Kate Milner’s It’s a No-Money Day

h1 November 15th, 2019 by jules

7-Imp is, for all intents and purposes, an art blog. I pretty much don’t write a post in which I don’t feature sketches and/or art from a picture book creator. But today is an exception. Today, though I don’t have spreads from the book to show you, I want to at least draw attention to a new picture book, out in the UK — Kate Milner’s It’s a No-Money Day. I’ve no idea if there are plans to publish this book here in the States. (I ordered my copy online, and it made its way across the ocean.)

I’ve a particular interest in books that depict children living in (or near) poverty, as this book does. American picture books, on the whole, tend to be represent very suburban, middle-class lives. I do hope this story — about a mother and daughter with empty cupboards, who head to a foodbank for some groceries — makes its way to American shelves. As the Children’s Defense Fund states:

About 1 in 6 children — 11.9 million in total — were poor in 2018. More than 5 million of these children lived in extreme poverty at less than half the poverty level. Nearly 3 in 4 poor children were children of color. The youngest children were most likely to be poor, with nearly 1 in 5 children under 5 living in poverty during the years of rapid brain development.

Why shouldn’t these children also see themselves in the picture books they read? Stories like this can also go a long way in opening the eyes of children who live a life of economic privilege, who may not otherwise think about what it’s like to wonder where your next meal will come from. Mirrors and windows, as we always say in children’s literature (with a nod to the great Rudine Sims Bishop).

Eight years ago, researchers Jane E. Kelley, Ed.D., and Janine J. Darragh, Ph.D, analyzed nearly 60 fictional picture books and found that “while in some areas the books accurately reflect the reality in the United States today, there are other areas in which poverty is misrepresented.” (Their research was published in a 2011 issue — v50, n4 — of Reading Horizons.) In 2015, Christine Newell at the University of Northern Iowa analyzed the representation of poverty and homelessness in children’s nonfiction literature; she looked at a 15-book sample (K-6 nonfiction books) and generally liked what she saw (“It was found that current demographics of poverty were depicted throughout a majority of the books analyzed”), but she stresses the need for young readers’ access to such books, which can be problematic. (You can read her study here.)

Anecdotally speaking, as someone who has blogged about picture books for nearly 15 years now, I can tell you that it’s rare to see children from poor families represented in books. I was intrigued when I read here at The Guardian about Milner’s book. In that piece, Aditya Chakrabortty describes the book as “Britain’s first picture book about families going hungry.” In this story, a girl wakes up hungry and eats the last piece of toast. (“Luckily Mum isn’t hungry,” we read.) The girl knows her Mum works hard, and she keeps an ever-present eye on the “everything-else jar”; when it fills up, they can get a kitten. But on this day, a no-money day, the girl does all the fun, free things she can — visits the library, practices her singing, and constructs a cat out of one of her mother’s dresses.

They head to the foodbank, the mother discouraged and the girl, excited. The book devotes three full spreads to their experience there. The mother and daughter pair know that, “because of kind people,” their tummies will be full that night.

You can see a couple of illustrations from the book at that Guardian piece. You can also visit this blog post at Library Lady, in which Milner talks a bit about the book’s artwork.

What are your recommendations for picture books (American or otherwise) that depict children living in poverty or living in families that have come upon hard times? One of my favorites has always been Lynne Rae Perkins’s Home Lovely, which features a girl who lives in a trailer. More recently (Perkins’s book was published in 1995), there’s been Eve Bunting’s Yard Sale (2015), illustrated by Lauren Castillo (see more here), and Lois Brandt’s Maddi’s Fridge (2014), illustrated by Vin Vogel.

5 comments to “Kate Milner’s It’s a No-Money Day

  1. I WHOLLY believe there ought to be more books like this in the US – where we’re much more apt to have no-money days than in the UK where there is some kind of a safety net (though tattered in England as compared to Scotland). Thanks for highlighting this one; I did find when I lived in the UK that there were far more fully realistic novels there for children – sometimes made for difficult reading, but …necessary.

  2. Tanita: Yes, good points, especially about the absence of safety nets.

    For anyone who may be reading, these are some suggestions that have come in (to my question at the end of the post) via social media:

    TIGHT TIMES by Barbara Shook Hazen and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

    THE CAN MAN by Laura E. Williams

    A CHAIR FOR MY MOTHER by Vera B. Williams

    LENA’S SLIPPERS by Ioana Hobai

    THE ONE DAY HOUSE by Julia Durango and illustrated by Bianca Diaz

    THOSE SHOES by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

  3. YOU AND ME AND HOME SWEET HOME by George Ella Lyon and illustrated by Stephanie Anderson.

  4. Let us not forget ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE by Marcy Campell and illustrated by Corinna Luyken: http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=4592.

  5. Another one recommended: PABLO FINDS A TREASURE by Andrée Poulin and illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant

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