Sometimes children – and teenagers – have to take care of themselves.

Click HERE to learn how to write about these stories.

Click HERE to see an example by a grade eight student.

Balliett, Blue. Hold Fast. Scholastic Press, 2013.
On a cold winter day in Chicago, Early’s father disappeared, and now she, her mother and her brother have been forced to flee their apartment and join the ranks of the homeless – and it is up to Early to hold her family together and solve the mystery surrounding her father. – CIP  While the plot line is similar to some of Joan Bauer’s novels, the writing is more sophisticated. Highly recommended. [Homelessness; Poverty; Missing persons; Kidnapping; Fathers and daughters; Family life; Chicago (Ill.); Smuggling; Mystery and detective stories]


Bauer, Joan. Almost Home. New York : Viking, 2012.
After twelve-year-old Sugar Mae and her mother are evicted from their home, they leave Missouri, hoping for a new start in Chicago. Despite living in a shelter, Sugar does not lose hope. She stays in contact with her former English teacher, writes poetry, rescues a lost dog, and accepts help from a foster family. A cheerful story for middle school readers.  [Dogs; Foster families; Homelessness; Hope; Mothers and daughters; Poetry; Poverty]

Bauer, Joan. Rules of the Road. New York: Putman’s, 1998.
Sixteen-year-old Jenna gets a job driving the elderly owner of a chain of successful shoe stores from Chicago to Texas to confront the son who is trying to force her to retire, and along the way Jenna hones her talents as a saleswoman and finds the strength to face her alcoholic father. – CIP [Alcoholism; Automobiles; Fathers and daughters; Old age; Stores, Retail; Texas; Voyages and travels]

Plain Kate

Bow, Erin. Plain Kate. New York : Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010. 
“Plain Kate’s odd appearance and expertise as a woodcarver cause some to think her a witch, but friendship with a talking cat and, later, with humans help her to survive and even thrive in a world of magic, charms, and fear.” – CIP  This endearing novel is recommended for readers ten to fourteen years old. It could be compared to The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman. [Cats; Fantasy fiction; Homelessness; Magic; Orphans; Runaways; Woodcarving]

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Boyne, John. The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2013, c2012.
“Barnaby Brocket who is different in one important way (he floats), finds himself on a journey that takes him all over the world and discovers who he really is along the way.” – CIP  Quietly and subtly humorous, showing the perseverance needed to survive in a home where one is unwanted. Highly recommended for readers of all ages. [Australia; Courage; Family life; Fantasy fiction; Humorous stories; Individuality; Self-realization; Voyages and travels]

The Crow-girl 

Bresdorff, Bodil. The Crow Girl. Douglas & McIntyre, 2004.
A girl lives by the sea. When her grandmother dies, she sets out alone on a journey, meeting new people and creating a new family. (Denmark; Courage; Orphans; Family life)

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Cassidy, Anne. Hidden Child. Toronto: Scholastic, 1997.
Lou has long known that her mother steals. But she is tired of moving all the time. And she wants some answers to her questions.  Who was her father?  Who, really, is her mother? Another suspenseful novel about the complexities of truth by the author of Looking for JJ.   [Homelessness; Mothers and daughters; England; Secrets; Theft; Moving (Household); Abuse; Violence; Marriage]

DiCamillo, Kate. Three Rancheros series:

Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2019.

The third in a trilogy about three friends, Beverly, Right Here tells the story of fourteen-year-old Beverly who runs away from home and gets a job in a neighbouring town.

Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2016.

The first in the series was Raymie Nightingale, about a girl who misses her father, who hopes if only she can win a beauty contest, he will come home.

Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press, 2018

The second story was Louisiana’s Way Home in which the main character’s grandmother wakes her in the middle of the night to tell her they’re leaving town right now and never coming back.

Three elegantly written novels, set in Florida, with a consistent theme:
Life is not always the way it should be. Your parents may not have enough energy or interest to properly care for you. The people you depend on may not always be dependable. You probably will have to make important decisions all on your own. But there is hope. Someone will come along – even if only for a moment – to give you words of encouragement and wisdom. Life will never be the way you’d hoped it would be, but it will still be good. And remember: you are loved.

Highly recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old. 

