Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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New Picture Books in 2011

Just click on the titles to read our original reviews for these picture books and easy readers published in 2011.

Title: Just Being Audrey
Author: Margaret Cardillo
Illustrator: Julia Denos
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-0-06-1852283-1
Year: 2011

Concepts: child schooling and work, poverty, scarcity, wants and needs

Review: This picture book biography gives brief highlights of major events in the life of Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn. Beginning with her early aspirations of becoming a ballerina and ending with her work as UNICEF ambassador, the book is so much more than an homage to a Hollywood career. As the author explains in a note at the end of the book, Audrey Hepburn’s “life outside pictures was much more intriguing than her life inside them. And at a time when so many actresses are popular for the wrong reasons, I wanted to celebrate a woman who used her celebrity for the right ones … Audrey taught me what every girl needs to learn: the importance of being myself.”

Indeed, an important lesson that is threaded throughout the book is the concept of being true to one’s self. Young Audrey dreams of being a ballerina and works hard to achieve this goal. When she realizes that she is just too tall for this dream to come to fruition, she throws herself with equal gusto into become an actress. Children may be surprised to learn that even something as glamorous as a Hollywood career requires diligence and dedication to work. But no matter where her life brings her, Audrey remembers the lessons her mother taught as her a child: to be yourself and that kindness is more important fame.

There are also numerous economic concepts embedded within this book. Children will learn about the hardships Ms. Hepburn experienced as a child living in Europe during World War II and the simple joy she received from a chocolate bar handed to her by a UNICEF volunteer at the end of the war. It is fitting that the same organization was the means through which Audrey Hepburn later became an advocate for other children living in scarcity. Another story of her upbringing acknowledges the family’s lack of money after the war and her attempts to make a new outfit every day out the same few items of clothing. It can be inferred that her “simple and elegant” style known as “the Audrey look” arose out of the limited resources of her early life.

However, as this picture book is not lengthy and only touches briefly on each important element in Audrey Hepburn’s life, parents and educators may want to expound further on the economic lessons found in the book by incorporating additional information on rationing during the war, the work of UNICEF in helping children who have few resources available to them, and the difference between wants and needs.

As a fitting tribute, the whimsical illustrations by Julia Denos capture the elegance and graceful of Audrey Hepburn throughout her lifetime and are the icing on the cake of this delightful picture book biography.

Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title: Just Fine the Way They Are: From Dirt Roads to Rail Roads to Interstates    
Author:  Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge
Illustrator: Richard Walz
Publisher:  Calkins Creek 
ISBN:  978-1-59078-710-6
Year:  2011

Concepts: innovation, technological change, economic development

Review:  The inclination to protect one's own turf certainly applied back in the early 1800s when tavern keeper John Slack objected to Congress's plan to build a National Road from the east coast to the Ohio River. After all, wagon drivers regularly spent a night or two at his tavern whenever they got stuck in the mud on the dirt road. Who needed the National Road?

Years later, stage coach company owner Lucius Stockton had similar thoughts about the development of a steam locomotive. Who needed to travel by rail when they could ride on one of Mr. Stockton's fine stage coaches? And so it happened over and over again following advances in transportation: individuals who had profited from the old systems had to adjust to new methods of sending people, freight, and even ideas across the country.

This tongue-in-cheek picture book presents young readers with an easy-to-understand account of technological advances in transportation and how progress could also encounter resistance from people who preferred the old way of doing things. Colorful illustrations engage the reader, as does the challenge at the end for young people to think about how our current reliance on gasoline-powered vehicles may change in the future.

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title: Liberty's Voice: The Story of Emma Lazarus
Author:  Erica Silverman
Illustrator: Stacey Schuett
Publisher:  Dutton Children's Books
ISBN:  978-0-525-47859-1
Year:  2011

Concepts: immigration, discrimination, economics of gender

Review:  Emma Lazarus, author of the poem "The New Colossus" that is engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, grew up during the mid-1800s when societal norms in the U.S. discouraged girls from getting much of an education. Emma, though, grew up in a household that believed otherwise and had the financial means to pay for tutors. Over time, Emma developed a passion for writing and the talent to turn her strong convictions about pressing social issues into eloquent words. She used this talent, along with guidance from powerful mentors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, to start publishing her work and ultimately become a leading voice for social justice, fair treatment, and immigrant rights.

With its graceful illustrations, this book presents young readers with a meaningful description of some of the events and experiences that motivated Emma Lazarus to become a poet and to pen her famous poem about the Statue of Liberty. Conversations with children about careers often include discussions about what motivates people to choose particular career paths. This theme is central to the biography, thus making it a useful teaching tool.

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title: Let's Go See Papá
Author: Lawrence Schimel
Illustrator: Alma Marina Rivera
Publisher: Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-1-55498-106-9
Year: 2011

Concepts: immigration, jobs, opportunity cost, tradeoffs

Review: A young child shares a room with her mother at her abuela’s house while her papá has been working overseas. She has not seen her papá for almost two years and she misses him terribly, but at least he calls every Sunday. Sundays are also special because her mamá does not go to her job then and they can spend time together.

One particular Sunday phone call brings surprising news. Papá asked if his wife and daughter would join him in the United States. Although the child is delighted that she will see him again, she despairs at the thought of leaving her abuela and her pet dog Kika after all those precious days spent together. 

This picture book conveys to young readers the many tradeoffs that come when parents try to balance the need to support their families financially with the desire to spend nurturing time together. The story provides parents and teachers a different context for talking with young learners about paid jobs, the labor that goes into caring for family members, and the costs of giving up time with family in order to spend time working away from home.

Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title: Little Croc's Purse
Author:  Lizzie Finlay
Publisher:  Eerdman's Books for Young Readers
ISBN:  978-0-8028-5392-9
Year:  2011

Concepts: money, saving, spending, sharing

Review:  Little Croc's game of hide-and-seek with his friends took on an unexpected twist when he found a purse filled with money. Although his friends all wanted to divide up the cash, Little Croc decided to do the right thing by bringing the lost purse to the police station. Many temptations for spending that money lay along the way, though. Would the purse and all the contents ever find their way to the rightful owner?

A lesson at the end of the story about saving, sharing, and spending money make the book a useful vehicle for talking with young children about some of the basic functions of money. Humorous illustrations help to liven up the story and encourage children to think about the scruples of finding lost valuables.

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book