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Shelter by Christie Matheson

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Ten-year-old Maya and her mother and 2-year-old sister have spent the past month living in a homeless shelter. It seems that everything that could go wrong for the family did go wrong—Maya’s father was injured in an accident, the family lost their home due to a capricious rental market, and Maya’s mother is unemployed. Now, Maya has to face another day in fifth grade at a private girl’s school (the only reason she can study in such a privileged setting is because her mother used to teach there and tuition is free for her) and keep her secret of homelessness from a classroom bully and her entourage. 

This compelling, informative novel for middle grade readers follows Maya from when she gets up in the shelter and prepares for school; navigates for the first time the city bus route to school; survives the barbs of classmates; encounters a crisis; feels overwhelmed because she’s tired, hungry, and worn out; and finally arrives back at the shelter at night with her mother and sister. Despite the hurdles, Maya experiences small, unexpected kindnesses that give her courage and hope and help her to cope. With wisdom beyond her years, Maya understands that every person who lives at the shelter or is homeless has a painful story.  

Author Christie Matheson’s development of Maya’s character is at times somewhat unrealistic—Maya seems to know more than an average child would know about homelessness, housing markets, and social ills. Still, the book offers readers a window into the shame, pain, hunger, humiliation, and exhaustion faced by children who live in shelters or in other precarious housing situations. In an author note, Matheson points out the tragic statistic that in the United States more than 2.5 million children—about one in every 30 children—experience homelessness each year. (Random House Books for Young Readers)

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