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There are currently about 7 billion people on Earth and by the middle of this century the number will most likely be between 9 and 10 billion. A greater proportion of these people will in real terms be wealthier than they are today and will demand a varied diet requiring greater resources in its production. Increasing demand for food will coincide with supply-side pressures: greater competition for water, land, and energy, and the accelerating effects of climate change.
On September 26th, my hometown of Iguala, Guerrero was the site of one of the most horrific crimes in recent Mexican history. Forty-three students from a rural teachers college in Ayotzinapa were abducted by Iguala police and handed over to the local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos. No one has seen the students since, and they are feared killed in a mass incineration. It was later discovered that the Iguala mayor and his wife were involved, and it is believed that the police was acting on the mayor’s orders. The failures of the Mexican government, and the incompetent way it has handled the situation has led the Mexico people to say they’ve had enough; they are tired of corruption, impunity, and the continued violation of human rights. National protests have been held for the past two months across the country as the Mexican people fight for reform, justice, and change.
Before the tragic events that took place in Iguala on September 26th, hardly anyone in the U.S. had even heard of my hometown. Iguala is a mid-size city surrounded by mountains located between Mexico City and Acapulco. Seventy percent of the people in Guerrero live in poverty. I experienced that poverty first-hand when I lived there. That poverty, and the lack of opportunities, was what drove my father, and later my mother, to leave Iguala and head to the U.S. Then one day I also left Iguala, and at nine years old I found myself running across the U.S.-Mexico border in search of a better life. I made it across the border on my third attempt, and I vowed that I would never forget where I had come from.
A little girl who will benefit from Reyna's efforts.
This summer, I returned to Iguala to visit my family. I hadn’t been there in four years, and I was shocked to see that my old neighborhood had gone from bad to worse. More and more people are living in extreme poverty. Shacks have sprouted where there weren’t shacks before. As I watched the children playing in the dirt, I decided I was going to do something special for them. I decided that I would come back in December and make their Christmas unforgettable.
On September 6th, I launched a fundraiser campaign for a Christmas Toy Giveaway. In sixty days I raised over $5,000 dollars with the support of friends and strangers who believed in my project. On December 17th, I will go to Iguala with my son and host a Posada in my old neighborhood, where, in addition to a goody bag, all children will receive toys and every family will receive a special Christmas dinner.
The Grande Familia in Iguala, December 12, 1979.
I know this isn’t enough, and in the future I would like to do much more for the people in Iguala. But for now, I think that what I am doing is more important than ever. After what happened in Iguala in September—the disappearance of the students, the numerous mass graves found in the area, the fear and horror that the community has endured—I think that my Christmas Toy Giveaway will provide a little joy to what otherwise has been a bleak and sad time in the city, and in the country as a whole.
I urge you to stand in solidarity with the Mexican people as they fight for a better Mexico. Together, we can all make a difference.
Larissa Renaud doesn't live in a regular house. As she tells it,
"My parents moved us into the Bayou Bridge Antique Store—a fact I do not brag about. It's embarrassing to admit I share the same space as musty, mothball-smelly furniture, dusty books, and teacups that dead people once drank from."
Sometimes she wishes they had never come back here from Baton Rouge, but her family has a long history in the bayou town, much of it is tragic.
When Larissa receives a mysterious call on a broken antique phone, she's got a real mystery on her hands.
"Trust the fireflies,"
the ghostly girl tells her, setting Larissa on a strange and eerie path of discovery. Can Larissa right the wrongs of the past to save her family's future?
Though it highlights rural poverty, bullying, and new sibling issues, The Time of the Fireflies is at heart, a ghost story with a remarkably likable and resourceful protagonist.
To avoid giving away too much, I'll merely mention that readers may see some similarities to Rebecca Stead's Newbery Medal-winning, When You Reach Me. The spunky Larissa and author Kimberly Griffiths Little will draw you into the rich world of the Louisiana bayou until you too, are carried away by the fireflies.
Paula Yoo is a children’s book writer, television writer, and freelance violinist living in Los Angeles. Her latest book, Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, was released last month. Twenty-two Cents is about Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Grameen Bank. He founded Grameen Bank so people could borrow small amounts of money to start a job, and then pay back the bank without exorbitant interest charges. Over the next few years, Muhammad’s compassion and determination changed the lives of millions of people by loaning the equivalent of more than ten billion US dollars in micro-credit. This has also served to advocate and empower the poor, especially women, who often have limited options. In this post, we asked her to share advice on what’s she’s learned about banking, loans, and managing finances while writing Twenty-two Cents.
What are some reasons why someone might want to take out a loan? Why wouldn’t banks loan money to poor people in Bangladesh?
PAULA: People will take out a loan when they do not have enough money in their bank account to pay for a major purchase, like a car or a house. Sometimes, they will take out a loan because they need the money to help set up a business they are starting. Other times, loans are also used to help pay for major expenses, like unexpected hospital bills for a family member who is sick or big repairs on a house or car. But asking for a loan is a very complicated process because a person has to prove they can pay the loan back in a reasonable amount of time. A person’s financial history can affect whether or not they are approved for a loan. For many people who live below the poverty line, they are at a disadvantage because their financial history is very spotty. Banks may not trust them to pay the loan back on time.
In addition, most loans are given to people who are requesting a lot of money for a very expensive purchase like a house or a car. But sometimes a person only needs a small amount of money – for example, a few hundred dollars. This type of loan does not really exist because most people can afford to pay a few hundred dollars. But if you live below the poverty line, a hundred dollars can seem like a million dollars. Professor Yunus realized this when he met Sufiya Begum, a poor woman who only needed 22 cents to keep her business of making stools and mats profitable in her rural village. No bank would loan a few hundred dollars, or even 22 cents, to a woman living in a mud hut. This is what inspired Professor Yunus to come up with the concept of “microcredit” (also known as microfinancing and micro banking).
In TWENTY-TWO CENTS, microcredit is described as a loan with a low interest rate. What is a low interest rate compared to a high interest rate?
PAULA: When you borrow money from a bank, you have to pay the loan back with an interest rate. The interest rate is an additional amount of money that you now owe the bank on top of the original amount of money you borrowed. There are many complex math formulas involved with calculating what a fair and appropriate interest rate could be for a loan. The interest rate is also affected by outside factors such as inflation and unemployment. Although it would seem that a lower interest rate would be preferable to the borrower, it can be risky to the general economy. A low interest rate can create a potential “economic bubble” which could burst in the future and cause an economic “depression.” Interest rates are adjusted to make sure these problems do not happen. Which means that sometimes there are times when the interest rates are higher for borrowers than other times.
