When most people think about the homeless they don’t usually picture 11 year old honor students. However, in Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobsen, Arianna (Ari) Hazard finds herself just that. Her mother and father are both dead, and she and her 19 year old brother Gage have lived with their mother’s old friend, Janna, for four years. Things start to unravel when Gage can no longer put up with Janna, who is very critical of him. Determined to keep his family together, Gage persuades Ari to leave with him and live together in an apartment. Ari feels disloyal to Janna, but wants to keep the promise they made to their dying mother to stay together. When they leave, she finds out that Gage doesn’t have an apartment for them after all. They are homeless.
Ari is an honors student hoping to carry on the family tradition by attending Carter Middle School for the gifted. She has a best friend, Sasha, who shares the same dream, and a collection of “Paper Things” as she calls them. The Paper Things are a collection of paper dolls she made into her pretend family from magazines and catalogs. For Ari, they give her a sense of family and security.
Afraid to tell anyone because she doesn’t want Gage to get in trouble, she struggles to keep up with homework, attend her after school volunteer work, and make sure her clothes and hair are clean, all the while spending nights on various couches and in homeless shelters. Her friendships and dreams are in jeopardy. Even with all her troubles, Ari works to contribute to her school by trying to persuade her strict new principal that the students need fun events too, like crazy hat day and a sleepover in the library for 5th graders.
This book will turn your ideas about the homeless upside down. You’ll root for Ari and Gage as they try to get back on their feet. This isn’t a depressing story, but one that celebrates family, determination, and optimism. You’ll see how important a little kindness can be to people. Maybe you’ll even look at the homeless a little differently.
380 pages 978-0763663230 Ages 10 and up
Recommended by: Mrs. Sue Crean, Library Media Specialist/21st Century Skills Teacher, Connecticut USA
When forced to choose between staying with her guardian and being with her big brother, Ari chose her big brother. There’s just one problem — Gage didn’t actually have a place to live. How can Ari keep up with school, her best friend, and middle-school applications when she’s “couch surfing” — a night here with Gage’s friend in a tiny apartment, a night there with Gage’s girlfriend and her two roommates — and even, when necessary, sneaking into a juvenile shelter? Told in an open, authentic voice, this nuanced story of hiding in plain sight may have readers thinking about homelessness in a whole new way.---from the publisher
Keywords: empathy, homelessness, understanding others, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old