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On Our Street: Our First Talk About Poverty

by Jaime Casap; Jane Heinrichs (ill.); Jillian Roberts

“Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up; ask them what problem they want to solve,” says Jaime Casap, Google’s chief education evangelist.

In their non-fiction resource book, Casap and psychologist Jillian Roberts hope to inspire children to solve the problem of homelessness, by helping them understand how people of all ages and from all walks of life end up living on the street.

On Our Street is the first book in the new World Around Us non-fiction picture book series by Orca. Roberts partnered with Casap on this title as he brings first-hand knowledge and authenticity to the subject matter: he was raised by a single mother who relied on welfare and food stamps. Both writers are based in the west – Roberts in Victoria and Casap in Silicon Valley – and on that coast homeless numbers rose in 2017 for the first time since 2010.

This frank yet sensitive introduction to the issues of poverty and homelessness is presented through 14 questions, including “What is it like to live on the streets?”; “Why do people have to sleep on the street?”; and “Are homeless people the only ones who live in poverty?” In the course of providing answers, the writers tackle the topics of mental illness, refugees, and fundamental human rights.

Additional information is presented through sidebars with definitions of key terms, quotes (primarily from United Nations organizations), recent accounts of refugee experiences, an introduction to the kinds of organizations that assist children in need, and a list of U.S. and Canadian websites that will help further the discussion or promote action.

Colour photographs offer a humanizing and diverse representation of poverty. Realistic watercolour illustrations featuring two girls and a boy appear throughout the book and provide a sense of continuity.

Eight- to 12-year-old readers will likely be better poised to grasp the content, which may seem too complex or abstract for the publisher’s recommended age group. But younger children can still undertake some of the actions the authors recommend to make an immediate difference, including donating resources and raising awareness.

As the book draws to a close, Roberts and Casap ask the following question: “What can we do to help people who live in poverty?” The answer: “One of the most important things you can do is care.”