What is a loan shark?
PAULA: A loan shark is someone who offers loans to poor people at extremely high interest rates. This is also known as “predatory lending.” It can be illegal in several cases, especially when the loan shark uses blackmail or threats of violence to make sure a person pays back the loan by a certain deadline. Often people in desperate financial situations will go to a loan shark to help them out of a financial problem, only to realize later that the loan shark has made the problem worse, not better.
Did your parents explain how a bank works to you when you were a child? Or did you learn about it in school?
PAULA: I remember learning about how a bank works from elementary school and through those “Schoolhouse Rocks!” educational cartoons they would show on Saturday mornings. But overall, I would say I learned about banking as a high school student when I got my first minimum wage job at age 16 as a cashier at the Marshall’s department store. I learned how banking worked through a job and real life experience.
TWENTY-TWO CENTS is a story about economic innovation. Could you explain why Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank was so innovative or revolutionary?
PAULA ANSWER: Muhammad Yunus’ theories on microcredit and microfinancing are revolutionary and innovative because they provided a practical solution on how banks can offer loans to poor people who do not have any financial security. By having women work together as a group to understand how the math behind the loan would work (along with other important concepts) and borrowing the loan as a group, Yunus’ unique idea gave banks the confidence to put their trust into these groups of women. The banks were able to loan the money with the full confidence in knowing that these women would be able to pay them back in a timely manner. The humanitarian aspect of Yunus’ economic theories were also quite revolutionary because it gave these poverty-stricken women a newfound sense of self-confidence. His theories worked to help break the cycle of poverty for these women as they were able to save money and finally become self-sufficient. The Nobel Committee praised Yunus’ microcredit theories for being one of the first steps towards eradicating poverty, stating, “Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty.”
Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank is a biography of 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who founded Grameen Bank and revolutionized global antipoverty efforts by developing the innovative economic concept of micro-lending.
Jose Nuñez lives in a homeless shelter in Queens with his wife and two children. He remembers arriving at the shelter: ‘It’s literally like you are walking into prison. The kids have to take their shoes off, you have to remove your belt, you have to go through a metal detector. Even the kids do. We are not going into a prison, I don’t need to be stripped and searched. I’m with my family. I’m just trying to find a home’.
Maryann Broxton, a lone mother of two, finds life exhausting and made worse by ‘the consensus that, as a poor person, it is perfectly acceptable to be finger printed, photographed and drug-tested to prove that I am worthy of food. Hunger is not a crime. The parental guilt is punishment enough.’
Palma McLaughlin, a victim of domestic violence, notes that ‘now she is poor, she is stigmatised’; no longer ‘judged by her skills and accomplishments but by what she doesn’t have’.
People in poverty feel ashamed because they cannot afford to live up to social expectations. Being a good parent means feeding your children; being a good relative means exchanging gifts at celebrations. Friendships need to be sustained by buying a round of drinks or returning money that has been borrowed. When you cannot afford to do these things, your sense of shame is magnified by others. Friends, even close relatives, avoid you. Your children despise you, asking, for example: ‘why was I born into this family?’. Society similarly accuses you of being lazy, abusing drugs or promiscuity, assumed guilty until proved innocent. You can even be blamed for the ills of your country, the high levels of crime or its relative economic decline. The middle class in Uganda ask: ‘how can Uganda be poor when the soils are rich and the climate is good if it’s not the fault of subsistence farmers’?’
In the US, as in Britain, it may be welfare expenditure that is blamed for stifling productive investment.
Shame is debilitating as well as painful. People avoid it by attempting to keep up appearances, pretending everything is fine. In so doing, they often live in fear of being found out and risk overextending finances and incurring bad debts. People in poverty typically avoid social situations where they risk being exposed to shame; in so doing lose the contacts that might help them out when times get particularly harsh. Sometimes shame drives people into clinical depression, to substance abuse and even to suicide. Shame saps self-esteem, erodes social capital and diminishes personal efficacy raising the possibility that it serves also to perpetuate poverty by reducing individuals’ ability to help themselves.
Shame also divides society. While the stigma attaching to policies can be unintentional, sometimes the result of underfunding and staff working under pressure, the public rhetoric of deserving and undeserving exacerbates misunderstanding between rich and poor, nurturing the presumption that the latter are invariably inadequate or dishonest. Often around the world, stigmatising welfare recipients is deliberate and frequently supported by popular opinion. Blaming and shaming are commonly thought to be effective ways of policing access to welfare benefits and regulating anti-social and self-destructive behaviour. However, such beliefs are based on two assumptions that are untenable. The first is that poverty is overwhelmingly of people’s own making, the result of individual inadequacy. This can hardly be the case in Uganda, Pakistan or India. Nor is so elsewhere. Poverty is for the most part structural, caused by factors beyond individual control relating to the workings of the economy, the mix of factors of production and the outcome of primary and secondary resource allocation. The second assumption is that shaming people changes their behaviour enabling them to lift themselves out of poverty. However, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that shaming does not facilitate behavioural change but merely imposes further pain.
Jose, Maryann and Palma were not participants in a research project. Rather they are members of ATD Fourth World, an organisation devoted to giving people in poverty voice, and their testimonials are available to read online. Echoing Martin Luther King, Palma dreams that one day her four children will be judged not by the money in their bank accounts but by the quality of their character.
Headline image credit: ‘Someone Special to Someone, Sometime’ by John W. Iwanski. CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.
This week, I’m especially thankful – thankful I have a solid roof over my head and a home with windows and doors, and readily available food hand-picked from a market, proper medicine and supplies, running water and yes, definitely yes, flushing toilet facilities and a roll of paper always at an arm’s reach to me.
I’m equally thankful I’ve seen with my own eyes, through experiential and cultural travel, a part of the world along the Caribbean Coast, in developing Nicaragua – so now I know what it means to call myself truly fortunate.
I’m thankful for the opportunities, present and past, I’ve had bestowed upon me simply because I’m a red, white and blue, flag-waving American, and thankful to know I could, if I had to, live without surplus and modern conveniences, electricity and things that don’t really matter if it came down to instinctual survival. I am heartened and enlightened to know there are nations of people everywhere, especially in developing countries, that know far more about survival than many of us ever could. And, it is they that have much to show us on what that really means, and globally, we can each benefit from showcasing our cultural differences in a non-exploitative, educational way.