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Ellis, Deborah. No Safe Place.  Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press, 2010.
Fifteen-year-old Abdul and two other young migrants, meet in a boat adrift in the English Channel. For mature readers due to sexual references and violence. [Courage; Criminals; England; France; Runaways; Survival; Voyages and travels]

Fox, Paula. Monkey Island. New York: Dell, 1993.
Eleven-year-old Clay, homeless after his mother abandons him in New York City, meets two men who help him survive. [Homelessness; New York City]

R My Name is Rachel

 Giff, Patricia Reilly. R My Name is Rachel. New York : Wendy Lamb Books, 2011.
Three city siblings, now living on a farm during the Great Depression, must survive on their own when their father takes a construction job miles away.” – CIP  A wistful story about a girl who enjoys reading and writing and daydreaming but is determined to keep her family together. Recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old. [Brothers and sisters; Farm life; Moving, Household; Poverty; Self-reliance]


Hyde, Catherine Ryan. Becoming Chloe. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.
[This] is the story of Jordan who lives a lonely life in the streets. This all changes when he meets Chloe. Chloe, a small blonde girl who has also lived her life in the streets, thinks the world is ugly and full of misery. But when, Jordan takes Chloe on a road trip across the country to show her that the world is a wonderful place, they have lots of adventures, make many memories, and Chloe changes her mind. She realizes that the world really is a beautiful place. This book entertains, heals your heart, and feeds your soul. I really enjoyed reading it and I recommend this book to children ages twelve to fifteen. (Megan) [Automobile travel; Friendship; Gays; Homelessness; New York City]

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Khan, Rukhsana. Wanting Mor. Toronto: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2009.Jameela feels relatively secure, sustained by her Muslim faith and the love of her mother, Mor. But when Mor dies, Jameela’s father impulsively decides to start a new life in Kabul where Jameela ultimately becomes an orphan after being abandoned in a busy marketplace by her father and stepmother. With only the memory of her mother to sustain her, Jameela finds the strength to face those who abandoned her when fate brings them together again. — NVPL [Afghanistan; Courage; Homelessness; Orphans; Sex role]

Lekich, John. The Prisoner of Snowflake Falls. Victoria: Orca: 2012.
Henry Holloway lives in a tree house.  Every since his mother has died and his uncle has been sent to prison, he has been hiding out in the backyard of an elderly woman. When he is caught breaking into homes for food and money, the judge sends him away from Vancouver to a small town on northern Vancouver Island to live with an eccentric family. This is an entirely wacky novel, a story that should irritate but instead is purely funny. All the characters are endearing, the writing has great rhythm, and the plot line moves along quickly enough that readers won’t want to put the book down until the end. An entertaining novel for students in grade seven and up. [Foster children; Juvenile delinquents; Theft;  Family life; Eccentrics and eccentricities; British Columbia; Humorous stories]

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McCormick, Patricia. Sold. Hyperion, 2006.
Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi lives in poverty with her mother and stepfather on a Nepalese mountainside.  She hopes a better life awaits her when she is sent to work in the city. But instead, she discovers she has been sold into prostitution. A National Book Award finalist, this disturbingly realistic novel is for mature readers only. On ERAC Recommended List for grades 11-12. [Human trafficking; India; Nepal; Prostitution; Slavery]

Journey to Jo'burg

Naidoo, Beverley. Journey to Jo’burg. New York : HarperTrophy, 1988, c1986.

“Separated from their mother by the difficult conditions for blacks in South Africa, Naledi and her younger brother travel over 300 kilometers to find her in Johannesburg.” – CIP. A short powerful novel for readers 11-years-old and up. It could be compared to the longer American novel Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. [South Africa; Voyages and journeys]

Odhiambo, Eucabeth. Auma’s Long Run. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2017.
Auma has dreams. She wants to leave her small Kenyan village – where people all around her are dying – and attend high school. Then maybe – someday – she can become a doctor. Auma also has determination. She works hard and she can run. If she earns high grades and wins a track scholarship, maybe her dreams can come true.
But then her father dies of AIDS and her mother becomes ill. Auma is needed at home to support her siblings. What should she do?
This 297-page novel is not difficult to read. The font is relatively large, the lines of print widely spaced, and the margins generous. But the story is not a fairy tale and there is no simplistic happy ending. Recommended for mature readers 11 years old and up. 

