Title: Banjo of Destiny
Author: Cary Fagan
Illustrator: Selçuk Demirel
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Concepts: wealth, wants and needs, incentives
Review: Jeremiah Birnbaum’s parents hailed from extremely modest backgrounds, with Mr. Birnbaum washing store windows for a living and Mrs. Birnbaum toiling away as a hotdog vendor. When the two of them met, fell in love, and came up with the idea of selling an automated dental-floss dispenser, they struck it rich. So rich, in fact, that they now lived in a castle that had everything one could imagine under its roof, including temperature-sensitive floors, a movie theater, an art gallery, a bowling alley, and an exercise room complete with an oval track.
Hence Jeremiah lacked nothing in the way of material comforts. He also attended an elite private school, and his afternoons and weekends were filled with all sorts of lessons, from piano to ballroom dance, that his parents thought necessary to help him become a successful young man. All these privileges, however, did not make Jeremiah happy. He may have wanted for nothing, but he needed something to stir his soul. Unbelievably, that something turned out to be playing a banjo, a discovery that surprised Jeremiah so much that he even overrode his parents’ objections to this unsophisticated instrument by trying to make his own.
This bittersweet novel has just the right touch of wit and creativity to catch and keep the attention of young discerning readers. Thoroughly entwined into the novel is an unusual twist on the economics concept of wants versus needs that will encourage readers to think about what brings true happiness.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children