I’m thankful to know I can survive under dire circumstances because I’ve seen people, with my own eyes, who have literally nothing and yet maybe, in some ways, they have everything they could ever want and need, because they know how to live and thrive in some of the poorest conditions on the planet and still know what it means to be a part of a community and to love and support their families.
I’m thankful that I can now put my personal judgements and biases aside, because I’ve seen impoverished children, far more impoverished than I ever was growing up – living below the poverty line in Midwestern America. While many of the people I met may be lacking in opportunity, Nicaraguan children still smile and are happy, because they are each cared for by an entire village of people, and causes, who invest their hearts and souls into their wellbeing and care, despite economic conditions.
Mostly, I am thankful that I have stumbled upon the Finding Corte Magore project which has put me on a personal path to growth and the opportunity to work and mindshare with some of the smartest and caring people I can ever hope to know. I am thankful that we have “found” Corte Magore and that I have had the great pleasure of coming to know the Campbell family, and their beautiful, private island of Hog Cay, Nicaragua, and that I have personally earned their family’s trust and support in the Finding Corte Magore project. It’s a huge undertaking and I’m comforted to know, it will take our own village of incredible people, to raise this project to be everything it promises to be.
See you on Corte Magore!
The Finding Corte Magore Project
Coming Soon on Hog Cay, Nicaragua
The Little Match Girl, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Perhaps the saddest holiday story ever written...the story of a young girl sent out to sell matches on an icy, freezing New Year's Eve...She lights her matches one by one in an effort to keep warm and with each match sees a vision of warmth and comfort. Her last match reveals a vision of her grandmother coming to take her to heaven and she dies in the street on that cold winter's night. A profound story which is heartbreaking, moving, and makes one pause.
The Mighty Miss Malone Christopher Paul Curtis Middle grade
After all the fiscal cliff diving the United States media has practiced in the last forty-eight or so hours, this book seems incredibly fitting to review. Christopher Paul Curtis revisits the height of the Great Depression in Indiana/Michigan - site of his Newbery-winning Bud, Not Buddy - in The Mighty Miss Malone.
The story follows the lives of twelve year-old Deza Malone, her brother Jimmie and parents Peg and Roscoe as their lives spiral downwards into shanty town destitution after Deza's father leaves town to find work, her mother loses her job, and the family, their house.
What happens to a family torn apart by poverty? The Mighty Miss Malone draws a very stark picture. It's not so stark that a young audience will feel overwhelmed, but it is very eye-opening. I watched the effects on my daughters every morning on the way to school (we listened to this book on tape). The enlightenment that life can be very very different, was and, today, is for over fifteen million children nationwide reflected on their faces many mornings.
Curtis provides both a forward and an afterward, first grounding the story in the roots of unshakable family bonds and then providing hard-hitting facts such as the number of children living below the poverty line in the U.S. today. He does a good job of weaving a story that entertains, awakens curiosity and provides information.
From a craft perspective, The Mighty Miss Malone, while solidly built upon characters so real I feel as if I've met them before in my life, follows a plot that is less satisfactory and somewhat random. This could be meant to reflect the very real randomness which wreaks havoc on the lives of so many living at the edge of or in poverty. However, this randomness makes the ultimate resolution to the family's financial woes almost like a deux ex machina. Again, in many ways, finding work during the Great Depression may very well have felt like a deus ex machina. I remember my dad telling me stories about his grandmother, mother of ten children during the Depression, walking down the street and finding a dime and breaking down into tears because she didn't have any money to buy food until she found that dime. So take my comments with that grain of reality salt.
Add to that, however, that Deza does very little to change her plight, unlike Bud, in Bud, Not Buddy, who himself strikes out to find his lone surviving relative. Nor does she solve the internal, emotional struggle, i.e. reuniting the family. Does it matter? Because both the external and internal problems are solved by someone other than the main character, those resolutions are not as intense, nor do they feel as earned. Deza, like the main reader, is along for the ride. We feel with her. We feel acutely. Curtis does an excellent job with that, but we don't ultimately feel satisfied with the story's resolution because Deza hasn't done much to make to it happen. She's suffered, but her suffering doesn't buy her the golden elixir. It's suffering that could continue on indefinitely if someone else (both her mom and her brother) hadn't bought the golden elixir with their actions. Ultimately, it's a bifurcated hero's journey with many hero's solving problems, but none of them is the main protagonist.
Don't let that stop you from reading The Mighty Miss Malone. It's a story worth reading, a time in our history worth revisiting. Maybe if a few members of Congress were to do so, fiscal cliff diving might take on an entirely different meaning.
Oops. Mixing politics with book reviews. Bad, bad reviewer!
For other warm winter reads, plow on over to Barrie Summy's website. Happy 2013!
The struggle for food, water, and shelter are problems commonly associated with the poor. Not as widely addressed is the violence that surrounds poor communities. Corrupt law enforcement, rape, and slavery (to name a few), separate families, destroys homes, ruins lives, and imprisons the poor in their current situations. Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros, authors of The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, have experience in the slums, back alleys, and streets where violence is a living, breathing being — and the work to turn those situations around. Delve into the infographic below and learn how solutions like media coverage and business intervention have begun to positively change countries like the Congo, Cambodia, Peru, and Brazil.
Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros are co-authors of The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. Gary Haugen is the founder and president of International Justice Mission, a global human rights agency that protects the poor from violence. The largest organization of its kind, IJM has partnered with law enforcement to rescue thousands of victims of violence. Victor Boutros is a federal prosecutor who investigates and tries nationally significant cases of police misconduct, hate crimes, and international human trafficking around the country on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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A bi-racial, Jehovah's Witness girl; a poor boy from the trailer park; a nerdy Jewish boy—all victims of school bullying.
Sounds like a perfect trio of protagonists for a serious book of realistic fiction, doesn't it? But it's not—not really. These are the founding members of Tom Angleberger's hilarious new creation, the QwikPick Adventure Society, which makes its debut in a new series, The QwikPick Papers.
So, what do this Jehovah's Witness, Jew, and very poor kid have in common? At first, only that each has nothing to do on Christmas Day. Marilla and Dave don't celebrate Christmas and don't enjoy spending time at home. Lyle's parents have to work at the QwikPick convenience store all day. But don't feel sorry for them. It's the perfect day for a secret mission to visit the Poop Fountain, an antiquated aeration device at the town's waste water treatment plant.
