Nightly News   |  October 18, 2011

Books help kids cope with poverty

Teachers across America are using books dealing with poverty as therapy for children facing similar challenges. NBC’s Chris Jansing reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Well, we end the broadcast tonight with another aspect of how this economy is hitting various aspects of American society . How about its effect on kids, who in some cases no longer have a home and are having a rough time keeping their heads in their schoolwork and staying happy? Some of them, however, are finding comfort and solace in a place kids have always turned to, and that's stories. Our report tonight from NBC 's Chris Jansing .

Mrs. NELSON: Brookie, you had something to add?

CHRIS JANSING reporting: For months, 10-year-old Brooke Benavides was keeping a big secret.

Miss BROOKE BENAVIDES: It always hurt every single day, just thinking about it.

JANSING: She was worried about what her friends would think if they found out. Then her fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Nelson , read a book about a girl whose family was living in their car.

Mrs. NELSON: "I pretended like I hadn't washed my hair in the bathroom of the Texaco gas station that very morning."

JANSING: Suddenly Brooke , who never told anyone that her own family lived in a tent in this field in Minnesota , felt she wasn't alone.

Miss BENAVIDES: I thought I was the only one that had to go through this, but then I realized there's other people, too.

JANSING: A recent study found that compared to five years ago, 49 percent of teachers are seeing more students arrive at school hungry; 36 percent are seeing more students who are homeless. Now authors are writing books about kids facing these challenges from preschool through high school , with teachers and parents using them as a kind of therapy.

Ms. FRANCIE ALEXANDER (Scholastic Books): I'm seeing more books like this than I have seen in a career that spans decades.

JANSING: When seven-year-old Kaylin Donaldson 's dad was laid off, she was terrified she'd have to move away from Texas .

Miss KAYLIN DONALDSON: This house room has a lot of memories to me and I just love it so much.

JANSING: So mom read to her daughters.

Kaylin's Mom: What he'd lost was his job.

JANSING: The stories calmed Kaylin 's fears and her mom's, too.

Kaylin's Mom: I can't come up with all the scenarios that are going to allow my children to understand. I need the help of others.

JANSING: And back in Minnesota ...

Mrs. NELSON: Good job, sweetheart.

JANSING: ...just one day after Mrs. Nelson read that book, Brooke told her and then her friends that she'd been homeless, too.

Mrs. NELSON: I've seen understanding. The kindness just radiated out of them.

JANSING: Brooke 's family is now back in an apartment and she sees good coming out of the bad times.

Miss BENAVIDES: It doesn't matter where you live or what you do or what you wear or what you look like. It's always on the inside that matters.

JANSING: A life lesson that's truly a happy ending. Chris Jansing , NBC News, Katy, Texas.