Learn About the Great Depression Through Books: 10 Great Books for Kids

The difficulties faced by most Americans during the Great Depression can seem unfathomably foreign to kids today. However, fiction books that are both written for younger readers and explore the topic through characters their age make the time period more accessible and relevant. The following list includes ten books that help kids and teens understand the Great Depression.

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#1 On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells

This story begins with Oscar Ogilvie and his father living in Illinois just before the stock market crash of 1929. After the crash, they lose everything and Oscar's father must leave for California in search of work. Oscar, who misses his father and the model trains they used to play with, is miraculously transported onto the Blue Comet, a magical train that takes him through time and across the country during the Great Depression.

#2 A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

Set throughout the Great Depression, A Long Way from Chicago is a novel comprised of short stories detailing the adventures of Joey and his sister Mary Alice. While the siblings live in Chicago, they annually visit their Grandma Dowdel in rural Illinois. She leads the pair on a series of silly and outlandish schemes involving the colorful locals in her town.

#3 Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

This young adult novel follows 12-year-old Abilene in 1936, living in Manifest, Missouri while her father works on the railroads. While Manifest is bitterly stricken by the Great Depression in 1936, Abilene pieces together how the town was different during World War I. These two plot lines intertwine throughout this historically-based tale.

#4 Potato: A Teal from the Great Depression by Kate Lied

This story, which is aimed at elementary school children, is told by an eight-year-old girl in Kansas writing about her grandparents' lives during the Great Depression. After losing their home in Iowa, the young couple heads to Idaho to dig potatoes. This brief job provides them with a little income and a huge supply of potatoes, which helps them make it through the hard times.

#5 Dust for Dinner by Ann Turner

Jake and Maggy are siblings growing up on a farm in Oklahoma in this story from the Great Depression. The drought and ensuing dust storms force them to leave their home and head to California for a better life. Their beloved radio is one of the only possessions they're able to take with them, though they take solace in singing and dancing to the music the radio provides.

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#6 Jar of Dreams by Yoshiko Uchida

Jar of Dreams is the story of a Japanese-American girl named Rinko and her family in Berkeley, California. Set in 1935, the novel portrays the harsh conditions that were ubiquitous in the Great Depression. Rinko's troubles are accentuated by her outsider status and the discrimination faced by those of Japanese descent at the time.

#7 No Promises in the Wind by Irene Hunt

In the winter of 1932, Josh and Joey, two brothers, set out with their friend Howie to roam the country in search of work. They encounter many difficult times and must deal with tragedy, including the death of their friend. They meet several strangers who help them by providing food and other resources; they also play music for donations.

#8 The Boxcar Kid by Dick Miller

The oldest of five children, Bucky Ellis leaves home at age thirteen during the middle of the Great Depression. He hops a freight train and makes friends with the son of a boxer. The pair discover the harsh unwritten rules governing those who ride the rails as they try to avoid railroad detectives and find a better life.

#9 Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

This 1998 Newbery Medal winner is narrated by 14-year-old Billie Jo and written in verse form. Billie Jo describes the horrors of the Dust Bowl, when dust storms swallow up anything in their path. The difficulties she faces make her stronger, though, and Billie Jo eventually sets out for a new life.

#10 Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, Indiana 1932 by Kathryn Lasky

Minnie Swift, the narrator of this fictional diary, is an 11-year-old girl in Texas who faces the Great Depression with an irrepressible spirit. Her father struggles to find enough work to feed his family and, adding to the burden, an orphan girl soon joins their household. Ultimately, the family finds a way to celebrate Christmas in spite of their hardships.

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