Written as an illustrated "report" by the QwikPick Adventure Society, this novel of only 135 pages, Poop Fountain! is stomach-churning disgusting at times, and hilariously funny at others. That's why kids will love it, but it's not why you should.
You should love it because Angleberger has proved again (as in the Origami Yoda series) that he can tackle sensitive subjects with charm and a good deal of humor.
Everybody else was talking about the Super Bowl coming up that weekend, but we all agreed that it was stupid and football was stupid and the Redskins' mascot was stupid. Unfortunately, Jeremy heard me saying something and hollered down the table, "Hey, if we wanted any of your crap, I'd beat it out of you." "Shove it, Jeremy," said Dave, which was the nicest thing anyone had ever said in my honor. When it was time to go, Marilla said, "Hey, if you want, I'll save this seat for you tomorrow." That was when, without them even knowing it, Marilla and Dave became my best friends.
Other reasons for you to love Poop Fountain!, "shout-outs" to
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency
The Princess Bride (the movie)
Coming to a bookshelf near you in May, 2014. Can't wait 'til May? It's on NetGalley now.
Technology is changing. The climate is changing. Economic inequality is growing. These issues dominate much public debate and shape policy discussions from local city council meetings to the United Nations. Can we tackle them, or are the issues divisive enough that they’ll eventually get the better of us? In terms of global poverty, economist Marcelo Giugale believes that human beings have the resources and will to overcome the dire state of circumstances under which many people live. In this excerpt from his latest book, Economic Development: What Everyone Needs to Know, Giugale asserts that humans have the means to quash abject poverty on a global scale and make it a thing of the past.
Define poverty as living with two dollars a day or less. Now imagine that governments could put those two dollars and one cent in every poor person’s pocket with little effort and minimal waste. Poverty is finished. Of course, things are more complicated than that. But you get a sense of where modern social policy is going—and what will soon be possible.
Nancy Lindborg trip to South Sudan. USAID U.S. Agency for International Development. CC BY-NC 2.0 via USAID Flickr.
To start with, there is a budding consensus—amply corroborated by the 2008–9 global crisis—on what reduces poverty: it is the combination of fast and sustained economic growth (more jobs), stable consumer prices (no inflation), and targeted redistribution (subsidies only to the poor). On those three fronts, developing countries are beginning to make real progress.
So, where will poverty fighters focus next? First, on better jobs. What matters to reduce poverty is not just jobs, but how productive that employment is. This highlights the need for a broad agenda of reforms to make an economy more competitive. It also points toward something much closer to the individual: skills, both cognitive (e.g., critical thinking or communication ability) and non-cognitive (e.g., attitude toward newness or sense of responsibility).
Second, poverty fighters will target projects that augment human opportunity. As will be explained next, it is now possible to measure how important personal circumstances—like skin color, birthplace, or gender—are in a child’s probability of accessing the services—like education, clean water, or the Internet—necessary to succeed in life. That measure, called the Human Opportunity Index, has opened the door for policymakers to focus not just on giving everybody the same rewards but also the same chances, not just on equality but on equity. A few countries, mostly in Latin America, now evaluate existing social programs, and design new ones, with equality of opportunity in mind. Others will follow.
And third, greater focus will be put on lowering social risk and enhancing social protection. A few quarters of recession, a sudden inflationary spike, or a natural disaster, and poverty counts skyrocket—and stay sky-high for years. The technology to protect the middle class from slipping into poverty, and the poor from sinking even deeper, is still rudimentary in the developing world. Just think of the scant coverage of unemployment insurance.
But the real breakthrough is that, to raise productivity, expand opportunity, or reduce risk, you now have a power tool: direct cash transfers. Most developing countries (thirty-five of them in Africa) have, over the last ten years, set up logistical mechanisms to send money directly to the poor—mainly through debit cards and cell phones. Initially, the emphasis was on the conditions attached to the transfer, such as keeping your child in school or visiting a clinic if you were pregnant. It soon became clear that the value of these programs was to be found less in their conditions than in the fact that they forced government agencies to know the poor by name. Now we know where they live, how much they earn, and how many kids they have.
That kind of state–citizen relationship is transforming social policy. Think of the massive amount of information it is generating in real time—how much things actually cost, what people really prefer, what impact government is having, what remains to be done. This is helping improve the quality of expenditures, that is, better targeting, design, efficiency, fairness, and, ultimately, results. It also helps deal with shocks like the global crisis (have you ever wondered why there was no social explosion in Mexico when the US economy nose-dived in early 2009?). Sure, giving away taxpayers’ money was bound to cause debate (how do you know you are not financing bums?). But so far, direct transfers have survived political transitions, from left to right (Chile) and from right to left (El Salvador). The debate has been about doing transfers well, not about abandoning them.
A final point. For all the promise of new poverty-reduction techniques, just getting everybody in the developing world over the two-dollar-a-day threshold would be no moral success. To understand why, try to picture your own life on a two-dollar-a-day budget (really, do it). But it would be a very good beginning.
Marcelo M. Giugale is the Director of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programs for Africa at the World Bank and the author of Economic Development: What Everyone Needs to Know. A development expert and writer, his twenty-five years of experience span Africa, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin-America and the Middle-East. He received decorations from the governments of Bolivia and Peru, and taught at American University in Cairo, the London School of Economics, and Universidad Católica Argentina.
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There seems to be an international day for almost every issue these days, and today, 20 June, is the turn of refugees.
When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) releases its annual statistics on refugees today, these are likely to make for gloomy reading. They will show that there are more refugees today than any previous year during the 21st century, well over 16 million. They will demonstrate how in three years Syria has become the single largest origin for refugees worldwide – around one in seven Syrians has now fled their country, including one million children.
The statistics will also show that solutions for refugees are becoming harder to achieve. Fewer refugees are able to return home. Palestinian refugees still do not have a home; there are still almost three million Afghan refugees, many of whom have been outside their country for generations. The number of refugees who are resettled to richer countries remains stable but small, while the number offered the chance to integrate permanently in host countries is dwindling.
The risk of World Refugee Day, like other international days, is that it will raise awareness of these and other challenges for a few days, before the media cycle and public attention moves on. But there are at least three ways that even passing interest can make a lasting difference.
