New Ideas For Kids' Books About The Lean Times Ahead

Last week, Slate published a list of children’s books about poverty, unemployment, shoe-eating, dust bowls, depressions, and recessions. From a late-19th century series called The Five Little Peppers through to 2007’s How To Steal a Dog, the list captures over 100 years of poverty-level slice of life–what we might call the Plight of the Raggedy Children.

“If publishing history repeats itself,” Slate writes, “the financial crisis of 2008 will probably produce a new crop of poverty lit for kids.” We agree, and below we offer some ideas for you opportunistic writers out there.

Finger Food
A poor small town banks its future on a severed fingertip that young Elba Franklin finds in a can of beans. Before they can collect the hush money, though, opportunists from all over the country get involved, including newscasters, attorneys, bloggers, and the crotchety old man who wants his finger back no matter what it costs the town.

Rich on Paper
Micah “Crayon” Ponokie says his family is richer than god, and he can prove it by the mounds and mounds of cash they’ve got stashed all over the house. In this delightful picture book, Crayon and his younger brothers use the bills for everything from paper mache ninjas to flower bouquets for their unemployed mom–because it turns out paper money is worthless in Crayon’s world. On the last few pages, Crayon and his brothers moan because they discover mom’s making Dollar Bill Pizza again tonight.

Luv in SuvTown
Shades of S.E. Hinton color this YA novel, where Sara Elizardo and her cousins live with other homeless families in a “suvtown”–a collection of SUVs that have been abandoned because they’re too expensive to drive–at the edge of a former Super Walmart parking lot somewhere in the Midwest. These modern day “stationary gypsies” have wild adventures with the law, usually involving being accused of loitering at the nearby Jack-in-the-Box, and they spend their nights sneaking through the abandoned big box store and pretending to sell each other cheap electronics and household goods. When a strange young man shows up with his unhappy, hostile parents, Sara sees a kindred spirit who might be the one to help her co-sign on a by-the-week apartment. Depressing and pathos-riddled, yes, but don’t you remember those S.E. Hinton books?

Mommy’s Dollhouses
Five-year-old Gertie Prentice loves going to work with her mommy. Her mommy is a cleaner–she goes into recently-foreclosed houses and makes them look good as new so they can be put back on the market, and she sneaks Gertie in with her because daycare is too expensive. Gertie goes through the forgotten toys and left-behind dishware in each house and makes up fantasies about the people who used to live there, and she wonders why the people would leave such nice houses behind. (This could be a tie-in to the YA novel above, if you’re a smart publisher.)

“Mom, What’s a Credit Default Swap?” [Slate]
(Images: Finger Food, Madamoiselle Green; Rich on Paper, labasta, Getty Images; Luv in SuvTown, stephentrepreneur; Mommy’s Doll Houses, lumaxart, Todd Baker << technowannabe)