Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation

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Amazing Grace is a book about the hearts of children who grow up in the South Bronx - the poorest congressional district of our nation. Without rhetoric, but drawing extensively upon the words of children, parents, and priests, this book does not romanticize or soften the effects of violence and sickness. One fourth of the child-bearing women in the neighborhoods where these children live test positive for HIV. Pediatric AIDS, life-consuming fires, and gang rivalries take a high toll. Several children die during ...
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Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation

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Amazing Grace is a book about the hearts of children who grow up in the South Bronx - the poorest congressional district of our nation. Without rhetoric, but drawing extensively upon the words of children, parents, and priests, this book does not romanticize or soften the effects of violence and sickness. One fourth of the child-bearing women in the neighborhoods where these children live test positive for HIV. Pediatric AIDS, life-consuming fires, and gang rivalries take a high toll. Several children die during the year in which this narrative takes place. Although it is a gently written work, Amazing Grace makes clear that the postmodern ghetto of America is not a social accident but is created and sustained by greed, neglect, racism, and expedience. It asks us questions that are, at once, political and theological. What is the value of a child's life? What exactly do we plan to do with those whom we appear to have defined as economically and humanly superfluous? How tough do we dare to be?

A bestselling author despite, or perhaps because of, the disturbing news he brings readers, Kozol--whose Savage Inequalities spent four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list--speaks once again to the conscience of the country. This book offers an unforgettable, moving portrait of the lives of a handful of desperately poor children, living in the South Bronx, who retain their innocence and wonder against all odds.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Kozol (Savage Inequalities) began visiting New York's South Bronx in 1993, focusing on Mott Haven, a poor neighborhood that is two thirds Hispanic, one third black. This disquieting report graphically portrays a world where babies are born to drug-using mothers with AIDS, where children are frequently murdered, jobs are scarce and a large proportion of the men are either in prison or on crack cocaine or heroin. Kozol interviewed ministers, teachers, drug pushers, children who have not yet given up hope. His powerfully understated report takes us inside rat-infested homes that are freezing in winter, overcrowded schools, dysfunctional clinics, soup kitchens. Rejecting what he calls the punitive, blame-the-poor ideology that has swept the nation, Kozol points to systemic discrimination, hopelessness, limited economic opportunities and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's cutbacks in social services as causes of this crisis. While his narrative offers no specific solutions, it forcefully drives home his conviction: a civilized nation cannot allow this situation to continue. Author tour. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Alicea and Kozol paint a vivid portrait of life in one of America's most impoverished neighborhoods, New York City's South Bronx. While telling similar stories, each narrative has its own unique flavor and characteristics that reveal the crushing nature of poverty in America and recount the lives of those who rise above it. Kozol (Savage Inequalities, LJ 9/15/91) describes a neighborhood ravaged by drugs, violence, hunger, AIDS, and antipathy but also one where children defy all the stereotypes. In the South Bronx, where the median income is $7600 a year and everything breaks down, Kozol reveals that the one thing that has remained resilient is the children. One of the resident children is 15-year-old Alicea, who saw his mother and sister succumb to AIDS, a father incarcerated in prison, and friends entrapped by drugs or violence. Like that of many children, his story is a life of options or despair. The path they pursue is dependent on government leadership. Both books should be required reading for policymakers and those concerned with the plight of the American poor.-Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Lib., Ind.
From the Publisher
“Gripping, informative, deeply moral, and profoundly disturbing.” –Boston Globe

“A powerful book…as good as a blessing.” –Washington Post Book World

“Heartrending…This volume has the tone and power of elegy.” –Los Angeles Times

Amazing Grace is good in the old-fashioned sense: beautiful and morally worthy…I thank you for the language of this book, its refusal to patronize, to exoticize these children, and its insistence upon taking what they say, feel, and think seriously.” –Toni Morrison

“Amazing! A marvelous achievement.” –Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“At a time when Americans are struggling to see through the political, racial, and economic walls that separate them, Jonathan Kozol comes along with a window. Like an Old Testament patriarch, he rages at what he calls the greed and ‘theological evil’ of our time.” –Anita Manning, USA Today

“An often stirring and shocking…portrait of the dire poverty of these young inner-city lives. A Labor of love by a deeply humane man.” –Lisa Shea, Elle