First, a global overview provides the opportunity to place national concerns in a wider context. Many people and countries fear that they are under siege; that there are more asylum seekers, fewer of whom are recognised as refugees, who pose challenges to the welfare system, education and housing, and even national security. What the statistics invariably show, however, is that the large majority of refugees worldwide are hosted by poorer countries. Iran and Pakistan have hosted over one million Afghan refugees for over 30 years; there are millions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. It is in these countries that refugees may have a real impact, on the environment or labour market or health services, for example, yet by and large these poorer countries and their citizens continue to extend hospitality to refugees.
Second, World Refugee Day should be the day not just to take stock of refugee numbers, but also to ask why their numbers are rising. Refugees are a symptom of failures in the international system. There is no end in sight for the current conflict in Syria. The withdrawal of most international troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 is likely to make the country more insecure and generate a further exodus. Persistent and recurrent conflicts in Somalia, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to generate refugees. In all these countries poverty and inequality intersect with insecurity to drive people from their homes. Climate change is likely to exacerbate these effects.
In an effort to bring forth the latest research and make this World Refugee Day count, Oxford University Press has gathered a collection of noteworthy journal articles addressing the latest policies, trends and issues faced by refugees around the globe and made them freely available to you. Simply explore the map above for links to these free articles.
Third, World Refugee Day brings research to the fore. The statistics needs to be analysed and trends explained. The stories behind the statistics need to be explored. Why are so many asylum seekers risking their lives to travel long distances? What are the actual impacts – positive and negative – of asylum seekers and refugees? Researchers can also leverage passing media interest by providing evidence to correct misperceptions where they exist.
This is what I see as the purpose of the Journal of Refugee Studies: to publish cutting edge research on refugees; to correct public debate; to inform policy; and to maintain attention on one of the most pressing global issues of our time. Refugees deserve more than one day in the spotlight.
Dr. Khalid Koser is Deputy Director and Academic Dean at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and Editor of the Journal of Refugee Studies. He was also recently appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.
Journal of Refugee Studies aims to publish cutting edge research on refugees; to correct public debate; to inform policy; and to maintain attention on one of the most pressing global issues of our time. The Journal covers all categories of forcibly displaced people. Contributions that develop theoretical understandings of forced migration, or advance knowledge of concepts, policies and practice are welcomed from both academics and practitioners. Journal of Refugee Studies is a multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journal, and is published in association with the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford.
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A new report from America’s Promise Alliance finds that students who leave high school without graduating are often overwhelmed by a cluster of negative impacts of poverty. You can read the full 72 page report (pdf) online, but here are some highlights (if that’s even the right word) to note:
Approximately 20 percent of young people (that’s about 800,000 per year) don’t graduate from high school
Toxic home, school, or neighborhood environments–sources of violence, disrespect and adverse health–lead young people to stop going to school
Connectedness to others can lead young people both toward and away from school
Even young people who are able to “bounce back” from an interrupted education are often unable to re-engage in the longer-term
So what does all this mean for libraries?
Libraries are uniquely poised to be an ideal space for young people looking to continue or re-engage with their education. We offer materials, programs and services regardless of income or whether a patron’s parent is incarcerated. Public libraries can be an island of consistency for young people who experience homelessness or move often, leaving little connection with the multiple schools in which they enroll.
Library policies, however, don’t always support young people whose educational path varies from the four year high school model. Here are three ways you can help teens at risk of dropping out or trying to re-engage with their education:
1. Reconsider “truancy.” Some public libraries immediately report or kick out teens who try to access books and services during the school day, but where does that leave a young person who may be trying to find out how to earn a GED, how to qualify for food stamps, or even how to enroll in a neighborhood school? In school libraries, students with unique medical situations or other tutoring needs may find themselves with alternative schedules and need a place to go for part of the day. Does your library support these teens?
2. Revisit your post-secondary resources. If your local school community is largely focused on getting students into four-year colleges, you may be missing students with other plans. Does your test prep collection include GED prep or materials for students interested in joining the military, like ASVAB for Dummies? Does your college section include information on local community or technical colleges? Also remember that older teens may be struggling to complete high school after their peers have already graduated; they still need your help!
3. Work with community partners. The America’s Promise Alliance report includes information on the 16 partner groups from each interview city, but there are many, many more–including groups that want to work with libraries. Some libraries now have relationships with hospitals and have social workers on staff. Which groups in your community could help address the unique needs of teens struggling to stay engaged or re-engage with their education?
Looking for help starting the conversation with a teen at your library? Check out Answering Teens’ Tough Questions, part of YALSA’s Teens at the Library series.
Someone asked me at a recent book talk why I chose to write about hope and children in poverty. They asked whether it was frivolous to write about such a topic at a time when children are experiencing the challenges associated with poverty and economic disadvantage at high rates. As I thought about that question, I began to reflect on the stories of people I know and families I’ve worked with who, despite the challenges they experienced, were managing their lives successfully. I also reflected on popular figures who shared stories in the media about the ways in which they overcame early adversity in their lives.
As I reflected on these stories, it occurred to me that a common theme among these individuals was hope. I began to see the various ways in which hope is a highly influential and motivating force in their lives. This kind of hope is not passive—it is not merely wishing for a better life, but it is active. It involves thinking, planning, and acting on those thoughts and plans to achieve desired outcomes. It is the driving force that keeps us moving despite the adversity and allows us to adapt and to be resilient in the midst of these circumstances. In reflecting on these themes, I decided that I wanted to tell these stories and to link the stories with theoretical frameworks that help illuminate why I believe hope is so important. Most of the theories and ideas I discuss are well known to those of us who study children and families. However, it occurred to me that practitioners and policymakers may not be so familiar with these ideas and may find them useful in planning their work with children and families. My goal is to foster understandings of hope and resilience in practical terms so that together researchers, practitioners, and policymakers alike can help more children and families manage their circumstances and chart pathways toward well-being.
So when I think about a response to the question “Why focus on hope?” — I respond “Why not?” Why not focus on strengths rather than deficits? Why not focus our interventions, legislative activities, and funding priorities on processes that will motivate individuals to strive for the best outcomes for themselves and their children? In so doing, we can formulate an action agenda on behalf of children and families that first assumes they can and will succeed in rising above their circumstances.
