. If you already subscribe to our Year 3 content, we will be sharing more about this fantastic book and it’s accompanying resource shortly.

When I Coloured in the World by Ahmadreza Ahmadi

Age range: EYFS and KS1

We stumbled upon this book while researching this blog post and instantly fell in love with it! The sheer simplicity and innocence of the story had us hooked from the beginning. It tells the tale of a young boy who sets out to use his crayons for good; by erasing the negative and drawing the positive. As the book progresses, the boy rubs out hunger, crying, boredom, illness and more, carefully replacing each one.

This would be a great start to a class discussion about what issues they might solve if they could. While a very positive and feel-good story, the book presents an opportunity to talk about the more negative aspects of the world and what children feel about them.

Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea by Meena Harris

Age range: KS1

Inspired by the true story of Kamala Harris, the U.S. Vice President, this inspiring tale shows how anything is impossible with a little help from our friends! With no money to create a new park outside their block of flats, Kamala and Maya set out to build something from nothing. Using ingenuity and creativity, the girls manage to source the equipment and help they need to make their plans a reality. The story is a fantastic example of how people can enact change in their communities.

While the book doesn’t directly cover themes of poverty or hunger, we believe it deals with some of the related issues in a positive and easily-accessible way. For example, we know that communities with high levels of poverty often have a lack of funding and opportunities. Similarly, some children who live in poverty may relate to Kamala and Maya’s living arrangements and their shared outdoor spaces.

The Great (Food) Bank Heist by Onjali Q. Raúf

Age range: KS2

A book jam packed with empathy and humour, this is a great option for KS2 classes that will encourage questions and laughter at the same time! Onjali Rauf is already a classroom regular with books such as ‘The Boy at The Back of The Class’ and this story feels like the next classic to add to your shelf.

Further reading

A few years old now, but we enjoyed this article by Anna McQuin about why poverty is such an important theme in picture books – read the article here.

For more information about how poverty affects children’s mental health, this article from Action For Children in useful – click here.

If you have enjoyed these book recommendations, why not have a look at The Story Project curriculum and see how we can further support the mental health and well-being of children in your school.

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