Paper Things

Paper Things
Written by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Publisher’s Summary:
When forced to choose between staying with her guardian and being with her big brother, Ari chose her big brother. There’s just one problem–Gage doesn’t actually have a place to live.

When Ari’s mother died four years ago, she had two final wishes: that Ari and her older brother, Gage, would stay together always, and that Ari would go to Carter, the middle school for gifted students. So when nineteen-year-old Gage decides he can no longer live with their bossy guardian, Janna, Ari knows she has to go with him. But it’s been two months, and Gage still hasn’t found them an apartment. He and Ari have been “couch surfing,” staying with Gage’s friend in a tiny apartment, crashing with Gage’s girlfriend and two roommates, and if necessary, sneaking into a juvenile shelter to escape the cold Maine nights. But all of this jumping around makes it hard for Ari to keep up with her schoolwork, never mind her friendships, and getting into Carter starts to seem impossible. Will Ari be forced to break one of her promises to Mama? Told in an open, authentic voice, this nuanced story of hiding in plain sight may have readers thinking about homelessness in a whole new way.

Primary Source Pairing:
The title of this book comes from Ari’s love for the characters she’s cut out and collected from catalogs – LL Bean is her favorite. Ari’s Paper Things keep her grounded even as the ground below her feet is in constant motion. For many years children have loved cutting out images from catalogs. For this primary source pairing, invite students to analyze an image of children poring over a Sears and Roebuck catalog in 1939. The photograph is titled: “Children playing and cutting out pictures from Sears Roebuck catalogue on kitchen floor while their parents prepare dinner for the men on cornshucking day, at home of Mrs. Fred Wilkins. Tallyho, Stem, North Carolina. Granville County. November 16, 1939.”

Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • What people and objects are shown?
  • How are they arranged?
  • What is the physical setting?
  • What’s happening in the image?
  • Make a connection to this image and Ari’s Paper Things.

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
“Children playing and cutting out pictures from Sears Roebuck catalogue” photograph: Library of Congress

Additional Resources:
Homelessness Infographic:
Climate and Culture: Homeless Education:

Related Primary Source Pairing:
Crenshaw, Written by Katherine Applegate
Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?