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: Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson
Author: Amy Ehrlich
Illustrator: Wendell Minor
Publisher:  Voyager Books, Harcourt Inc.
ISBN:  978-0-15-206324-5
Year: 2008 (paperback)
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  5.6

Concepts: natural resources, human resources, scarcity

Review:  Rachel Carson, best known for her 1962 book Silent Spring, raised national awareness about the toxic effects of DDT and other pesticides.  Her work proved instrumental in the subsequent ban of such pesticides and the growth of the environmental movement in the United States.  This interesting and informative picture book makes Rachel Carson’s background and contributions accessible to younger children.  The rich text and stunning watercolor illustrations clearly communicate Rachel’s talents as a writer and interests in biology already as a young child.  She overcame a number of obstacles, especially financial constraints, to become a successful author about nature and ocean life.  With its focus on environmental activism, this book makes a useful vehicle for teaching children about links between natural resources and human resources.

Review by:
 Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

  Rent Party Jazz
Author:  William Miller
Illustrator: Charlotte Riley-Webb
Publisher:  Lee & Low Books
ISBN: 978-1-60060-344-0
Year:  2008 (paperback)

Concepts:  rent, Great Depression, discrimination, jobs, services

Review: Sonny Comeaux, a child coming of age in New Orleans during the time of the Great Depression, held a paid job before school and weekends delivering coal to homes and businesses in the French Quarter.  His earnings supplemented those of his mother, who worked in a fish canning factory. When hard times caused the factory to lay off its workers, she and Sonny despaired at the thought of missing their next rent payment and getting evicted from their home. 

A chance encounter with Smilin’ Jack, a jazz musician who was playing around the country, led to the idea of throwing a rent party: a gathering of neighbors with jazz music, plenty of food, and a bucket to collect donations.  Could this novel idea help to raise the money that Sonny and his mother so desperately needed?

This unique book introduces readers to rent parties, which originated in African American neighborhoods in the South and in Harlem, NY, to help families who struggled with high rents during difficult economic times.  The parties also helped up-and-coming jazz musicians and artists to experiment with their music and develop a following.  Rent Party Jazz gets top marks for its informative text and dramatic art work.

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title:  Running Shoes
Author:  Frederick Lipp
Illustrator:  Jason Gaillard
Publisher:  Charlesbridge
ISBN:  978-1-58089-176-9
Year: 2008 (U.S. edition) 
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  3.2

Concepts:  human resources, child schooling, scarcity, discrimination

  Sophy, a young girl living in a remote low-income village in Cambodia, faced a number of obstacles that prevented her from going to school.  Only boys attended the closest school, which was eight kilometers away, and the recent death of her father dealt a large personal and economic blow.  However, one day a government census worker, who visited the village once a year, noticed Sophy staring at his running shoes and took an interest in her situation.  The running shoes that arrived at Sophy’s home a month later helped her to overcome one obstacle – the long trip by foot on a narrow, rocky road – to get to school.  Her courage, bright mind, and quick feet helped to overcome an even bigger problem, namely the ridicule from the boys that a girl wanted to join them at school.

This unique book provides readers with a compelling account of the multiple barriers that prevent some children in less developed countries, especially girls, from attending school.  Getting past such hurdles can involve multiple steps, including a change in parents’ willingness and ability to send a child to school, relaxing social norms about who can attend school, and improving school access for children in remote villages. Running Shoes carefully touches on each of these issues in an inspiring story that will appeal to children and adults alike.

Review by:
 Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

  Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s American Heroes. Robert Smalls: the Boat Thief
Author:  Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Illustrator:  Patrick Faricy
Publisher:  Hyperion Books for Children
ISBN:  978-142310802-3
Year:  2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  8.6

Concepts:  slavery, discrimination, jobs, human resources, economic history

  As a young slave in Beaufort, South Carolina, Robert Smalls worked in the McKee house with his mother, who regularly reminded him of the harsh conditions she had experienced as a field slave and the brutal treatment of other slaves in Beaufort. These lessons deepened Robert’s hatred of slavery and his longing for freedom.  When Robert was twelve, Henry McKee hired Robert out in Charleston for various jobs, including waiter, lamplighter, and stevedore. Robert’s reputation as a hard worker with excellent technical abilities led to a position sailing a merchant schooner along the Georgia and Carolina coasts.

Over time, Robert married and had two children, but because the legal system required Robert to turn almost all his wages over to McKee, the dream of buying his family’s freedom remained elusive. With the start of the Civil War, Robert found new work as a deckhand, and later pilot, on a large Confederate transport ship named the Planter. Robert ingeniously used this opportunity to strengthen his navigational skills, gain the confidence of the white officers, and learn the assorted coded whistle signals for passing by the check points in Charleston Harbor. With this training intact and family members on board, Robert and his crew commandeered the Planter across the harbor in May of 1862, delivered the ship to the Federal Navy, and celebrated their newfound freedom.

The book’s carefully-written text and stunning illustrations pay tribute to a courageous man who became one of the biggest heroes of the Civil War. The book also emphasizes Robert Smalls’ subsequent work fighting for social justice while serving in the South Carolina state legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.  Smalls wound up spending most of his life advocating for the end of institutionalized discrimination and the right for blacks to vote, hold office, attend public school, and join the military. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., known for his environmental activism, has made another valuable contribution by putting the inspiring story of Robert Smalls into the spotlight and making it accessible to young readers.

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title:  Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder
Author:  Tanya Lee Stone
Illustrator:  Boris Kulikov
Publisher:  Viking Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0-670-06268-3
Year:  2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  3.6

Concepts:  human resources, innovation, invention

  Alexander “Sandy” Calder, a famous American artist and sculptor, loved nothing more as a child than making objects from scraps of wood, leather, and wire that he found around the house and neighborhood.  He built a miniature castle for his sister, made toys and jewelry for his friends, and created abstract shapes using his imagination as a guide.  Although Sandy studied engineering in college, he did not find his subsequent jobs satisfying, and he returned to his love of art. A trip to Paris led Sandy to design a set of miniature circus figures made from wire, cork, buttons, cloth, and other scraps.  He used these figures to put on animated circus shows before delighted audiences in both Paris and New York.  

As the number of figures grew to fill five suitcases, the popularity of Cirque Calder also grew and helped to establish Sandy’s reputation as an innovative and talented artist.  He later invented the mobile (a sculpture made with wire that gently spins in the air), a popular art form that hangs over baby cribs around the world. Sandy’s Circus is a well-researched book that will find appeal among adults and children for its interesting story and dramatic illustrations.  Mixed into this snapshot of Alexander Calder’s life are some important economics lessons related to innovation and human resources. This valuable book will add nicely to any collection of children’s books with substantive content and an entertaining story.

Review by:
  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book