A young girl and her mother seek housing at a shelter. The girl is uncomfortable with her surroundings: this isn’t her home, her bed, her kitchen, but her mother tries to smooth over the situation using positive visualization and imagination. No, it’s not her home; it’s a grand palace! The beds become rocket ships that shoot into space, and the dining room becomes a banquet hall, where people from all over come to break bread together. In between fantasy trips of the mind, the girl’s mother tries to put her daughter’s mind at ease, telling her that they are lucky to have a place to stay, encouraging her to greet others she meets at the shelter. Mother and daughter befriend another mother and her children at a nearby table; the two girls discover they are reading the same book at school. The protagonists are white, but there is a multicultural group of residents at the shelter, and the family she and her mother meet are brown-skinned.
A Place to Stay is sensitive to a child’s concerns over staying in a shelter, using the main character to communicate those fears, and her mother, to assuage them. A Place to Stay also explains what a shelter is, what purpose one serves to the communities, for those families that may have a pre-existing notion of the “kinds of people” that stay in shelters. Back matter includes notes on shelters and homelessness, including how shelters help and why people stay in shelters. A Place to Stay is an important addition to your libraries.
Author Erin Gunti wrote A Place to Stay: A Shelter Story after working as a child abuse and neglect investigator, to open a dialogue between adults and children about childhood homelessness. Her experiences come through with subtle nuances throughout the book: the use of creative visualization to ease anxiety and fear; having moments like the “treasure room” for kids in the shelter, where they can play and be children not defined by their situation; meeting other families and bonding over common ground like a book from school. Artist Estelí Meza uses soothing, soft colors to bring her story to life.