“It is powerful stuff: uplifting with its tales of those who survive amid the destruction; depressing because of the many lives that poverty kills, almost literally from the womb.” –Lewis Beale, New York Daily News
“Surely deserving of a Pulitzer.” –Philadelphia Daily News
“In this stunningly simple and eloquent book, Jonathan Kozol continues to be our voice in the wilderness of America’s childhood.” –Susan Campbell, Hartford Courant
“Kozol wants you to step away from the comfortable. He wants you to see the children’s magic and to be so shaken by their lives that you demand change…A well-reported and –crafted book that asks tough questions and hurts you to read.”—June Arney, Virginian-Pilot
There must be something special about Kizol—a warmth, a gentleness, a kind of mournful decency—that brings out the extraordinary in others. He knows how to ask questions, to listen patiently, and to treat the answers he gets with a respect that borders on courtliness…Kozol is an important wrtier, but he is also an important presence.” –Kai Erikson, The Nation
“Jonathan’s struggle is noble, his appeal urgent. What he says must be heard. His outcry must shake our nation out of its guilty indifference.” –Elie Wiesel
“A superb book. I was alternately moved to tears and outrage.” –Rabbi David Saperstein
“A profound book about New York, painting a portrait of where we really are in our municipal life and reminding all of us, but particularly those of us in government, of hose much work we must do if we have any claim to having a moral center.” –Ruth Messinger, former Manhattan borough president
“Awesome and important.” –Gwendolyn Brooks
“Jonathan Kozol has been for a generation now a dedicated emissary who dares leave the comfortable world to which he was born and in which he was educated for those ‘other’ neighborhoods that so many of us, these days, try to put out of our minds. His ‘grace,’ then, is also ‘amazing’—his tenacious insistence that he himself not forget what is morally at stake for all of us in the South Bronx and places like it across the land.” –Robert Coles, author of The Moral Life of Children
“Kozol reminds us that, with each casualty, part of the beauty of the world is extinguished, because these are children of intelligence and humor, of poetic insight and luminous faith. Amazing Grace is written in a gentle and measured tone, but you will wonder at the end, with Kozol, why the God of love does not return to earth with his avenging sword in hand.”--Barbara Ehrenreich, author or Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch
“A beautiful and passionate book about the lives of the people in the South Bronx. By capturing the moral courage, eloquence, and spiritual resilience of his subjects, Jonathan Kozol has created a moving and critical narrative written I the spirit of the gospels, infused with love and steeped in the principles of justice.” –Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed
“Very powerful—it may turn out to be one of the books of our times…This is a remarkable book; I encourage all Americans to buy it and read it.” –Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children’s Defense Fund
“The extraordinary thing about Mr. Kozol’s writing is that God’s presence in poor children comes through as light in the darkness. I believe Amazing Grace to be the finest book of its kind.”—Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Episcopal Bishop of New York
“A compelling and powerful portrait of the tragic harm so many children suffer in urban America. As always, Jonathan Kozol’s work is taut and elegiac, memorable and haunting.” —David J. Garrow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bearing the Cross

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060976972
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/1996
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Kozol

Jonathan Kozol has been awarded the National Book Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Award. His book Savage Inequalities was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and became a national bestseller.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Number 6 train from Manhattan to the South Bronx makes nine stops in the 18-minute ride between East 59th Street and Brook Avenue. When you enter the train, you are in the seventh richest congressional district in the nation. When you leave, you are in the poorest.

The 600,000 people who live here and the 450 000 people who live in Washington Heights and Harlem, which are separated from the South Bronx by a narrow river , make up one of the largest racially segregated concentrations of poor people in our nation.

Brook Avenue, which is the tenth stop on the local, lies in the center of Mott Haven, whose 48,000 people are the poorest in the South Bronx. Two thirds are Hispanic, one third black. Thirty-five percent are children. In 1991, the median household income of the area, according to the New York Times, was $7,600.

St. Ann's Church, on St. Ann's Avenue, is three blocks from the subway station. The children who come to this small Episcopal church for food and comfort and to play, and the mothers and fathers who come here Or prayer, are said to be the poorest people in New York. " More than 95 percent are poor," the pastor says-"the poorest of the poor, poor by any standard I can think of."

At the elementary school that serves the neighborhood across the avenue, only seven of 800 children do not qualify for free school lunches. "Five of those seven," says the principal, "get reduced-price lunches, because they are classified as only 'poor,' not 'destitute.' "

In some cities, the public reputation of a ghetto neighborhood bears little connection to the world that you discover when you walk thestreets with children and listen to their words. In Mott Haven, this is not the case. By and large, the words of the children in the streets and schools and houses that surround St. Ann's more than justify the grimness in the words of journalists who have described the area.

