A Place Called Home was a joint project with our local homeless shelter here in Lindsay. About three years ago I received an email from one of their board members asking me if I would write a “Good News” story about a child who was homeless. “This is a dream we’ve had for years,” the director told me when I came in to talk about it with her. We have no money for a budget but we believe that the best way to teach people about the plight of those who are homeless is through a children’s story book. If parents and children read it together they will both learn.
I was thrilled to be asked and agreed. After much prayer, and learning about the shelter and its programs, the story began to flow onto the page. I loved young Allyson from the beginning.
Once the rough story was in place, the director and I talked about illustrators. We wanted the artist to give us real people, not cartoons because this is a real life issue. We had plenty of faith but still no money. We checked with the local artists we knew and discovered that painting “real people with feelings” was a specialized talent. “I’ll check the internet,” I suggested.
As I surfed through the websites of professional illustrators I prayed for God’s help. Eventually, I found Jill Quinn Babcock’s amazing gallery of drawings. She had worked with many well known children’s authors. Would this successful Nova Scotia artist be willing to join our project and share her talents free? I sent her an email telling her about our project and our lack of money. She wrote, “My sister lives in Peterborough and works in Lindsay. I care about the homelessness issue. Send me your story. If I like it, I’ll do it.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I sent her my story she liked it. “Yes, I’ll do it,” she emailed back. We had our illustrator. Her paintings for the story are exquisite.
When it came time to lay out the book for a printer, the local graphic artist who had done my previous two books said yes immediately. All we needed was money for printing. The director found one donor for half the amount and two of my friends gave the rest. Publishing A Place Called Home at no cost means we are able to give all the proceeds from sales to the shelter for programs for the homeless.
I am thrilled to have been a part of the creation of A Place Called Home. I’m sure the hearts of you and your child will be touched by this very real story of Allyson and her family.
Because A Place Called Home is also intended for use in schools we have included a teacher’s guide and a handout in the book.
Sample of Story:
A Place Called Home
I watched our teacher, Mr. Turner, hold up a poster for our Grade Four class.
“Who in this picture is homeless?” he asked.
Stefan, the boy who sits closest to Mr. Turner’s desk, answered first.
“I know. I know,” he said. It’s the man in the patched jeans, sitting on the bench. He’s homeless because his clothes are worn and dirty…and his face is dirty, too. He’s got a garbage bag to hold all his stuff.”
“No, that man’s been working. That’s why he’s wearing old clothes,” interrupted Rachel, the tallest girl in the class. “I think the teenager is the one who is homeless. He looks angry. I’d be angry if I was homeless.”
Tommy, who always has an answer, waved his arm frantically. . “No, no, no,” he burst out. “I think the mother and the two small children are the ones who are homeless. She looks sad and tired. Homeless people always look sad and tired.”
Mr. Turner pointed at one of the pictures. “What about this family with the suitcases?” he asked. “The parents are frowning. I think they’re worried. I would be worried if I didn’t have a home.”
Most of the class shook their heads in disagreement. Mr. Turner turned to me. Don’t ask me, I thought. I hate answering questions. “Why did I have to change schools in April?” I moaned to myself.
“What do you think, Allyson?” he asked.
I stared at the picture for a long time. Finally, I took a deep breath. “They’re all homeless,” I said.
Mr. Turner raised his eyebrows. He was surprised. He smiled kindly. “That’s right. How did you know?”
A lump formed in my throat. My eyes filled with tears. I shrugged my shoulders. “Just a guess,” I mumbled and swallowed hard. One tear slipped down my cheek. I hoped no one would notice.
Mr. Turner told us all about A Place Called Home, where homeless families find shelter and help. The other children asked lots of questions. I kept my head down and stared at my hands. I didn’t want them to know that I lived there. They didn’t know what it was like to have no home. I was glad when the lesson was over.
At lunch time, my new friend, Sarah, asked me, “How did you know that all those people in Mr. Turner’s poster were homeless?”
Can I trust her? Not yet, I thought. I forced myself to smile. “It’s like Mr. Turner said, we don’t often know that a person is homeless. The homeless are regular people, like you and me.”
She frowned. “But…
The bell rang.
“Come on,” I said. “We’ve only a half hour to play.” The two of us shoved our leftovers into our lunch boxes, grabbed our coats and rushed outside.
Jan and Peter Sanderson, Educators and Lindsay Community Volunteers gave the following response to the story.
“Well done…you should be very proud. A story that dispels many of the myths about homelessness and has great appeal to young and old. Children will enjoy reading the story and would look forward to hearing more about the relationship between the two little girls who are becoming good friends.”