Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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New Picture Books in 2008

Just click on the titles to read our original reviews for these picture books and easy readers published in 2008.


Title: A Boy Named Beckoning: The True Story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Native American Hero
Author:  Gina Capaldi
Illustrator:  Gina Capaldi
Publisher:  Carolrhoda Books
ISBN:  978-0-8225-7644-0
Year:  2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  4.1

Concepts:  human resources, land rights, scarcity, jobs, economics of education, discrimination

Review:  Gina Capaldi makes a substantial contribution with this book by raising children’s awareness of Dr. Carlos Montezuma’s long-term advocacy work for the rights of Native Americans in the United States.  Born in 1866 into a Yavapai family and tribe and named Wassaja, which means “beckoning,” he was captured as a five-year old boy during a brutal attack. When Wassaja’s captors tried to sell him as a slave, they came across Mr. Carlo Gentile, an Italian photographer who had immigrated to America in search of new work and adventure.  Although Mr. Gentile paid the captors silver money, he had no intention of treating the frightened boy as a slave and instead adopted him as his son. 

Much of the book relates their experiences traveling across America and their subsequent settling down in Chicago. Wassaja, by then renamed Carlos Montezuma, excelled in school and was accepted into the University of Illinois at the age of fourteen.  Three years later this talented young man gained admission into the Chicago Medical College. Scholarships helped with some of the costs, but Carlos also took on jobs sweeping floors and washing windows to pay for room and board.  After medical school, Dr. Montezuma undertook humanitarian work as an advocate for Native Americans in the United States.  He not only worked as a practicing doctor, but he also lobbied the U.S. government on behalf of Native Americans for land rights, better living conditions, more educational opportunities, and U.S. citizenship.

It was not until 1924, one year after Dr. Montezuma passed away, that Native Americans became legal citizens of the United States.  These inspiring and remarkable events in Dr. Montezuma’s life are told through the book’s narrative (which is based largely on a five-page letter that Dr. Montezuma wrote), sidebar facts underneath original photographs taken by Mr. Carlo Gentile, and a detailed afterword about Dr. Montezuma’s advocacy efforts. The book is also a treasure chest of economics lessons about investing in human resources, the economics of education, jobs, work, discrimination, and land rights.  Children will walk away with important lessons about how a small Yavapai boy became a reservation doctor who courageously fought to strengthen the civil rights and improve the economic opportunities of Native Americans.

Review by:
  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children.

How to Get This Book

  A Cup for Everyone
Author and Illustrator:  Yusuke Yonezu
Publisher:  minedition
ISBN: 978-0-698-40091-7
Year:  2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  2.5

Concepts:  producers, consumers, suppy and demand, innovation

Review: Pucca, a young penguin with a penchant for creativity, enjoyed watching his father sculpt and paint handmade cups that he sold in town.  Unfortunately, business had slowed down because everyone in town had already purchased a cup, so Pucca’s father packed up and left for the next village in search of new customers. Determined to change this situation, Pucca experimented with his father’s special clay and paints until he designed a custom-made parrot cup that Ms. Parrot adored.  As word got around, the demand for Pucca’s innovative designs soared.  Would there be enough new orders to support his father’s business?  

This outstanding book gets top marks for its clever story that features important ideas in economics related to innovation, supply, and demand.  The illustrations, marvelously creative and irresistible, may very well leave readers wishing for their own custom-made cups.

Review by:
  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title:  A Song for Cambodia
Author:  Michelle Lord
Illustrator:  Shino Arihara
Publisher:  Lee & Low Books
ISBN:  978-1-60060-139-2
Year:  2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  5.4

Concepts:  human resources, scarcity, child labor

Review:  The genocidal Pol Pot regime that ruled and terrorized Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 makes for a difficult subject to broach with children.  Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara take on this dark topic with skill and subtlety, yielding a story that is both insightful and moving.  The book begins with the happy and relatively carefree days of Arn Chorn-Pond and his family in a rural Cambodian village, with descriptions of a thriving open-air market and the sounds of music and laughter. This way of life quickly changed for Arn when, like they did across Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge soldiers destroyed Arn’s village, split up his family, and sent him to a children’s labor camp.