Crack-cocaine addiction and the intravenous use of heroin, which children I have met here call "the needle drug," are woven into the texture of existence in Mott Haven. Nearly 4,000 heroin injectors, many of whom are HIV-infected, live here. Virtually every child at St. Ann's knows someone, a relative or neighbor, who has died of AIDS, and most children here know many others who are dying now of the disease. One quarter of the women of Mott Haven who are tested in obstetric wards are positive for HIV. Rates of pediatric AIDS, therefore, are high.

Depression is common among children in Mott Haven. Many cry a great deal but cannot explain exactly why.

Fear and anxiety are common. Many cannot sleep.

Asthma is the most common illness among children here. Many have to struggle to take in a good deep breath. Some mothers keep oxygen tanks, which children describe as "breathing machines," next to their children's beds.

The houses in which these children live, two thirds of which are owned by the City of New York, are often as squalid as the houses of the poorest children I have visited in rural Mississippi, but there is none of the greenness and the healing sweetness of the Mississippi countryside outside their windows, which are often barred and bolted as protection against thieves.

Some of these houses are freezing in the winter. In dangerously cold weather, the city sometimes distributes electric blankets and space heaters to its tenants. In emergency conditions, if space heaters can't be used, because substandard wiring is overloaded, the city's practice, according to Newsday, is to pass out sleeping bags.

"You just cover up ... and hope you wake up the next morning," says a father of four children, one of them an infant one month old, as they prepare to climb into their sleeping bags in hats and coats on a December night.

In humid summer weather, roaches crawl on virtually every surface of the houses in which many of the children live. Rats emerge from holes in bedroom walls, terrorizing infants in their cribs. In the streets outside, the restlessness and anger that are present in all seasons frequently intensify under the stress of heat.

In speaking of rates of homicide in New York City neighborhoods, the Times refers to the streets around St. Ann's as "the deadliest blocks" in "the deadliest precinct" of the city. If there is a deadlier place in the United States, I don't know where it is.

In 1991, 84 people, more than half of whom were 21 or younger, were murdered in the precinct. A year later, ten people were shot dead on a street called Beckman Avenue, where many of the children I have come to know reside. On Valentine's Day of 1993, three more children and three adults were shot dead on the living room floor of an apartment six blocks from the run-down park that serves the area.

In early july of 1993, shortly before the first time that I visited the neighborhood, three more people were shot in 30 minutes in tree unrelated murders in the South Bronx, one of them only a block from St. Ann's Avenue. A week later, a mother was murdered and her baby wounded by a bullet in the stomach while they were standing on a South Bronx corner. Three weeks after that, a minister and elderly parishioner were shot outside the front door of their church, while another South Bronx resident was discovered in his bathtub with his head cut off. In subsequent days, a man was shot in both his eyes and a ten-year-old was critically wounded in the brain.

What is it like for children to grow up here? What do they think the world has done to them? Do they believe that they are being shunned or hidden by society? If so, do they think that they deserve this? What is it that enables some of them to pray? When they pray, what do they say to God?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 21 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Book!!

    this is a great book from begining to end. It is very easy to make a visual in your mimd of what is going on. reading this book it makes you want to be greatful for the things that you have, because the children presented have so little bit they appreciate just living from day to day.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2005


    this book was real. kozol uses hard facts along with testimony to make this a book that no one can put down

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2007


    An eye-opening account of the lives lead by people in poverty. Every person should read this book in order to understand how the cycle of poverty works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2006

    Amazing Grace: The worst or best book ever written?

    How do life and the world work? Is it Fortune¿s Wheel, spinning round and round, giving and taking as it rises and falls? Or is it the Circle of Life, a long chain continuously flowing, setting a chain reaction that ends where it all began? Kozol only touches on a minute part of the life and the world, yet he opens our eyes to so much. Yes, we all feel for those less fortunate than us, but very few have gone as far as Jonathan Kozol, entering the lives of those said people. When he writes, he gives them a voice that they otherwise would not have had, and lets us know what we previously didn¿t. We might ponder why Kozol chose to interview various peoples in the sketchy neighborhoods of New York City. It¿s possible because he wanted to show the truth of what happens in the neglected areas of our country. It isn¿t all sunshine and rainbows with a pot of gold at the end, and little white bunny rabbits hopping about. The world is a cruel place, and rarely forgives easily. It took Kozol months in 1994 to get these few stories of those who living in and near the South Bronx. He captures the stories of children in his other books, and continues to do so. His tales are not those of the faerie realms, nor of those of happily ever after, what a cliché. Instead it¿s of the poor, sick, discriminated. Kozol is trying to get across is to OPEN OUR EYES to what happens daily around us and in our lives. Jonathan Kozol goes around, interviewing the people in the neighborhoods of New York City, getting the stories what later became his book. Even though this book is extremely well written, I found the stories somewhat repetitive, with he over using what should have been cut down to less. So, if you want information, read this book. And if you want to be slightly bored, this book is also for you. I have to say, I¿m in between thinking this book is the most boring ever, and the best. So read Amazing Brace, and found out for yourself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2006

