by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Gregory Rogers - Scholastic, 1993
ages 4 to grown-up / emotional resilience, s.o.s.e., read-it-before-you-need-it
Every so often, when our local charity calls to ask for help—or when the kids seem a bit ratty—the primary school my children attended cooks food for the homeless. They cook the most delicious array of curries, rice, chutneys, cakes and so on.
As you can imagine, most children have very little personal experience with homelessness (Would that that were true for all children!). So it can be hard, especially for younger children, to get an understanding of the reality of homelessness. And of course we, as their parents and teachers, want just the right dose of reality—not so much that it becomes crippling to little souls. Space Travellers does just that.
It’s the story of Zac and his mother Mandy who live in a rocket. The rocket is a piece of play equipment in a park.
In the course of the story, Zac and Mandy have the promise of a room in a house. They move out of the rocket and ‘gift’ it to their friend Dorothy (who promptly gets a cat).
Children’s books about homelessness are hard to find and this one strikes just the right note. Zac and Mandy are homeless, but very far from helpless. Instead, they are resourceful and hopeful.
They wash in the restrooms of a railway station and make plans for Zac to go to school and for Mandy to try to get a job, now that they will have a room. They have a loving relationship and friends to whom they remain loyal.
The friends share a feast to celebrate Zac and Mandy getting a room and they each bring what they have, mostly food gifted to them from local business people.
I love that detail—it gives a hint that small acts of kindness really do help and gives a sense of capability to readers. But I think my very favourite part of the story is when Dorothy (who inherits the rocket):
‘hobbles off quick smart to the library to find out everything about Jupiter and Mars and Pluto, actually.’
I just love that she is heading to the library—her face determined, interested and joyful.
This is an obvious choice if your child is cooking for the homeless and it does a great job of humanising and connecting. But it’s also great to read when your child has no personal connection with a homeless person. It does more than teach about homelessness—there are also themes of self-reliance, sharing, making do and so much more.
The only place to buy this book at the time of writing was Amazon. Our original copy went missing after one of the cooking days and I couldn’t find it for sale new anywhere so I bought second hand—that may be the only way to get this book, which is a shame.