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Welfare Brat

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Mary Childers's intimate and frank memoir tells the story of growing up in a family in which five out of seven children dropped out of high school and four different fathers dropped out of sight. With this lyrical and often humorous examination of how she became the first person in her family to attend college, Childers illuminates the causes of welfare dependence, generat Mary Childers's intimate and frank memoir tells the story of growing up in a family in which five out of seven children dropped out of high school and four different fathers dropped out of sight. With this lyrical and often humorous examination of how she became the first person in her family to attend college, Childers illuminates the causes of welfare dependence, generational poverty, and submission to a popular culture that values sexuality more than self-esteem and self-sufficiency. An eloquent reminder of the human possibility that public assistance can protect and preserve...[Mary] grasps the contradictions of her life and lives it, triumphantly and emphatically, like a chameleon. Ultimately, she ascends out of urban poverty via scholarship, hard work, imagination, and a strong sense of self.-Elle Childers' tale of growing up white, Irish-Catholic and on welfare in the Bronx rises above clich� and melodrama with humor and uncommon grace.-Atlanta Journal-Constitution Whatever preconceptions we may have about 'welfare moms' and their families, some will be challenged and some confirmed by this feisty autobiography.-Boston Globe Mary Childers is a consultant who mediates conflict and provides discrimination prevention training for higher education and corporations. She has a Ph.D. in English literature and lives in Hanover, New Hampshire. Click HERE to download the Welfare Brat Teacher's Guide.


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Mary Childers's intimate and frank memoir tells the story of growing up in a family in which five out of seven children dropped out of high school and four different fathers dropped out of sight. With this lyrical and often humorous examination of how she became the first person in her family to attend college, Childers illuminates the causes of welfare dependence, generat Mary Childers's intimate and frank memoir tells the story of growing up in a family in which five out of seven children dropped out of high school and four different fathers dropped out of sight. With this lyrical and often humorous examination of how she became the first person in her family to attend college, Childers illuminates the causes of welfare dependence, generational poverty, and submission to a popular culture that values sexuality more than self-esteem and self-sufficiency. An eloquent reminder of the human possibility that public assistance can protect and preserve...[Mary] grasps the contradictions of her life and lives it, triumphantly and emphatically, like a chameleon. Ultimately, she ascends out of urban poverty via scholarship, hard work, imagination, and a strong sense of self.-Elle Childers' tale of growing up white, Irish-Catholic and on welfare in the Bronx rises above clich� and melodrama with humor and uncommon grace.-Atlanta Journal-Constitution Whatever preconceptions we may have about 'welfare moms' and their families, some will be challenged and some confirmed by this feisty autobiography.-Boston Globe Mary Childers is a consultant who mediates conflict and provides discrimination prevention training for higher education and corporations. She has a Ph.D. in English literature and lives in Hanover, New Hampshire. Click HERE to download the Welfare Brat Teacher's Guide.

30 review for Welfare Brat

  1. 4 out of 5

    Maya

    This was a very nice complement to "Hillbilly Elegy", a book that I read at the start of the year. It showed how growing up in a similar environment (mostly white and uneducated working class people) has different effects on girls. There is a lot of pressure to make money off of your looks and being "pretty" is generally more valuable that kindness and education. Most girls that Mary Childers grew up with were teen moms and had no aspirations of earning an education beyond 8th or 9th grade. It s This was a very nice complement to "Hillbilly Elegy", a book that I read at the start of the year. It showed how growing up in a similar environment (mostly white and uneducated working class people) has different effects on girls. There is a lot of pressure to make money off of your looks and being "pretty" is generally more valuable that kindness and education. Most girls that Mary Childers grew up with were teen moms and had no aspirations of earning an education beyond 8th or 9th grade. It showed me that I was really lucky to be living in a comfortable neighborhood, surrounded by women (and men) who I look up to and who encourage me to try hard and do well at school.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    This book served its purpose for me to understand a little better why people are on welfare & stay on it. This book reminds me of Glass Castle & some ideas I learned from the Mindset book came into play. The poor are in a mindset that if there is a chance of failure, why even try. It is unfortunate that the culture looks down upon trying to improve onesself, thinking that person thinks they're better than them. Women seem drawn to loser guys. It is disturbing the violence that occurs with the su This book served its purpose for me to understand a little better why people are on welfare & stay on it. This book reminds me of Glass Castle & some ideas I learned from the Mindset book came into play. The poor are in a mindset that if there is a chance of failure, why even try. It is unfortunate that the culture looks down upon trying to improve onesself, thinking that person thinks they're better than them. Women seem drawn to loser guys. It is disturbing the violence that occurs with the survival of the fittest mentality & how women are constantly targets. The projects would be a horrible place to raise children. And to think I worry about my kids falling down & getting skinned knees! Women keep having babies because they have desires and enjoy the closeness of men, then they don't want the children & blame the kids for ruining their lives. Kids end up raising themselves & their younger siblings. Women tend to not get jobs that pay on the record in fear of losing welfare assistance instead of seeing that earning their own would get them to a better place.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sara Childers