    aaaaammmaaaaaaaaazzziiiiiinnggggg graaaacceeeee

    Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation portrays the lives of people living in the ¿bad¿ areas of New York City, such as Harlem and the South Bronx, and accentuates the hardships that both adults and children must face every day. Most of these people it focuses on are either Black or Hispanic, poor, drug addicted, uneducated, unemployed, sickly (AIDS/ HIV), or homeless. Kozol ventures into the areas no other 'non- ghetto' person would dare to go, and listens to people who are usually ignored and shunned by society. What he finds out is quite astonishing to people who are not aware of the grasp poverty and disease has on the people of such areas, and how it affects future generations. He speaks to children who are witnesses to, to them, everyday occurrences such as murder, rape, and drug abuse, and who are orphaned, born in jail, segregated, oppressed, mentally unstable, or infected with a lethal disease. He also exposes a side of poor people that stereotypes so not usually allow the innocent, hopeful, and caring ones who do not rape, murder, or sell drugs and are simply trying to get by despite the obvious setbacks. This book is somewhat biased, and mainly voices the ideas and opinions of those living in the South Bronx/ Harlem area, resulting in somewhat negative standpoint on the state of New York, as well as on people who are not poor. It contains countless deaths of the various people that Kozol passes by in the borough, which is not exactly cheerful subject matter. It also focuses greatly on the impact religion has on these undermined people and how it gives them hope, even in their dreadful situation. It¿s not a book you want to read on Christmas break. Or whenever you¿re happy for that matter.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2006

    Kozel Opens My Eyes

    Before reading Jonathan Kozol¿s Amazing Grace, I always thought the South Bronx was ¿what was happenin¿¿ according to KRS-One¿s song ¿South Bronx.¿ Unfortunately unlike the upbeat tempo and rhythm of this song, this non-fiction compilation of stories of the South Bronx is a place full of peril, hatred, and abandonment. Kozol¿s work describes the difficulties of the lives of the citizen¿s of the South Bronx, and the tragedies that constantly surround them. Many people claim that this book presents an argument that supports Kozol¿s political opinion. However, the author never comes straight out in this book and calls someone or some group the ¿bad guy.¿ He leaves it up to the readers to decide who is at fault, and what most be changed within the communities. For example, when Kozol was walking with Gizelle Luke, a woman who he chooses to interview, near the highway she pointed out ¿pictures of flowers, window shades and curtains and interiors of pretty-looking rooms that have been painted on these buildings on the sides that face the highway. It¿s a very strange sight, and the pictures have been done so well that when you look the first time, you imagine that you¿re seeing into people¿s homes¿The city has these murals painted on the walls, she says, not for the people in the neighborhood ¿ because they¿re facing the wrong way ¿ but for tourists and commuters¿ (31). The author never attaches any direct blame to the struggles in the South Bronx however, through accounts such as these he lets the audience make their own decisions. For instance, in the above passage the reader may conclude that the local governments are not fulfilling their role in society. Kozol does a mastery job in making subtle arguments throughout the text to persuade his audience. In addition to the author¿s arguments, his interviews with some of the children of Mott Haven are heart wrenching and beautiful. Some of the statements they make about heaven and life itself, is something you would never expect to hear a child say, nevertheless, a child from the South Bronx. A 12-year-old boy name Jeremiah makes note that ¿`It isn¿t where people live. It¿s how they live¿¿`There are different economies in different places¿¿`Life in Riverdale is opened up. Where we live, it¿s locked down¿¿ (32). Imagine a 12-year-old child making this type of conclusion about his life. When one reads this child making this statement, one is overwhelmed by how intelligent and for how much this child has to live. Then, as one continues through the book this happiness and joy is struck down, as the reader realizes that Jeremiah is probably going to become another victim of his society. The book is very interesting and entertaining to any reader. Kozol¿s style is easy to understand and holds the attention of any reader as he appeals to the audience¿s emotions and values. The issues raised in this book effects everyone in America, not just those in the South Bronx or the surrounding area. It is imperative for one understand that all are apart of the problems that the South Bronx faces. No one is exempt from the hardships faced there. Unless one believes that ¿`Some people are better than others,¿ wrote conservative social scientist Charles Murray several years ago. `They deserve more of society¿s rewards¿¿ (154). Then when it comes to the day of one¿s own reckoning, his or her final judgment will already be made. This book is a must read for anyone who believes in equality and justice. Everyone is apart of our American family. ¿Many men and women in the Bronx believe that it is going to get worse. I don¿t know what can change this¿ (230). Well, it can start with everyone becoming aware of the situation at hand. Great read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2003