As I learned from the families I interviewed, success means different things to different families. For some, success is being able to keep their family together—have dinner together, talk with each other, and support each other. For other families, success means being able to be a good parent– to go to bed at night realizing that you’ve provided for your child emotionally, spiritually as well as materially, and that by doing so, your child might have an even better opportunity than you did to achieve success. These individuals are truly courageous. They have overcome many obstacles and are striving to continue along that path. There are countless other courageous individuals who may never have the opportunity to tell their stories or to have their experiences validated with concepts and theories I discuss from the psychological literature. I hope this volume will represent their lives too. I challenge those of us who work with children and families and who advocate for or legislate on their behalf, to have the courage to “ hope” and to allow that hope to be a motivating and unrelenting force in our efforts to foster resilience and well-being in these families.
Dr. Valerie Maholmeshas devoted her career to studying factors that affect child developmental outcomes. Low-income minority children have been a particular focus of her research, practical, and civic work. She has been a faculty member at the Yale Child Study Center in the Yale School of Medicine where she held the Irving B. Harris Assistant Professorship of Child Psychiatry, an endowed professorial chair. She is the author of Fostering Resilience and Well-Being in Children and Families in Poverty.
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Peter Gill is a journalist specialising in developing world affairs, and first travelled to Ethiopia in the 1960s. He has made films in and reported from Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, South Africa, Uganda, and Sudan, as well as Ethiopia. He recently led BBC World Service Trust campaigns on leprosy and HIV/AIDS in India. His new book is Famine and Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid, which is the story of what has happened in the country since the famous music and television events 25 years ago.
This third and final part of our ‘Ethiopia Since Live Aid’ blog feature is an original post by Peter Gill, in which he discusses the West’s view of aid and Africa. If you missed it, on Tuesday we read an excerpt from the book, and yesterday we ran an exclusive Q&A with Peter.
This 2010 ‘Summer of Africa’ has been promoted as a moment of transformation – an acknowledgment that the continent may at last be on the move, that it may be beginning to cast off its image as global basket case, ceasing to be a ‘scar on the conscience of humanity,’ in the phrase of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
It was 25 years ago in July that a great Ethiopian famine and the Live Aid concert which it inspired underlined the physical and moral enormity of mass death by starvation. These events defined popular outrage at the human cost of extreme poverty and began to build an extraordinary consensus around the merits of aid. A generation later, in the teeth of financial gales in the rich world, this consensus is under increasing scrutiny.
Of course aid works and it works at many levels. Charity is an essential characteristic of social relationships. It saves lives and it helps individuals, families, sometimes whole communities to improve their existence. What the big aid flows – from governments and charities – have not done is to change the face of poor societies, to overcome the disgrace of extreme poverty.
Now the western world may have missed its opportunity to fix the problem. It may no longer have the means. It is also far too preoccupied with addressing the processes of how best to deliver aid, and has failed to sort out whether it had the right strategy in the first place.
What went wrong, I believe, is that we kept seeing Africa in our own image – as we would like it to be, rather than as it was. The colonial period may have become history, but the colonial mindset of ‘we-know-best’ has surely persisted. We compounded the error by allowing our hearts to rule our heads in how we spend the aid money. We have been more troubled by the symptoms of poverty than to see where our help was most needed.
Our fortunate way of the life in the West – prosperity allied with liberal democratic forms of government – may be the envy and the aspiration of many in the poor world, but did that give us the right in the name of ‘good governance’ to insist that there are quick and easy steps to achieving it? In the decades after Europe’s helter-skelter decolonisation, was it realistic to ignore the lessons of our own tortured political evolution and demand swift democratic reform as a condition of aid?
Our rich world sensibilities have, rightly, been offended by deaths from preventable diseases and we have, again rightly, poured money into ever more ambitious health initiatives. But we have made little corresponding effort to help African women plan their families by plugging the huge gap in contraceptive needs. Aid expenditure on family planning has actually fallen in the past de
Michael L. Gillette is the current executive director of Humanities Texas, the state humanities council. Before serving as the executive director, he directed the LBJ Library’s Oral History Program from 1976 to 1991, and then became the director of the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives for twelve years after. His new book, Launching the War on Poverty: An Oral History, pieces together oral history interviews with former president Lyndon B. Johnson and his team of advisers as they undertook the Great Society’s greatest challenge.
This excerpt is taken from an interview with Robert J. Lampman, a staff member of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) from 1962 to 1963 who worked in the Kennedy Administration along with Walter Heller, chairman of the CEA. The Saturday Group, called so because of their Saturday “brown bag” lunches, would meet informally (at first) to discuss how they could approach the problem of poverty and solutions that could be brought about with assistance from the government. Their luncheons were the beginnings of a social movement that would become pivotal in giving assistance where it was needed. Their work is still seen today, in the forms of public assistance that we once never had an option of choosing when survival was the only thing that was of importance.
THE SATURDAY GROUP
LAMPMAN: In that period, May to June , somewhere along in there, Heller asked me to take part in writing up the possible meaning of an attack on poverty- lots of different phrases were used-and to meet with a group of people around Washington at the assistant secretary level and pick brains and get suggestions and criticisms of the idea. We dealt with people from the Bureau of the Budget; from HEW [Health, Education, and Welfare Department] (Wilbur Cohen was an assistant secretary, as I recall, at the time); from labor (Pat Moynihan [Daniel Patrick Moynihan] was the assistant secretary [of Labor]); from Agriculture; from Department of Justice.
There were just a few meetings, as I recall. We’d meet for an afternoon once every couple of weeks or something like that. It was all very tentative and very low-key, at least to start with. People were just speaking their minds. It was almost an academic sort of seminar. Indeed, it was interesting how many people there were Ph.D.s or were backed up by a scholar who was associated with the work. And we had represented people from different disciplines. There were people like Moynihan, who was a political scientists; and Cohen, who was an old hand in the income maintenance field but who was especially interested in this as an issue. There were statisticians, and then there were lawyers. People had very different approaches to the whole question.
We would get into discussion about the definition of poverty. What kind of a concept and what kind of a numbers frame would you have in mind? Some people would say poverty obviously means lack of money income. That had the great merit of being something we had some numbers on. We could say how many people there were above and below some line and where they were and so on. But other people said that’s really not what poverty means; poverty is more or sometimes even less than money. It’s a spiritual concept; or it’s a participation-in-government concept; or it’s a lack of some kind of self-esteem, sort of a psychological or im
The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.
