Title: The Midnight Charter
Author: David Whitley
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Concepts: debt, labor, barter, trade, jobs, capitalism, commerce, poverty
Review: In the large city-state Angora long ago, two children from similar backgrounds of hopeless poverty met by what seemed like chance in the castle tower of famed astrologer Count Stelli. Lily had recently started to work there as a servant, while Mark had wound up in the castle after his father, desperate for money, had traded him away. Haunted by their pasts and constrained by their lack of resources, both yearned for happiness but had nothing with which to chase those dreams except their own labor. Yet their circumstances changed quickly when Lily left the castle to start an almshouse for the destitute, while Mark stayed on to work as the Count’s apprentice. Little did Lily and Mark know the extent to which they were constantly observed and manipulated by the city’s powerful elite according to the secret playbook, the Midnight Charter.
Deeply intertwined in the mystery and intrigue are recurring lessons in economics about debt, barter, exchange, and labor. The book has some oddities, such as the confusing introduction of the idea that people can have their emotions bottled for trade, and twelve-year olds who think and act like adults, but overall The Midnight Charter provides a satisfying and engrossing read. Parents and teachers of older students will value this work of fiction as an interesting opportunity for teaching about the stark differences in well-being that can result in capitalist societies when the governing regime has taken insufficient action to redistribute income and alleviate poverty.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children