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Oh my gosh. I urge you to stay well away from this book. I personally hated it. Even though it accurately depicted how life was for welfare families, the book was way too graphic. After reading the first chapter, I really wanted to put it down, but I was forced to read this thing for school, and view a presentation by the author (who is happily married to a man, by the way). I didn't like all of the sexuality and abuse that I had to read about, and the part where Childers sexually molests her ba Oh my gosh. I urge you to stay well away from this book. I personally hated it. Even though it accurately depicted how life was for welfare families, the book was way too graphic. After reading the first chapter, I really wanted to put it down, but I was forced to read this thing for school, and view a presentation by the author (who is happily married to a man, by the way). I didn't like all of the sexuality and abuse that I had to read about, and the part where Childers sexually molests her baby brother nearly made me throw up. I mean, who in their right mind would want to read a graphic description about sexual molestation to a severely neglected toddler? Not in my entire life have I been so appalled to read a book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    CTEP

    Welfare Brat was an inadvertant find on the shelves at Rondo while I was scanning the biography section. My eye had been caught by the political memoirs - the Clintons, Obama, Laura Bush - but I landed on this one. It's the autobiographical account of Mary Childers' childhood in the 1960s. She and her six siblings grew up in urban poverty, with a mother who, in her words, "except for being white, fit the stereotype of a welfare queen, reviled by herself, politicians, and the general public. The p Welfare Brat was an inadvertant find on the shelves at Rondo while I was scanning the biography section. My eye had been caught by the political memoirs - the Clintons, Obama, Laura Bush - but I landed on this one. It's the autobiographical account of Mary Childers' childhood in the 1960s. She and her six siblings grew up in urban poverty, with a mother who, in her words, "except for being white, fit the stereotype of a welfare queen, reviled by herself, politicians, and the general public. The plot is hardly shocking - unsettled and disconcerted by her mother's alcohol-induced moodiness (and other problems), she strives to be different. "Such a queen may breed needy, unwise brats, it is true," she writes, "but she also raises future citizens like all others - flawed and aspiring toward something better." She and her siblings absorb predictable animosity from their mother, who at times considers their ambitions a personal affront, but in the end, they are, by and large, success stories; though their mother continues to live in an apartment in Queens after they're gone, in declining health and accepting their financial assistance, the siblings move on to advanced degrees and various careers (Mary, of course, being a successful writer). On the one hand, this book was disappointing for the same reason I disliked the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" - that is, it drives home the message that success is the key to success, or rather, the key to happiness. While it certainly doesn't gloss over the difficulty facing those in the throng of urban plight, it conveniently sidesteps the reality that for every success story, there are many instances where the outcome is different, and worse, and that many of those are not for a lack of effort, or want, but rather a result of the vicious and unfairly-stacked cycle of poverty. What are we to make of those people? What are they to make or think of themselves? Many patrons at Rondo have been successful, but many are still here, over three years after the doors opened, looking for jobs, filing for benefits, and doing the same things they were a few years ago. Maybe that's the significance of Mary's mom, but her mom, though an important supporting character, wasn't the focus. On the other hand, it's hard to argue that a story is bad because the person in question comes out on top. Of course, that's what we wish upon every person with whom we come in contact. But how can we make a reality? This book describes a successful navigation of the system as it is, rather than the system as it could be, or should be.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jax