In December 2000, there were two stories in the Baltimore Sun about two different men, both named Wes Moore. One had just won a Rhodes scholarship, one was wanted in connection with a jewelry store robbery in which an off-duty police officer was murdered. For years, the Wes Moore that won the Rhodes scholarship wondered about the other Wes Moore, who was now in prison, serving a life sentence without the chance of parole. They both grew up poor at the same time, without fathers. Why did one end up speaking at the Democratic National Convention mere hours before Obama accepted the nomination and one end up in prison?
This book doesn't answer the question, because they're not clear. But it tells a story of two boys who grow into two men and the choices they made and why. It shows two very similiar, and two very different lives. I could talk about the details of their lives, but you should read it for yourself to find out. Or, watch Moore explain his book to Stephen Colbert: embed clip:
By the time I had finished my first novel, THE DOG IN THE WOOD, I had already lived in New Delhi for six years and knew that my next book would take place in India. Often, when arriving at or leaving from the New Delhi train station I had seen street kids, barefoot and dressed in shabby clothes, scavenging the tracks for food. I wondered about their stories and the circumstances that would cause a child to run away and end up living in the train station. So I began researching about street children in India while Akash, the main character of my new novel, SARASWATI’S WAY, was taking shape in my head.
I contacted the Salaam Baalak Trust an NGO that works with these homeless boys and also offers daily tours around the train station and adjacent area. The tours are led by young men who are former street children themselves. I took the tour several times and also met the guides alone; to ask specific questions and later fact check what I had written in the book. From these guides I learned that the kids who stay at the train station join together in gangs, searching the trains for food and bottles or magazines to sell. The guides showed me the kids’ hiding places and explained how they pay the vendors on the platform for protection from the police.
Bloggers, please add your link below. Readers, I hope you visit all of today's posters.
Osborne, Mary Pope and Natalie Pope Boyce. 2010. Rags and Riches: Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens. (Magic Tree House Research Guide series #22)New York: Random House.
This is the companion book to A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time, a historical fantasy romp through Dickens' A Christmas Carol,which is why it has the subtitle, Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens, when "Kids in the Victorian Era" might seem more logical.
Charles Dickens lived from 1812 - 1870, largely in the Victoria Era. Queen Victoria reigned from 1837- 1901. Rich or poor, life was difficult for Britain's children in those days. Rich children suffered from serious diseases and were raised largely apart from their parents. Boys were sent away to strict schools while girls studied at home with a governess those subjects which were thought most likely to win them a suitable husband - French, dancing, drawing, music. Of course, they were still much better off than the poor children and street children who filled the streets of London. They slept outside in rags or lived in debtors' prisons or squalid housing. They often worked in dangerous factories for long hours with little or no pay - beginning as young as five years old! Cholera and typhoid were epidemic. Life for a poor child in the time of Charles Dickens was wretched. Rags to Riches explains all these facets of Victorian Era life and more, with liberal use of sketches and period photographs.
It is doubtful that any child can read the accounts in the chapter, "Jobs for Poor Kids," and not be affected. Imagine life as a climbing boy, often only five or six years old,
Since they were small, they could squeeze through narrow parts of the chimney. Climbing boys climbed to the top of the chimney and swept the coal dust out on their way back down. They got cuts and bruises from the jagged bricks. To toughen up their skin, salt water was rubbed into it. If the boys got scared and stopped climbing, the chimney sweeps jabbed their feet with pins or lit fires to keep them moving. At times climbing boys got burned or stuck in the chimneys and suffocated.
Quite a different reality from the friendly, Bert, of Mary Poppins fame!
A children's highlight from the Victoria Era? The birth of the modern children's picture book - Beatrix Potter's illustrated Tales of Peter Rabbit. Of course, without money, poor children likely only glimpsed the tiny little books through shop windows.
This is not an easy topic for which to create a research guide. A chronological approach does not work well, and the many aspects of a child's life are almost too large in scope for a book of this small scale. Still, Pope has created a semblance of order, dividing the topic into six chapters: 'Hard Times for Kids," "What Charles Dickens Saw," "The London of Dickens," "Jobs for Poor Kids," Rich Kids," and "How
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London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew is an extraordinary work of investigative journalism, a work of literature, and a groundbreaking work of sociology. It centres on hundreds of interviews conducted by Mayhew with London’s street traders, beggars, and thieves, which provide unprecedented insight into the day-to-day struggle for survival on London’s streets in the 19th century.
In the video below, our edition’s editor, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, explains why he believes it is still well worth reading today. The interview was conducted by George Miller for Podularity. Robert has previously written this post for OUPblog.
With all the ambitious international goals and targets that developing countries have committed to, from poverty reduction to universal education and access to health care, we’ve observed a not uncommon response by the governments: too strong a focus on the public image of the new programs, not strong enough a focus on making the programs truly accessible. Here’s an example to illustrate our point: On a daily basis, Mexicans are exposed to immeasurable social development propaganda from government agencies. The propaganda is unavoidable because these messages are disseminated via commercials on public transportation, highway billboards, TV and radio, and posters in the most rural communities. Some of the current hot topics of these campaigns are diabetes and childhood obesity, nonviolence toward women and anti-corruption laws.
“Vivir Mejor” (“Live Better”) is the federal government’s umbrella strategy behind many of these flashy ads, and its aim is to eliminate extreme poverty and promote sustainable human development throughout the country. The rainbow-colored logo is impossible to miss and is stamped on nearly everything the government is involved with. “Vivir Mejor” social development campaigns share with the public the services they are entitled to. A man that never got the chance to study when he was young is now completing his secondary education – and you can do the same, for free! A smiling woman is receiving free prenatal health care –and you can sign up for it as well, it’s simple! In addition, many of the “Vivir Mejor” campaigns encourage the public to exercise their rights. This involves procedures like signing up for government health insurance, filing a report in the case of sexual harassment, and requesting information from the government’s transparency portals.
Making people aware of their rights and the social programs they can benefit from is indispensable…in theory. How can these types of public campaigns possibly be inefficient? Why aren’t poor people in Mexico seeking health care or going back to school or reporting abuse of their basic human rights? The first problem is most obvious: there are incredible structural barriers to accessing social services in Mexico; widespread corruption and absurdly bureaucratic procedures prevent Mexicans from registering for social programs or filing reports when their rights are violated.
