Sunday, January 20, 2013
Middle Grade Monday: Lawn Boy (by Gary Paulsen)
This first person narrative chronicles the summer the protagonist (unnamed "Lawn Boy") receives an old riding lawn mower for his twelfth birthday. Though his parents are good, hard-working people, they are just barely getting by financially. The boy wants to get a new inner tube for his bike tire, but they cannot afford the $10 it would cost. When a neighbor asks him to mow his lawn, the boy is happy to make a little cash to fix his bike. One mowing request quickly spirals into dozens of requests. The poor kid can’t even keep up with them all!
Things change dramatically with a business proposal by Arnold, a stock broker, who offers to invest a little money for him. Arnold also gives the boy business advice and helps him network with others. In a matter of weeks, Arnold has multiple employees, a growing stock portfolio, and a serious bullying problem. With the help of some key adults, the Lawn Boy is able to manage everything.
I have mixed thoughts on this story. The protagonist is a hard working, good kid. Unfortunately, he hides the money he is making and even the escalating trouble from his parents for a large portion of the novel. There is a sense of not trusting his parents, though he does not appear to have a reason not to. In the end, his parents do pull through for him and have his best interests at heart—which is a huge positive.
I like that this book does bring out some important economic principles, such as supply and demand, business planning, and investment income/stocks. As a teacher and/or parent, there are lots of opportunities for discussion and enrichment. Sometimes, though, the story seems to be more about teaching these principles than being character or plot driven. In addition, the Lawn Boy's business grows a little too easy and fast without any real efforts on his part. Really, he just seems to be sitting there allowing everything to happen to him and for him, not pursuing and working for it--which is unrealistic.
I read this book out loud to my 12 year old son, who urged me each night to read it to him (which is a definite vote of confidence for the book). It did prompt some good questions from him too. As a result, I would recommend this book for ages 9-12. Lawn Boy is a short, engaging read—ripe with opportunities to teach business and economic ideas.
For other Marvelous Middle Grade fictions, head over to Ramblings of a Wanna Be Scribe.