    i dunno how to accurately rate biographies/non-fiction books, but this was like a 3.5 based solely on my completion of the book. I checked this out randomly from the public library and I was drawn into the story of basically poor white people and the stigma of welfare on children growing up in NY in the 60's. Childers explains what had put her family into the situation she grew up in (legacy bad parenting that continued throughout generations), while placing herself as the level headed young go i dunno how to accurately rate biographies/non-fiction books, but this was like a 3.5 based solely on my completion of the book. I checked this out randomly from the public library and I was drawn into the story of basically poor white people and the stigma of welfare on children growing up in NY in the 60's. Childers explains what had put her family into the situation she grew up in (legacy bad parenting that continued throughout generations), while placing herself as the level headed young go getter, refusing to let anything block her way of going to college and moving up in the world, breaking the cycle for herself at least, if not for her numerous siblings. While an interesting story, it's not at all heartbreaking, and it probably isn't supposed to be, I wish there were more about the social aspects of growing up in the bronx at that time, she dips a bit into the racial implications, touches on civil rights, feminism and politics of the time, but I think more could have been done/said. She agrees that she had doors open for her that non-whites did not, but i wonder if she fully understood this privilege. Being poor fucking sucks, being poor and a visible minority in the 60's and 70's in the US is much, much worse. But, her story isn't about what is worse, it's about what her experience was like. She does come off preachy and holier than thou, saving her virginity until college while her sisters are getting knocked up every 30 seconds, perpetuating the cycle of poor single mothers in her family, wanting to finish school debt free, which to this day is still a feat for a poor person to do, myself included. this ended up being a much longer review than i had anticipated, it's garbage too.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Annette Valdez

    After reading the first few pages, I was not to enthusiastic about it. I felt that the story all along was going to be negative and gloomy, but I kept reading and found myself attracted and move by the story. The book is written in a way that is very easy to read. It is a sequence of recollected events events from the writer's life between the ages of 10 to 17. It talks about prejudice, about how people are a result of what they have learned and seen, but also the most important aspect is that i After reading the first few pages, I was not to enthusiastic about it. I felt that the story all along was going to be negative and gloomy, but I kept reading and found myself attracted and move by the story. The book is written in a way that is very easy to read. It is a sequence of recollected events events from the writer's life between the ages of 10 to 17. It talks about prejudice, about how people are a result of what they have learned and seen, but also the most important aspect is that it shows that hard work and education can change a path and the story of a person can be written in a different way.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Heather Munao

    Ehhh. Childress' experiences in poverty are worth telling, for sure. But there is something blunt and cold about the writing and the persona. She seems devoid of empathy for the poor, including her past self. That, and she is a full-blown bootstrapper and racist and seemingly molested her brother once. 2 stars because the experiences are powerful, but I just can't with this person.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Trudy Jaskela

    Memoirs of a woman who was born into poverty and who managed to survive the alcoholic mother, absentee father, the culture which taunts getting good grades and going to college, condones pregnancy at an early age, babies with different fathers, and so on. No support from mother and most of the 6 siblings. An illuminating book for me about the culture of poverty and chaos.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gracielita Rodriguez Acevedo

    She made me giggle- I like her writing style. She’s honest. How can that not be appreciated? That’s all I ask of an author; whether non-fiction or fiction- just be good literature and honest about the events or honest about your feelings. If you deserve a book in your name it’s because that came through. Thank you Mary!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    Really enjoyed this book, the writing is spectacular. I haven't been able to find any other books by the author. Really poignant family story.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Always a sucker for a memoir.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    The title attracted me. Unbelievable story of the chip of a welfare mom (herself a child of the state) and how she lived with her sailings and broke out of the cycle through education. Very insightful and honest.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David

