THE HOUSE ON DIRTY-THIRD STREET by Jo S. Kittinger, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez, Peachtree, March 2012
A run-down dirty old house is bad enough to have to call your home. When moving in also means “moving away” from everything that has been home, it is hard for anyone not to feel discouraged, angry and ready to give up. During our country’s difficult economic times, all too often children and families face this challenging situation. Seldom is “starting all over” depicted in a children’s picture book.
THE HOUSE ON DIRTY-THIRD STREET presents a realistic look at how hard it is to face being the new kid in a new town moving into the worst house on the block. A lot of children will relate to this situation. Jo S. Kittinger has created a believable and powerful story about how individuals within a community can offer the kind of help that makes all the difference between coping and quitting. Thomas Gonzalez’s illustrations softly, gently, pull you into the neighborhood, the dirty old house and the beautiful spirit of each person who offers a helping hand.
This book, shared by a classroom or a family, offers much to think about and talk about. How do we help each other? What is community and why do we need one – or several? Why do families sometimes have no place to live, no place to call home? And why is our first reaction to look away, step aside or close a door?
Older interested readers may want to take a look at SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS by Shannon Wiersbitzky.
SUMMER OF HAMMERS & ANGELS by Shannon Wiersbitzky
For many kids summer is a time to play, vacation, and let go of worries and concerns. But for many kids, summer is a time of crisis. Parents lose their jobs. Families lose their homes.
In this middle-grade novel, Delia discovers the miracle of friendship – the “real angels” –who share hammers, pound nails, and fry up lick-smacking pans of chicken for all the helping hands.
I asked the author why she wrote this novel and how a child can “pick up a hammer” and make a difference.
[SW] The main character, Delia, began speaking to me. Her voice came clear and distinct and never wavered.
Many of the themes of the story, I hope will have meaning to readers: Longing for something you don’t have, questioning the beliefs of your parents and testing the power of faith and forgiveness. Delia’s story includes all of these.
I wanted to write a story that spoke of community and of the type of hope that organizations like Habitat for Humanity can bring to a family. At one point in the writing I tried to make a group of actual Habitat-kid volunteers enter stage left. It didn’t work and had to be tossed, because it wasn’t Delia’s story.
[NBF] What was the inspiration?
As a teenager I went on a church summer trip to upstate New York. We spent a week fixing a building. I remember my hand aching from squeezing a calking gun all day, waking up to music from the Peanuts cartoons, and the amazing food that the women of the community cooked for us. I thanked one of the women one day and she replied, “Honey, all I know how to do is cook fried chicken.” For the character, Miss Martha, cooking fried chicken was her way of being an angel.
My work with Habitat over the years inspired me as well. There is something magical in coming together with friends and strangers to do good work, expecting nothing in return. Years ago, after Hurricane Katrina, my church built the shell of a Habitat house in a parking lot in a single day. In the morning there was nothing but wood and nails and a blueprint and by the end of the day, there was a home. That kind of transformation is miraculous, and it comes from the hands of ordinary people.
[NBF] What can kids do to help?
[SW] There are lots of ways for kids to get involved. Certainly Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org) has opportunities for volunteers of all ages. Click on the “Get Involved” tab and go to “Youth Programs.”
If picking up a hammer isn’t your thing, then check out Do Something.org (www.dosomething.org) and click on “What’s Your Thing?” Whatever you care about – animals, the environment, or discrimination – you can get involved.