When Green Party and housing-justice organizer Pat LaMarche was asked by her eight-year-old grandson, Ronan Russell, why so many people ignore the unhoused, the two began discussing income disparities, biased housing policies and political apathy.
It was heavy stuff for a third grader, but as they talked, Russell made clear that he was especially concerned about some of his classmates — kids who lacked adequate shelter, nutritious food and clean clothing.
He told LaMarche that he wanted to do something to make the residents of his Farmington, New Mexico, community care about these children. And he already had a plan: He would write a book about a desperately poor homeless family living in the woods and scrounging for — sometimes stealing — food and other necessities.
As he envisioned it, the tale would be neither grim nor sad. Although it would feature hunger and want, it would also include a brilliant scientist, a boy who could transform into a bird, a greedy billionaire and a talking cat with magic powers.
LaMarche was quickly pulled in and during the COVID-19 shutdown, she and Russell began crafting the story over Zoom. The result, Kursid Kids, came out in December and introduces Dr. Marmalade, an inventor; Mr. Sable, a filthy-rich industrialist and CleanerBot 3000, a robot. Then there’s the Kursid family, made up of parents Koal and Jaylynn and children Pearl, Tupelo, and Winter. Secondary characters include Neo-Pinter AKA Flavius, Police Officer Pleasantly, Sergeant Serious and a couple of self-important visitors named Graham and Bubbles. What the book lacks in subtlety is made up for in charm, and Kursid Kids is a beautiful fantasy about the elimination of poverty.
But as sweet as it is for sorcery to turn callous bystanders into caring neighbors, LaMarche’s Afterword injects a dose of reality into the book. Ten of Russell’s schoolmates were homeless in October 2022. That same year, an estimated 1.8 million kids nationwide (including 104,000 in New York City) experienced homelessness. Some of them were living on their own with no adult supervision or support, while others were couch surfing or sleeping in parks, doorways, motels or shelters.
Russell asked his grandmother a tough question as they worked on Kursid Kids: Who will make things right in a world where so much is wrong?”
He continues to wait for a cogent answer.
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Kursid Kids: For the Love of Pearl
Ronan Russell and Pat LaMarche
Illustrated by Aron Rook
Charles Bruce Foundation (pre-order); 140 pages; $16