I am a very privileged person. Growing up, we may not have had everything we could’ve wanted, but we were never hungry or in need. Poverty was just something I read about in my many, many books. I recently had a conversation with my eleven-year-old sister about why certain people act the way they do. We talked about how much we have to be thankful for and how “hurting people hurt people.” We wound up referencing “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes, a wonderful book about a little girl who wears the same dress to school every day, but claims quite brazenly that she has a hundred dresses at home. This gave me the idea for the post you’re reading. Which stories have helped me relate to and understand the poor? I’m sharing seven that come to mind.
1. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
This winner of the 1945 Newberry Honor is a timeless short chapter book for kids. It is one of those stories which perhaps couldn’t be written for adults, but is easily taken in by children. The story revolves around Polish immigrant, Wanda Petronski, who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress to school every day. To avoid bullying, Wanda claims she has a hundred dresses at home. This story doesn’t not necessarily have a happy ending, but an important lesson is learned by the other girls in Wanda’s class and by generations of readers.
2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
After falling in love with the 2005 BBC miniseries, I read this novel during a road trip. Several years later, I still think back on it often. I never expected to find such themes of generosity, fair trading practices and social justice in a book written in 1855. The book itself is fascinating, romantic and well written, but the plight of the factory workers during England’s industrial revolution will stick with me forever.
3. A Christmas Carol (or anything by Charles Dickens!)
While Austen was writing about ballrooms and bustles, Dickens was writing about the grim and grimy lives of those below the poverty line. You’ll see yourself reflecting in the amazing characters in his novels and your heart will go out to every orphan, widow, drifter and pickpocket he concocts.
4. The Rich Family in Church a true story by Eddie Ogan
This story has had a great impact on me personally, ever since I read Eddie’s real-life account online. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but this short tale will touch your heart. What happens when a widow and her teenage daughters try to raise money for a poor family in their church during The Great Depression? You’ll never forget it.
5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Well, the reason this book taught me about poverty is probably that this book taught me about everything. I consider this to be my favorite fictional book of all time. The March family is struggling to make ends meet while Mr. March is serving in the Civil War, and yet they are remarkably and realistically generous. I just love it. It will make you want to give your butter away on Christmas. (The movie is also excellent.)
6. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Though I haven’t read the assumably wonderful book, I adore both the 1998 and 2012 film adaptations. In what I consider to be one of the most incredible stories ever written, you’ll follow the plights of the pure-hearted prostitute, the honest thief who has broken parole, the innocent daughter of swindlers, the once-rich rebel fighter who is willing to lose everything in the name of liberty and an orphan who, against all odds, becomes an heiress. Just. So. Good.
7. George Muller the true biography
A missionary to Bristol’s orphans, George Muller has taught me more about trusting God for financial provision than any other hero I’ve read about. I loved his biography by Janet and Geoff Benge, but I know his autobiography is said to be great as well. Don’t believe in miracles? Read this account.
What stories have impacted how you think about poverty?