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Orlev, Uri. Run, Boy, Run. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
A nine-year-old boy escapes the Warsaw Ghetto and must survive on his own in the Polish countryside during World War II. [Jews; Poland; Survival; WW 2]

Oron, Judie. Cry of the Giraffe. Toronto: Annick Press, 2010.
Thirteen-year-old Wuditu and her family, Ethiopian Jews, set out for the Sudan, hoping to eventually reach safety in Israel.  Instead, Wuditu ends up in a refugee camp and life as a slave.  Will she ever be reuinited with her family?  Based on a true story, this novel is for mature readers. [Ethiopia; Sudan; Jews; Refugees; Slavery; Historical fiction]

The Car

Paulsen, Gary. The Car. San Diego : Harcourt Brace, 1994.
Fourteen-year-old Terry wakes up one morning to discover that his parents have disappeared, leaving Terry alone in a shabby rented house with only a little over a thousand dollars he has saved up from mowing lawns. Terry sets off, leaving Ohio behind and heading west to find his uncle in Oregon.  But on the way, he meets two Vietnam War veterans who change his view of life.  A young adult novel with some swearing and realistic references to the violence of war, this novel will be appreciated by readers of Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers, Shattered by Eric Walters and Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick. Readers might like to look at the picture book Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam by Walter Dean Myers before reading this novel. [Soldiers; Vietnam conflict; Automobiles; Voyages and travels; Young adult fiction]

Paulsen, Gary. The Crossing. Dell, 1990, c1987.
Thirteen-year-old Manny, trying to survive in a small Mexican border town, meets an American soldier who may help him cross the border into the U.S. [Mexico; Texas; Orphans; Emotional problems; Soldiers; Friendship)

Paulsen, Gary. Paintings from the Cave. Wendy Lamb Books, 2011.
Three novellas tell the stories of adolescents who survive despite neglect and abuse, survive with the help of art and dogs. Gary Paulsen writes at the beginning, “I was one of the kids who slipped through the cracks….We were broke, my parents were drunks, they had…an unhappy marriage. I was an outsider at school and I pretty much raised myself at home. I had nothing and I was going nowhere. But then art and dogs saved me” (ix). [Poverty; Homelessness; Art; Dogs; Violence; Short stories; City life; Courage; Hope] 

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Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Sugar. New York : Little, Brown, 2013.
“In 1870, Reconstruction brings big changes to the Louisiana sugar plantation where spunky ten-year-old Sugar has always lived, including her friendship with Billy, the son of her former master, and the arrival of workmen from China.” – CIP  [African Americans; Chinese Americans; Courage; Friendship; Historical fiction; Individuality; Louisiana; Orphans; Race relations; Racism]

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Sand-Eveland, Cyndi. Tinfoil Sky. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2012.
Twelve-year-old Mel and her mother are moving for the eleventh time in four years. But when Mel’s grandmother won’t take them in and her mother goes back to her boyfriend, Mel is left behind to live by herself in their old broken-down station wagon. A novel of courage and hope that will appeal to readers who enjoyed Hold Fast by Blue Balliett or Close to Famous by Joan Bauer. [Courage; Homelessness; Grandmothers; Moving (Household); Mothers and daughters; Runaways]

Chanda's Wars

Stratton, Allan. Chanda’s Wars. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.
Chanda Kabelo, an African teenager tries to save her younger siblings after they are kidnapped to serve as child soldiers in an African rebel army. This vivid fictional account is for mature readers only. [Africa; Brothers and sisters; Child soldiers; Orphans; War]

Chanda's Secrets

Stratton, Allan.  Chanda’s Secrets. Buffalo, NY : Distributed in the U.S.A. by Firefly Books (U.S.), 2004. 

“Chanda Kabelo, a sixteen-year-old in a small South African town, faces down shame and stigma in her efforts to help friends and family members who are dying of AIDS.” – CIP. This powerful sequel to Chanda’s Wars is recommended for mature readers 12-years-old and up. [AIDS (Disease); South Africa; Teenagers]

Breaking Stalin's Nose

Velchin, Eugene. Breaking Stalin’s Nose. New York: Henry Holt, 2011.
This novel, a Newbery Honor book, tells the story of ten-year-old Sasha who adores his father who works for the secret police in Stalinist Russia. But his perspective changes when he discovers secrets about his deceased mother and his father is unexpectedly arrested, leaving Sasha homeless in the middle of winter.  While easy to read, this powerful story is best suited for brave readers aged eleven and up. [Communism; Fathers and sons; Homelessness; Russia; Secrets]


Voigt, Cynthia. Homecoming. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012, c1981.

“Abandoned by their mother, four children begin a search for a home and an identity.” – CIP. An award-winning novel, the first in a series, highly recommended for competent readers 11-years-old and up. [Brothers and sisters; Homelessness]

Whelan, Gloria. Chu Ju’s House. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
Fourteen-year-old Chu Ju leaves her home in rural China to find work in order to save the life of her baby sister who is the third child born in a country where families are only allowed to have two children. (China; Courage; Homelessness; Child labor; Runaways)


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