The second problem is less obvious, but its solution is essential for Mexico to achieve its development objectives: there is a severe lack of civic engagement in Mexico. The lack of participation in pubic affairs that this implies results in the absence of social action and citizen monitoring, as well as the underutilization of government programs. The unengaged citizen lacks psychological preparedness for accessing his or her rights and seeking opportunities for personal development. Some examples of psychosocial barriers to participatory citizenship include the internalization of feelings of inferiority, a lack of intrinsic incentive to bring about change, and insufficient communication and team work skills. All of these factors are directly related to what’s been labeled “low intensity citizenship” in Mexico (Ochoa Espejo).
The solution to the problems we mention lies in the development of an individual’s personal agency. In other words, she needs to feel empowered and entitled to make changes in her life. If social programs were designed to facilitate the acquisition of psychosocial tools like assertive communication, autonomous decision-making, and critical thinking in addition to classic welfare services, citizens would become participatory agents of change. Once engaged, the everyday citizen has an incredible pow
Warren, Jill. (2011) Abe’s Lucky Day. Outskirts Press Inc. ISBN 978-1-4327-7305-2. Age 8 and under.
Publisher’s description: Any day can be a lucky day. Abe is a homeless man who lives in the alley behind a bakery and winter is coming. What will happen on his lucky day that will change his life?
Introducing us to the varied faces of distress and homelessness, Abe’s Lucky Day reminds us that , while food, warm clothes and dry beds feel great, helping others feels even better. Illustrations permit the child to imagine themselves in the story, and so can feel the heartwarming rewards of selflessness…definitely good for your Litland.com family book club or a preschool classroom. Part luck and lots of kindness, Abe’s Lucky Day infuses a desire for kindness and generosity into its reader’s mind and heart, and is sure to strengthen bonds within the family reading it as well :>) Great for gift-giving, pick up your copy in our Litland.com Bookstore!
Recently, Professor Ian Sheldon spoke with three eminent economists about some key economic issues of the day, including the views of Professor Robert Hall of Stanford University on the current slow recovery of the US economy; University of Queensland Professor John Quiggin’s thoughts on climate change and policy; and World Bank economist Dr Martin Ravallion’s recent findings on poverty and economic growth.
Further policy-orientated discussions are covered in the journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, including articles on climate change and poverty, trade and agricultural policies in developing countries, the causes of food price volatility, and the economics of animal welfare.
Professor Robert Hall on the US economy:
[See post to listen to audio]
Professor John Quiggin on climate change and policy:
Ian Sheldon is currently the Andersons Professor of International Trade at the Ohio State University. His research interests focus on the impact of trade policy. He is an Editor for Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, responsible for articles on a wide range of issues concerning economic analysis and public policy.
Before I finish out this month’s blog challenge, I’d like to take a few moments to talk about something to which most of us can relate.
When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, my parents and grandparents taught us lessons. Some of those lessons came at the end of a parent’s arm, in the form of a solid hand landing on a padded behind. That was before the days when self-expression was encouraged and corporal punishment was banned as being barbaric and cruel.
I’m just making a point about the differences in society between then and now.
One of the big lessons taught in our household, and in many other homes as well, was that there were places in the world where people went hungry on a daily basis, and that we should be grateful for what was placed before us on the table.
I think everyone between the ages of 45 and 100 has echoing voices in your heads right now that testify to that piece of instruction.
My family was considered slightly poor by the standards of children raised in town, whose folks worked in a shop, for IBM, or the university. My dad was blue-collar, and we lived in the country. Those were big considerations back then, too. I didn’t know any of that until high school.
We didn’t go without food, clothing, shelter, fun, a good car, or the rest of the material things that “mattered.” Most of those living in the country had as many or, in come cases, more of their needs taken care of, than those in town, without our mothers having to work outside the home.
We knew we had it good. It was understood. We learned by example when Mom took the time and effort to feed those who came to the door and asked for food and something to drink. Hobos were common in those days.
Our country culture demanded that we provide sustenance to those in need. It never occurred to her to turn someone away without at least a meal and clean, cold water to drink. Usually she gave them iced tea and whatever was leftover from dinner the evening before.
All of which brings us back to the question of that hunger lesson. I know that there are thousands of children all over the U.S. who go to bed knowing real hunger. I was never one of them, thank God, but I’ve known my share of them over the years.
I got to thinking about that this afternoon, and the admonition drilled into children to this day at the dinner table. Children cannot relate to something they’ve never experienced or seen first-hand. Unless the child who lives in the well-kept house, with all the toys scattered unthinkingly throughout, actually sees the consequences of hunger, it’s impossible to get the lesson across.
I’m tempted to wager that the majority middle-class and upper-lower-class citizens have never known hunger in this country. They haven’t gone a few days without something to eat and decent water to drink. If they had experienced real hunger on a regular basis, I doubt it would not exist in the country for long.
The realization of this difference between my generation and those coming up blazed
April is National Poetry Month, and I realize that I've almost let the month slip away without any poetry book reviews. Just in time, I came across my Advance Reader Copy of Looking for Me, which went on sale April 17.
Rosenthal, Betsy R. 2012. Looking for Me. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Based on the real stories of her mother and many aunts and uncles, Betsy Rosenthal tells a story in verse of her mother, Edith - the fourth child in a large, Jewish, Depression-era family in Baltimore,
Family Portrait, Baltimore, 1936
We're lined up:
girl boy, girl boy, girl boy, girl boy, girl boy
and in the middle of us all, Dad,
who ordered us to smile
right before the Brownie clicked,
standing stiff as a soldier
no smile on his face,
and Mom's beside him,
a baby in her arms
and in her rounded belly
just a trace.
Girl, boy, girl, boy, count them up - twelve children in a row house, sleeping three to a bed, always short of money, new clothes and food. Edith's teacher asks her to write about her family, but she doesn't write about herself. After all, who is she in this great big family? Looking for Me chronicles Edith's quest to find individualism in a time when, seemingly, there was no time for such frivolous thoughts. Rosenthal's poetic style varies from free verse, to concrete to metered rhymes. The subject matter varies as well - following the ups and downs of a year in Edith's life, which, while harsh and disciplined, also held moments of great joy and fun,
They're Lucky I Found Them
Lenny, Sol, and Jack
said Mom left them sleeping
on the sofa bed,
or so she thought,
and ran to the store.
But after she left,
they started to bounce
and bounce some more.
Then the bed closed up
and they were stuck
until I cam home
and changed their luck.
Some poems are heart-wrenching depictions of life as an 11-year-old Jewish girl who has been touched by death, poverty, meanness, bigotry, and indifference. Others are uplifting,
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