How books can help children understand the crushing challenges of poverty – The Big Issue

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There was a robust youth-care provision in the town where I lived;  classes and workshops were put on at subsidised rates – some were free – so they felt accessible, even to families with less money. I received a grant to help me attend university, there were no tuition fees, libraries weren’t being closed down, and housing and living costs were all proportionally smaller.  

A few years ago, I read a document called We Can Solve Poverty by a charity called The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which outlined the steps that need to be taken and made it clear that with sufficient will (and crucially, financial investment) it CAN be done. That document was part of what inspired me to write this book – you must believe that change is possible to be able to bring it about. You must have hope. And despite its challenging subject matter, there is hope in The Wrong Shoes.

Even though there are subtle threads of something almost approaching magic woven through Will’s story, there is no sudden ‘fairy tale’ ending to the book. Just like in real life, the positive changes to Will’s situation are hard-won and gradual, whereas any negative changes fall as suddenly as an avalanche. 

Books enable us to see into lives we have no awareness of, and they also can reflect our own situations back at us, making us feel seen. I hope that any child who reads this book and is currently struggling will take Will’s resilience, determination and hope to heart and will keep going, keep working as hard as they can to do the best that they can, despite the obvious unfairness of it all.

It’s also my hope that any children who read this book and don’t have experience of Will’s situation might be able to reflect upon the additional challenges that Will faces, and by extension, the situations that some of their peers will be struggling with.  

The Wrong Shoes by Tom Percival is out now (Simon & Schuster, £12.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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