Arn may have succumbed to the atrocious conditions at the labor camp were it not for his volunteering to join a musical group meant to entertain the guards.  He learned how to play a wooden string instrument called the khim and quickly became the best player, a feat that saved his life and enabled him to endure four difficult years at the labor camp.  When Arn was sent to fight as a child soldier, he escaped to the Thai border and ultimately was adopted by a volunteer clergyman.  In his new American home, Arn used his music to heal on the inside as his nightmares slowly turned into dreams of returning to Cambodia to help others who had survived the pain and suffering.

The book, appropriate for children who are mature enough to handle such a tough subject, ends with a hopeful tone.  Similarly, the illustrations have a realistic but gentle quality. The author provides a detailed afterword about the inspiring humanitarian work that Arn Chorn-Pond has pursued in his adult years in an effort to revive Cambodia’s classical arts and music.  What a contribution that this man’s story, which has been told in leading U.S. newspaper, radio, and television outlets, is now accessible to children in this carefully written and illustrated book.

Review by:
  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title:  A Girl Named Dan
Author:  Dandi Daley Mackall
Illustrator:  Renée Graef
Publisher:  Sleeping Bear Press
ISBN:  978-1-58536-351-3
Year: 2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  3.5

Concepts:  human resources, discrimination, institutions

  Dandi, an athletic and competitive girl growing up during the early 1960s in Hamilton, Missouri, is a talented baseball player and a devoted fan.  She knows all the baseball jargon and wants nothing more than to play ball with the boys during recess and after school.  But at a time when the U.S. legal structure and social norms still did not give girls and women equal opportunities in sports, Dandi has little recourse when the boys decide they don’t want her to join them in the ball field.

Determined to stay in the game, Dandi uses her other strong skill in writing to enter an essay contest held by the Kansas City A’s to recruit batboys. In an attempt to bypass the “for boys only” requirement, she signs her submission with her nickname Dan. Dandi’s experience teachers her that it takes more than a simple trick to be a winner and feel like a winner in any competition.

Although A Girl Named Dan focuses on baseball, parents and teachers can use this interesting book to teach children a powerful set of lessons about discrimination and how legal reforms have helped to change discriminatory practices.  In this case, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits unequal treatment by sex in all education-related activities that receive federal financial assistance. The book provides a valuable opportunity to talk with children about the barriers that girls used to face within and outside of school, and the extent to which those barriers have changed.

Review by:
 Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

  Alec's Primer
Author:  Mildred Pitts Walter
Illustrator:  Larry Johnson
Publisher:  August House
ISBN:  0-916718-20-4
Year:  2008

Concepts:  slavery, education

Review:  Five-year old Alec, born into slavery on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, had a sense of humor and an independent streak.  These qualities did not sit too well with the plantation owner, Mistress Gouldin, who reassigned him from kitchen work with his mother to difficult outdoor work monitored by the plantation overseer. The passing of several years brought Alec an unexpected opportunity to learn how to read under the tutelage of the plantation owner’s daughter, Zephie. Alec’s initial fear of breaking the rules gave way to a deep desire to learn to read from the small primer that Zephie gave him.  Empowered by the ability to read, Alec risked his life to escape from the plantation and join the union army during the Civil War.

Based on true events in the life of Alec Turner, this compelling book is a useful resource for teaching younger children about the harsh realities of slavery in U.S. history.  Using age-appropriate text and rich illustrations, Alec’s Primer effectively communicates the hard work that was expected of plantation slaves, the dangers of breaking the rules, and the glorious feelings that came with freedom and social justice.  This important book makes a valuable addition to any collection of picture books loaded with substantive content.

Review by:
  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book