    AS a 13 year who lives in the Bronx. I am very grateful for the things I have because in the old days there was to many problems and this book showed me why.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2003


    It gives me the chills when I think about it because it is so real. Not that it hits close to home, because it doesn't, but that is what makes this book so amazing. It has allowed me look beyond my misconceptions and into a world where I would have never thought existed. Its based on true life and is absolutely astounding. A definite must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2003


    I absolutely loved this book. It helps me to see a world so far from my own. I'll never forget the bears. Just gripping.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2003

    Great Book

    This was an excellent book. Defintely Worth while to read. It taught you about life and how great it is. A moving piece of literature.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2003

    Wonderful Book!!

    Jonathan Kozol did a great job with this book. This book helped me realize that I wanted to go into sociology. His book exposes the realities of inner-city life and the struggles these children face. This book will make you develop more of a compassion for these children.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2001


    I first heard of Jonathan Kozol over a year ago, as he was speaking at the Lied Center in Lawrence, Kansas. Being a prospective teacher (knock on wood), I thought his advertised experience with children would shine through in his presentation. And it did. I don't know if I've heard of a man with more compassion for these people of unfortunate circumstances. I came away hoping to read some of his work, and had the pleasure of doing so this past December upon receiving this book from my sister for Christmas. The book showed me just how important helping others is, and reaffirmed my aspirations to teach and help children in the future. An excellent read that can open your eyes to social conditions not all of us run into in our lives.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2000

    The Lives of Impoverished Children

    Amazing Grace, The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation tells the story of the lives of the youth living in the most poverty stricken areas of New York City. Jonathan Kozol interviews the children and families of Mott Haven residents and the surrounding neighborhoods of the South Bronx to attempt to understand their feelings and beliefs. Neighborhoods that are plagued with gangs, prostitutes,and drug addicts are still the playgrounds for the children in Mott Haven. The Children's Park located in the center of Mott Haven, serves many functions in the community. A disease control group sets up weekly for a needle exchange program in the afternoon. Drug dealers use it for business after sunset. Old teddy bears hang that dangle from strings off branches of a small tree serve as baby sitters as the mothers complete their business a few yards away. Every child knows what goes on in the public park, but considerate a part of every day life. These children continue to play and fantisize like children in afluent neighborhoods. As the children grow older, they are able to see the differences between their neighborhoods, and those that are on TV. The differences are not just in the schools or apartments, but also in the types of businesses and billdboards that the government puts there. The city of New York even paid for a mural to be painted on the side of a dilopitated building so the tourists to see, not the residents. The residents feel insulted by this, but it not the first time, or the last. The adolescents who are able to avoid the lure of drugs and gangs have a feeling of anger from being wronged. Their sence of inferiority is supported by the looks and attitudes of the wealth people as they walk into any store in Manhattan. These cgildren, who know more about the struggles of life, overcoming probles, and death than I ever will, continue to have hopes and dream. They fantisize about moving out of the projects and having a family and a job just like a child from any othe neighborhood. They dream about their goals and their future. And the most important thing is that they continue to have hope. Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol is a powerful, informative book that forces one to analyze his or her own behaviors and beliefs. It is easy to read, but forces one to reflect upon how your own actions can help or hinder the children in these poverty stricken areas. The children and families who live in these areas do not want pity. They want things to change. Reading this book empowers one to do that.

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    Posted June 2, 2009

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    Posted October 28, 2008

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    Posted August 25, 2009

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    Posted July 7, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

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