    very engaging story of growing up in a large, poor Catholic family headed by an alcohol-dependent single mom. Set in the Bronx in the 1960's. Author develops, seemingly with little encouragement or acceptance, a passion for reading and a commitment to earning her own keep and, getting on the college track to escape her extremely dysfunctional household. As she puts it after being praised by a drug-addicted older sister for having taken charge of a younger sibling's birthday, "I reluctantly accep very engaging story of growing up in a large, poor Catholic family headed by an alcohol-dependent single mom. Set in the Bronx in the 1960's. Author develops, seemingly with little encouragement or acceptance, a passion for reading and a commitment to earning her own keep and, getting on the college track to escape her extremely dysfunctional household. As she puts it after being praised by a drug-addicted older sister for having taken charge of a younger sibling's birthday, "I reluctantly accept the baton of the big sister. Maybe I'll smash windows with it and leapfrog out of here" Her circumstances are depressing, but the book was not to me. Does a great job of putting herself back in the mindset of a smart young girl trying to figure everything (work, dating, race relations, friends, classism, college scholarships, money management, politics of welfare, and more) out on her own. Story ends with her in college, but apparently she went on to get a Ph.D. and now does consulting for colleges, so I guess her excitement about education did not extinguish.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    A memoir written by a Caucasian woman about her childhood growing up in the Bronx with her 5 siblings and mother, all living on welfare in the 1960's. I found the tales sad and heartbreaking, and definitely tended to root for the narrator as she struggled and struggled to obtain education and escape poverty. I thought it was especially sad that she received no special attention or help from the school system simply because she was a decent student - yet her sister who was starting to fail early A memoir written by a Caucasian woman about her childhood growing up in the Bronx with her 5 siblings and mother, all living on welfare in the 1960's. I found the tales sad and heartbreaking, and definitely tended to root for the narrator as she struggled and struggled to obtain education and escape poverty. I thought it was especially sad that she received no special attention or help from the school system simply because she was a decent student - yet her sister who was starting to fail early was placed in a special program that really opened up doors and opportunities to gain higher education. The writing definitely drove me nuts though - here's the worst line, "I've been Miracle Whipped when I expected real mayonnaise." I also felt that the ending was hurried and insincere - she spends 30 chapters delivering a negative portrayal of her mother, but chapter 31 talks about, for example, how she is grateful that her mother taught her patience by having to walk everywhere (because they couldn've afford the public transportation).

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Burgess

    I have read Welfare Brat by Mary Childers several times and I also heard her speak. As other reviews on other sites say also, this book is driven by resentment and anger. Miss Childers did very well for herself as she rose out of poverty to become an important person, but it is clear that in her advance as she becomes more educated, she increasingly resents people who were _not_ born in poverty. If you unfortunately were born to parents who could afford to pay for your schooling and college, Mi I have read Welfare Brat by Mary Childers several times and I also heard her speak. As other reviews on other sites say also, this book is driven by resentment and anger. Miss Childers did very well for herself as she rose out of poverty to become an important person, but it is clear that in her advance as she becomes more educated, she increasingly resents people who were _not_ born in poverty. If you unfortunately were born to parents who could afford to pay for your schooling and college, Miss Childers will resent you and consider you an elitist, no matter what your politics. She tried to hide this side of herself in her speech that I heard, but in the question period it came out. There are many American autobiographies of upward mobility that are not full of anger like this one, so it is not inevitable. I found Welfare Brat an unpleasant book and I do not recommend it. Like its author, it is not good-humored.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sammie

    Growing up in the Bronx and not having much to live off from, moving from one place to another with a mother who doesn't know the meaning of birth control; this is not an easy life at all. Reading about how Mary grew up and what she had to deal with as she raised her siblings, went to school and worked to keep her family going was pretty inspiring. I know that many people live in poverty and there are many struggles, but the fact that there are those people who can move forward and strive for a Growing up in the Bronx and not having much to live off from, moving from one place to another with a mother who doesn't know the meaning of birth control; this is not an easy life at all. Reading about how Mary grew up and what she had to deal with as she raised her siblings, went to school and worked to keep her family going was pretty inspiring. I know that many people live in poverty and there are many struggles, but the fact that there are those people who can move forward and strive for a better life gives me hope for our future. We have more and more people like myself and Mary Childers overcoming adversity and working hard to be a part of the life of higher education. It isn't easy, but if you work hard to achieve your goals and dreams, anything is possible.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Welfare Brat is sad, funny, truthful, contradictory, uplifting, and potentially misleading. I read it for Women's Studies so despite Mary's obvious disadvantages (as a member of the lower class, as a female, etc.), I was also constantly thinking about her advantages as a white woman. One has to wonder how her life would have turned out had she been black, or a non-English-speaking immigrant, a point that Mary herself admirably acknowledges. I'm afraid that those readers who believe in the Americ Welfare Brat is sad, funny, truthful, contradictory, uplifting, and potentially misleading. I read it for Women's Studies so despite Mary's obvious disadvantages (as a member of the lower class, as a female, etc.), I was also constantly thinking about her advantages as a white woman. One has to wonder how her life would have turned out had she been black, or a non-English-speaking immigrant, a point that Mary herself admirably acknowledges. I'm afraid that those readers who believe in the American dream will fail to see the forest for the trees. This is just one success story among countless silenced voices. Yes Mary is an exemplar, but more importantly, she is an exception.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michele

