CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 9 . . . . November 3, 2017
The introduction in this timely book is a brief invitation to children to wonder and to ask questions about the people they may see in their neighborhood who live in circumstances different from their own. Within this simple premise, the questions are obviously the kind that curious youngsters might logically ask: why do people sleep on the street, why would someone run away from their home, are homeless people the only ones who live in poverty? Presented in a gentle but frank, step-by-step manner, they encourage that wonder and will hopefully lead to discussion beyond the initial questions.
The answers to those questions are simple and straightforward, too. The reader finds definitions of homelessness, poverty, mental illness, refugees, and essential services sketched in only a few sentences. The content moves from a general view of homelessness and poverty to a more specific focus on how the issues affect children. This leads naturally to the query, "How can I help children who are homeless or unsafe?" and to additional queries about living in poverty, the lack of universal schooling and health care. On Our Street touches on refugees and human rights, both high visibility topics in the media and likely to be encountered frequently by many children. Having motivated the reader to consider the many difficult aspects of these people's lives, a page of suggestions for ways to help is offered. All of them are easily accessible to youngsters who want to put their new understanding to work toward creative solutions. Many small acts can add up to a big difference. The "Resources" list on the last page will lead to more information.
Especially meaningful are the final pages in which the co-authors share the personal background experiences that led them to collaborate on this book. Jaime Casap brings his own history of growing up in poverty and his belief that anyone can rise above it, while Dr Jillian Roberts adds her view that today's kids can (and must) become the problem-solvers needed to effectively address the issue of homelessness. She offers Casap's own words, "Don't ask kids what they want to be when they grow up; ask them what problem they want to solve", as a major driving force behind the book.
The layout of On Our Street is inviting: double spreads for each question, with large clear font and generous space allocated to photos and drawings. Sidebars add definitions where appropriate. This is not a book to rush through, but rather it's an occasion for children reading the book with an adult to take ample opportunity to analyze the content, ask deeper questions and discuss their own thoughts and feelings of each concept presented. In fact, this book will be a terrific catalyst for parents and teachers to open kids' eyes to the realities of their day-to-day world and to encourage them to share personal experiences.
One hesitation: the target audience is pegged at 5-8, but the drawings of children suggest a little older, e.g. the 7-9 age range. Perhaps this is a more suitable target (are most youngsters of 5 and 6 ready to make such observations of others, or to understand abstract concepts such as discrimination or human rights?). Having said that, it may never be too soon to begin to learn about these complex issues. And whenever they are ready, On Our Street, part of "The World Around Us" series, will be a fine first step toward enhancing that understanding.
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.