The first volume of Children of Crisis appeared when the fact of racial crisis was generally recognized and when informed, compassionate comment on the struggle for integration was widely appreciated. Among many awards, Coles received a Pulitzer Prize for the second and third volumes of Children of Crisis, collectively. The whole series found a large readership, to which he offered an informed, conscientious, and unconventional analysis of some of the deepest problems of American society. He showed, and called for, respect for the religious convictions and the practical ways of making do that the poor have made part of their lives.
Coles’s presentation is disconcerting, seeming at first to ask simply for justice, fairness, and tolerance but in fact calling for a far-reaching transformation of socioeconomic structures and political relationships. The second volume may be the most significant in the series, since the struggle to improve the lot of migrant families has achieved so little. Although Coles’s reluctance to accept the interpretive privileges of his own psychiatric credentials and his reliance upon Christian categories of thought have rendered his work suspect to many readers, his approach has also brought him credibility, a lasting audience, and some influence among religious people whose social views are largely conservative. With his avoidance of social science jargon, he has enabled more readers to join in informed debate concerning the future of American society.