    This was a good story. The author shared her life through short, chronological anecdotes. Her vocabulary and the way she expressed herself surprised me since the story was about her life of poverty and deprivation. However, she undertook to move past that life as soon as she could, taking numerous jobs and staying in school. Her primary focus was on a college education which she pursued doggedly in spite of the lack of support from family and friends. Inspiring read and one that makes you realiz This was a good story. The author shared her life through short, chronological anecdotes. Her vocabulary and the way she expressed herself surprised me since the story was about her life of poverty and deprivation. However, she undertook to move past that life as soon as she could, taking numerous jobs and staying in school. Her primary focus was on a college education which she pursued doggedly in spite of the lack of support from family and friends. Inspiring read and one that makes you realize how opportunity doesn't always land at your door. Often, you have to search for it and make those dreams come true.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie Irwin

    Childers tells a powerful story of overcoming humble origins to persist through higher education all the way to a PhD. She relates how, as a bright and capable girl, she was torn between being there for her family and pursuing her own dreams. Alienated for much of the time from both worlds, she craves solitude and quiet as she also longs for acceptance. All of us from more privileged backgrounds who work in higher education and want to understand the pressures and burdens carried by many of our Childers tells a powerful story of overcoming humble origins to persist through higher education all the way to a PhD. She relates how, as a bright and capable girl, she was torn between being there for her family and pursuing her own dreams. Alienated for much of the time from both worlds, she craves solitude and quiet as she also longs for acceptance. All of us from more privileged backgrounds who work in higher education and want to understand the pressures and burdens carried by many of our students need to take this memoir to heart.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Love

    I loved the begining of this one but by page 167, I was bored. I could identify with the first 167 pages and maybe thats why I did enjoy reading it. Different era but so much like the childhood I remembered. I am sure many readers would like to read about how she just made out with boys for few chapters but it was not interesting for me. I also wanted more closer to how she had started the story off in chapter 1. I gave it 3 stars just due to loving the first 167 pages.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Crocker

    This memoir makes the case for "brattiness"-- stubborn, defiant insistence on one's own way-- as the key to success. Despite the difficult subject matter, -- poverty, self-destructive willfulness--draws the reader into an empathic relationship with the author, her siblings and especially with the feisty mother, who, in spite of herself, inspires a love of words and beauty in her rebellious daughter. Inspiring, but never sappy.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kasi Beorchia

    This book was incredibly eye-opening, and at times very painful to read. I really enjoyed getting to know each character and found a greater appreciation of not pre-judging others. It is a powerful, emotional read that can be a bit frustrating at time, mostly due to my desire to help the family and just make a few changes. Overall, this is a book that I would easily recommend to others. A great read--alarming and difficult, yes--but important nonetheless.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    This read very well as a memoir, as it was intended to. However, Childers started to enter some very interesting territory several times when she focused on some of the underlying causes of women and minorities on welfare, disparity, and prejudice, but ultimately she did not follow those thoughts to their conclusion. It would be interesting to see someone take anecdotes like hers and take a deeper look at some of these issues as they relate to poverty in the US.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Amazing story of perseverance and determination and success. Talk about dirty laundry! This is gutsy, gritty, and ought to be read in high schools. I ould hope this book would change some people's minds about poor kids, and give teens something to think about where their future is concerned. Excellent book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Pam Kennedy

    This is no ordinary coming of age tale. It raises many ideas about poverty, race, class, and the time of the sixties. Although it is the memoir of a woman who successfully fought her way out of the cycle it is as much about the web poverty weaves, the love mothers have for their children, and the way we view each other.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Scrivener

    Mary Childers spoke at Tech and read from this book recently, and she was delightful. She's a liminal figure: grew up a poor white girl in the Bronx and went on to become an English professor and an administrator at Dartmouth, as well as elsewhere.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shelia

    It is not written that great and sort of jumps around but overall I really enjoyed the book. I could identify with the main character and her desire to put walls up to protect herself and also bust her butt to be better than what she'd known...settling was not an option

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lornaj

    This was an amazing book! Everyone should read this! Came away with a different view on welfare and the children of welfare! What an amazing woman to tell her story for all the world to see and not hold anything back. Takes courage and Mary Childers has it!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    Powerful memoir about growing up in poverty, in NYC, in the 60's - and how literature and learning can pave the way out. I'm looking forward to facilitating a book discussion on this for the Vermont Humanities Council in August, and to meeting Mary Childers in October.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Great book, about a disfunctional fatherless family on welfare in the Bronx of the 1960s. Sounds depressing, and a lot of it was, but she was a fighter and was able to get out. An interesting look at how people live.

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